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February 27, 1999
Opposition flays Budget; BJP, allies laud it
The opposition parties, led by the Congress, expressed disappointment with the Union Budget for 1999-2000, describing it as "lacklustre". Meanwhile, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and most of its allies termed the budgetary proposals as "excellent, compassionate and development-oriented".
Reacting to the second budget of the BJP-led coalition government, the Congress said it was a lacklustre effort, lacking in basic conceptual framework and the vision to get the country out of industrial recession.
Former finance ministers Manmohan Singh and Pranab Mukherjee, both of the Congress, said the Budget failed to improve business and consumer confidence.
There was nothing in the Budget which could assure them that the country could once again move back to a seven per cent GDP growth rate, they said.
Another former finance minister, P Chidambaram, said the Budget would reverse the economic reforms. The across-the-board surcharge on customs and excise by ten per cent would mean a return to the pre-reforms era of 1991-92, he said.
The left parties said the Union budget was intended to favour big business and financial circles by imposing additional "burdens on the common people". Their criticism of the Budget focussed particularly on the increase in the prices of diesel and certain postal articles.
Samajwadi Party President and former finance minister Mulayam Singh Yadav described the Budget as "anti-farmer, anti-youth and anti-poor". The budget, instead of bridging the gap between haves and have-nots, would widen the gulf, he said.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi criticised the creation of a fund to study the techno-economic feasibility of the 'Sethusamudram project' in the Budget and urged the Centre to implement the project in the ninth plan itself.
However, All-India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam General Secretary J Jayalalitha stated that the finance minister had corrected most of the "harmful policies" pursued by his predecessor, P Chidambaram. She said several suggestions made by her party had been incorporated in the Budget.
The Akali Dal, another ally of the government, however, expressed strong reservation about the one-rupee hike announced by the finance minister in the price of diesel. Prem Singh Chandumajra, chief whip of the Akali Dal in Parliament, said his party would request the government to withdraw the proposed hike.
Nevertheless, Chandumajra said the budget would help increase industrial activity in the country, especially in Punjab.
C Ramachandraiah of the Telugu Desam welcomed the steps proposed by the government to boost housing activity. However, he said the levy of 10 per cent surcharge on income tax would restrict the purchasing power resulting in less demand for capital goods.
Saifuddin Soz of the National Conference, another ally of the government, said it was regrettable that Jammu and Kashmir had not been considered when a 10-year tax holiday concession was made available for industrial projects in the north-eastern region.
BJP President Kushabhau Thakre said, "It is truly an end-of-the-millennium budget, which looks towards the next millennium and the new century and seeks to prepare India to convert tomorrow's challenges into opportunities."
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