Congress leaders want "please all" Budget

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee is scheduled to present the Budget on March 16 in Parliament.

New Delhi: Pitching for a virtual "please all" Budget, Congress leaders in their wish-list asked Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee to raise income tax slabs, reduce interest rates and earmark more funds for poverty alleviation programmes.

Some of the Congress members, including senior ministers, at the pre-Budget consultations with the Finance Minister expressed concerns over slowdown and wanted him to announce
steps to boost growth.

Mukherjee, who is scheduled to present the Budget on March 16 in Parliament, at the outset explained them the current economic situation in India in the context of the world
scenario and financial constraints being faced by the government.

The senior leaders who attended the meeting included Ahmad Patel, political secretary to Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Corporate Affairs Minister Veerappa Moily, AICC media
cell Chairman Janardan Dwivedi, Members of Parliament (MPs) Sanjay Nirupam and Girija Vyas, CWC member Shakeel Ahmed and Minority Affairs Department Chairperson Imran Kidwai.

"We demanded priority to industrial growth...and focus on banking sector", Congress MP T Subbarami Reddy, told reporters after attending the meeting.

Reddy also suggested that interest rates should be reduced to encourage industrial growth.

Some members urged Mukherjee to raise income tax exemption limit to provide relief to the salaried class. At present, income tax is levied on income above Rs 1.8 lakh per annum.

Congress leaders also demanded that the forthcoming Budget should focus on poverty alleviation programmes by raising allocation for schemes like MNREGA, National Rural Health Mission(NHRM) and Bharat Nirman.

The challenge before Mukherjee would be to arrest decline in economic growth which is expected to decelerate to three-year low of 6.9 percent in 2011-12 from 8.4 percent a
year ago.

His other major task would be contain fiscal deficit, which is likely to overshoot the Budget estimate of 4.6 percent on account of increased subsidy bill and low realisation from disinvestment.

As part of the Budget-making exercise, Mukherjee, has already held discussions with various stakeholders, including industry chambers, economists, state finance ministers,
farmers and trade union leaders.

State Finance Ministers will also meet here on March 3 to suggest steps for increasing the ambit of the service tax net with a view to garnering more resources.