Congress party unveils budget to aid India's poor

NEW DELHI // India's left-leaning Congress government unveiled a budget yesterday focused on helping the poor and rural masses with pledges to hike social spending by 17 per cent and fight food inflation.

Lifting the lid on government plans for the financial year from April 1, Pranab Mukherjee, the finance minister, scaled up spending for farmers, fertiliser subsidies, food programmes, education and rural employment programmes.

"The country has carried for long enough the burden of hunger and malnutrition," Mr Mukherjee told parliament, saying the money earmarked for social spending would amount to 36 per cent of the total budget.

Banking on bumper tax income from strong economic growth, he announced a 24 per cent rise in education spending to 520 billion rupees (Dh42bn) and a 20 per cent rise in funds for health to 267 billion rupees.

Mr Mukherjee also pledged measures to help bring down food inflation, which, at nearly 11.5 per cent, is causing hardship to the hundreds of millions of poor, the Congress party's core supporters.

Spending on the military was boosted to 1.65 trillion rupees from 1.47 trillion rupees the previous year.

"Any further requirements for the country's defence would be met," Mr Mukherjee. This year's spending represents about a 11.6 per cent increase in defence spending. Last year's budget increased defence expenditures by just four percent.

The latest rise comes after India and Pakistan earlier this month agreed to resume peace talks suspended more than two years ago when Islamist gunmen killed 166 people in Mumbai.


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