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Govt aims for zero revenue deficit by 2005: Jaswant

Our Bureau

New Delhi , Feb. 5

THE Government has set itself a target to bring down the revenue deficit to zero levels by 2005, two years ahead of the deadline mandated by the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act, according to the Union Finance Minister, Mr Jaswant Singh.

Winding up the debate in the Rajya Sabha, before Parliament approved the Interim Budget for 2004-05 and the Vote-on-Account, he noted that the economy was looking up and the Government was confident of achieving 7.5-8 per cent growth this year, which itself was an underestimate.

Soon after his reply, the Upper House returned the relevant appropriation bills amidst walkout by the entire Opposition. The Budget and the Vote-on-Account were passed by the Lok Sabha on Wednesday.

The Bills that have been approved provide for withdrawal of Rs 3,21,070 crore from the Consolidated Fund of India for Government expenditure during the first four months of next fiscal.

Earlier, responding to the criticism that his Rs 12,000 crore of sops in the mini-Budget announced earlier would push up the fiscal deficit, Mr Singh reeled out statistics to say that despite these giveaways, the economy had been able to reduce fiscal deficit to 4.8 per cent of GDP in the current fiscal as against 5.9 per cent last year.

"This is not an insignificant achievement. It was possible mainly due to strict expenditure control and 17 per cent revenue growth. For that matter, last year, the Union Budget had reduced customs duty to the tune of Rs 3,500 crore and this resulted in increased revenue, more than enough to offset the giveaways. Apart from the 17 per cent growth in revenue, the Tax-GDP ratio has gone up from 9.25 to 9.50 per cent of GDP and this trend will continue next fiscal too," he said.

Taking on the Opposition for charging the Government with making the interim Budget a political statement he said, "This is a curious charge. It is like asking a political activist whether he is immune from politics. Every economic document is not innocent of politics. If anybody makes a claim to the contrary, it is not correct."

The Finance Minister maintained that he would not like to enter into a debate whether the growth in the economy was higher during his Government's five-year tenure or the previous five years, and said that he was not in any kind of competition to prove that he is the best Finance Minister.

As regards the charges that the Government had not done enough to tackle the problem of unemployment, he said no government could ever claim to have achieved zero unemployment in the country, including in West Bengal ruled by Left parties. The Government had tried its best to raise employment levels and was aware that unemployment could not be removed so soon. It would be the endeavour of the NDA Government to provide more and more job opportunities and tackling unemployment was a continuous process, he said

Mr Singh also announced that the Government would soon implement the recommendations of the Group of Ministers (GoM) for payment of arrears to employees of certain public sector undertakings worth Rs 1,947 crore which has been pending for close to four years now.

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