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March 20, 2002 | 1225 IST
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BJP's coalition allies slam Union Budget

Regional partners of India's ruling coalition on Wednesday denounced the Union Budget as anti-people and asked the government to roll back a hike in fertiliser, cooking gas and kerosene prices.

"The Budget is anti-poor and anti-farmer. It has been made to suit the needs of the foreign investor. It's one-sided," said Subodh Mohite, a lawmaker from Shiv Sena, which has 10 members in the lower house of Parliament.

"There should be a complete rollback of the cooking gas and kerosene price increases."

Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha in his 2002-03 (April-March) Budget speech in February announced politically harsh proposals such as hiking fertiliser, cooking gas and kerosene prices as well as cutting administered interest rates.

The government announced a partial rollback in cooking gas prices on Saturday following pressure from allies and members from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party which heads the coalition.

But unsatisfied allies demanded a complete reversal of the price hikes.

"There is no need to hike fertiliser prices as the government had cut subsidies by Rs 20 billion only last year," a senior government minister from a key ally, told Reuters.

"I want the hike to be completely rolled back. Fertiliser is something even a small farmer uses," said the minister who did not want to be identified.

Sinha has been trying to cut subsidies to rein in India's runaway fiscal deficit which is estimated to be at an alarming 5.7 per cent in the current financial year, up from an earlier target of 4.7 per cent.

It has set a fiscal deficit target of 5.3 per cent of GDP for 2002-03 (April-March).

Analysts said the government could be forced to reverse the hike in fertiliser prices when the Budget comes up for discussion in the lower house due to pressure from the allies and the opposition.

Sinha is expected to reply to the debate on the Budget in the lower house on Wednesday.

Opposition parties led by the Congress have criticised the Budget proposals, saying they are lop-sided and harsh on farmers.

Analysts said the overall Budget would be passed but the government would be compelled to give in to some of the demands because its position has been weakened after a recent crisis over a temple row.

The government's secular allies are peeved over its posturing in court over conducting a prayer ceremony to begin temple construction at a disputed site in Ayodhya.

The government first pronounced neutrality in the issue saying the court's verdict would be final. But it sent its attorney-general later to plead unsuccessfully in favour of the ceremony.

More than 700 people have died in the worst communal clashes in a decade after a mob torched a train in the western state of Gujarat carrying karsevaks from Ayodhya.

The Rediff Budget Special
The Sabarmati in Flames
The Ayodhya Dispute

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