When Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee came to the All India Congress Committee headquarters on Tuesday evening to meet the Congress Working Committee members and party office bearers and hear their suggestions on what should be incorporated in the coming budget for the aam admi, he was bombarded with suggestions.
Members raised their concern over the spiraling price rise, food inflation, corruption and its linkages with price rise, the need to stop black-marketeering, the need to give farmers a proper price for their produce, the need to give women a better deal in the United Progressive Alliance regime, so on and so forth..
The finance minister who spent almost two hours at the AICC headquarters came back with a big wish-list from the party, even as a number of senior leaders stayed away, which included Rahul Gandhi amongst others.
Interestingly, the ministers who were present were instructed not to speak at the meeting, as they get a chance to speak otherwise. Instead the meeting was focused on gauging the views of the other 50-odd party leaders present there.
Leaders raised the issue of linkage of corruption with price rise even as the majority of demands were for bringing down the prices of essential commodities and giving relief to the aam admi.
It was suggested that raising the income tax exemption limit to Rs 2 lakhs would serve the purpose of giving relief to the middle class. That would enable them with more money in their pockets to tackle the spiraling prices.
The issue of black money was also raised as one of the serious concerns, to which Pranab Mukherjee said he had already spoken about it in his last press conference and whatever he could have said publicly has been said and there is nothing more he would be able to add to that.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan suggested that instead of subsidies on food and kerosene for people below the poverty line, there should be direct cash transfer which would ensure they do not have to go via the ration card route but can buy from the open market.
This suggestion has been made by other chief ministers also and sources say it is being examined by the government keeping in mind its implications.
It is learnt that while Congress General Secretary Digvijay Singh did not speak, he gave a note to the finance minister where he has suggested that the government should give some relief to minorities in terms of tax savings.
He has suggested that according to Muslim law, the community is to give some percentage of its earnings to the poor -- which is called zakat -- and if the government can give tax exemption on this money, it would help all sections of the community and bring more money to the poor.
Mahila Congress chief Prabha Thakur gave a two-page note to the finance minister asking for certain benefits for the women.
She said the Central government funds to the states are not utilised properly and a monitoring committee should be set up to ensure this, the women in SHGs should be provided loans at nominal rates like in Maharashtra where they are given at 4 per cent, mandatory reservation of 30 per cent for women in central and state government jobs and to ensure that this is strictly followed.
She also demanded that more medical colleges and hospitals meant only for women should be opened, the tax emption limit for women tax payers should be increased, the tax on a gift like property, jewelry is exempted only if given to blood relation but wives should also get this exemption, property registered in the name of a women would have less fees.
Thakur demanded that the maximum age of getting government jobs for women should be increased by five years, reservation of 50 per cent ration shops should be given to women entrepreneurs and that anganwadi workers in states should be paid Rs 100 per day same as NREGA.
The leaders noted that for proper utilisation of funds and to check corruption, at least 70 per cent of the work done under NREGA should be of concrete construction of a permanent nature.
The leaders felt that while there were a number of areas where there are worries, they wanted the finance minister to act in those areas with elections to five state assemblies around the corner, even if that means taking tough action like raids on middlemen and hoarders and stringent punishment for black marketers.