Congress concentrates on youth and farmer in poll manifesto, threatens to investigate Rafale deal
Setting the narrative for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, the Congress party on Tuesday released its manifesto in which special focus has been on youth and farmer. From opening vacancies for job creation to providing a minimum support income of Rs 72,000 per year for the poor families - the party went all out to woo the voters.
The Congress manifesto also pledged to investigate Rafale plane deal along with several deals the party entered into by the BJP Government in the last 5 years.
Pitching for 'Ujjwal Bharat', the Congress promised to work on employment, industry, infrastructure, cities, urbanisation and urban policy, rural development, informal and organized sector, agriculture, farmers and farm labour, economic policy, NYAY scheme, taxation and tax reforms, banking and financial sector, science, technology and innovation, national security, foreign policy, internal security, border security, ex-servicemen, Central Armed Police Forces, anti-corruption and many others.
The 55-page manifesto talks about five crucial issues - Kaam (employment and growth), Daam (an economy that works for all), Shaan (pride in hard work and soft power), Sushashan (good governance), Swabhimaan (self esteem for the deprived), Samman (life of dignity) - which the Congress party said "it will deliver" on.
Targeting the youth, Congress president Rahul Gandhi said that if voted to power, the party plans to open avenues of employment and provide new ways to keep the youth engaged. He said the Congress will fill all 4 lakh vacancies in the Central Government and institutional vacancies before March 2020.
"Congress manifesto to focus on five main themes. This NYAY scheme will do two things... First poor will have money in their pockets... Second, the economy will start running which was stalled due to demonetization. Modi ji promised 2 crore jobs but we know the truth. There are 22 lakh positions vacant, we will fill all this post by 2020," Congress president Rahul Gandhi said while releasing the manifesto.
The manifesto also promised of creating an estimated 10 lakh Seva Mitra positions in every gram panchayat and urban local body, launch a 'Water Bodies Restoration Mission' and 'Wasteland Regeneration Mission' to create 1 crore jobs, exempt new businesses from applicable laws and regulations (except Minimum Wages Act and tax laws) for a period of 3 years, encourage State Governments to fill their vacancies, reward businesses for job creation, provide businesses with fiscal incentives for employing more women, and require businesses with over 100 employees to start an apprenticeship programme.
"Congress pledges to give the highest priority to protecting existing jobs and creating new jobs. In order to underline the link between the growth of the industry and services sectors and rapid creation of jobs, Congress will create a new Ministry of Industry, Services and Employment. All of the 4 lakh vacancies as on 1 April 2019 in the Central Government, Central Public Sector Enterprises, Judiciary and Parliament will be filled before the end of March 2020. As a condition for devolution of funds to the healthcare and education sectors and to Panchayats and Municipalities, Congress will request State Governments to fill all vacancies, estimated at 20 lakh, in the 2 sectors and in local bodies," the manifesto said.
Congress promised to abolish all application fees for government examinations and posts and pledged to create lakhs of new jobs for qualified teachers, doctors, nurses, paramedics, technicians, instructors and administrators through a massive expansion of the education and health sectors. Para-state workers such as Anganwadi workers, ASHA workers, rozgarsahayaks, preraks, and anudeshaks, form the backbone of the public service delivery system. In addition, the ASHA programme will be expanded and a second ASHA worker will be appointed in all villages with a population exceeding 2500 persons.
The party promised to reward job creating by lowering the direct tax rates and contributions to the CSR fund.
The Congress manifesto reiterated the promise made by Rahul Gandhi in an election rally about providing Rs 72,000 to the deprived. "To ensure that no Indian is left behind, Congress will provide a Minimum Income Support Programme (MISP) or Nyuntam Aay Yojana (NYAY) under which Rs. 72,000 a year will be transferred to the poorest 20 per cent families in India. We will provide special respite to farmers and farm workers, not just through "Karz Maafi" or a loan waiver but by setting farmers on the path to "Karz Mukti," or Freedom from Indebtedness," the manifesto said.
"Debt is a civil liability and we will not allow criminal proceedings to be instituted against a farmer who is unable to pay his/her debt," the manifesto said while underlining that to ensure priority to the issues affecting the agriculture sector, the Congress will bring in a separate "Kisan Budget" and establish a permanent National Commission on Agricultural Development and Planning consisting of farmers, agricultural scientists and agricultural economists to examine and advise the government on how to make agriculture viable, competitive and remunerative.
It also said that BJP's Fasal Bima Yojana (Crop Insurance Scheme) will be re-designed as it has so far only enriched the insurance companies at the cost of the farmers. "We will direct insurance companies to offer crop insurance and charge premiums on the principle of no profit, no loss," the manifesto said.
Rahul Gandhi promised to increase employment days to 150 from 100 under MNREGA and bring in a separate budget for farmers. "The Prime Minister had spoken about MGNREGA. He mocked and said it is a bogus and useless scheme. Today, everyone knows how much it helped the country. So, now we want to guarantee jobs for 150 days, instead of 100 days, under the scheme," Rahul Gandhi said.
Giving details of Minimum Support income, the manifesto said that the target population will be 5 crore families who constitute the poorest 20 per cent of all families. Each family will be guaranteed a cash transfer of Rs. 72,000 a year. As far as possible, the money will be transferred to the account of a woman of the family who has a bank account or who will be urged to open a bank account. There will a Design phase (3 months) followed by a Pilot and Testing phase (6-9 months) before roll-out.
On its economic policy, the party promised to achieve the target of 3 per cent of GDP by 2020-21 and remain under that limit. "Congress will respect the autonomy of the RBI in matters reserved to the RBI under the Reserve Bank of India Act, 1939, including the formulation of monetary policy. However, the Governor shall periodically render an account to a committee of Parliament," the manifesto said.
Congress promised to review all laws, rules and regulations governing investments within 3 months. Instruments that are inconsistent with a market economy or outdated or obstructionist will be repealed.
The party also promised to simplify taxation and enact the Direct Taxes Code for "simplicity, transparency, tax equity, easy compliance and impartial administration." The party promised to replace existing GST with GST 2.0 based on a single, moderate, standard rate of tax on all goods and services.
"GST 2.0 will be easy to administer, easy to understand by the taxpayer, and easy to comply with. We are confident that GST 2.0 will promote growth, new businesses and employment. The website under GST 2.0 will be re-designed and made user-friendly with inputs from the taxpayers," the manifesto said. It also promised to abolish the e-way bill and allocate a share of GST revenues to Panchayats and Municipalities.
Talking about "Shaan" or national pride, the Congress said it will reverse the trend of declining defence spending under the NDA government and will ensure that defence spending is increased to meet the requirements of the Armed Forces.
"We will expedite all modernisation programmes of the Armed Forces in a transparent manner, categorically address any remaining anomalies in one-rank one-pension for our Armed Forces, and improve social security, education and health facilities for our Paramilitary Forces and families," the manifesto said.
Apart from promising improvement in infrastructure for the forces, the party also talked about removing the anomalies in the implementation of OROP, implement a policy of compensation to the families of martyrs that will include full pay and allowances, bring a policy that will allow Armed Forces personnel who retire after a period of colour service or earlier lateral entry into the civil services based on their qualifications It also promised to allow Armed Forces personnel who retire before the age of 40 years to enter the Central Armed Police Forces at suitable levels based on their qualifications and physical fitness.
For the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF), Congress promised to increase its strength and have at least 33 per cent of women in the forces.
"At any given time, an adequate number of battalions will be on rest, recuperation and training and will not be deployed on operational duties," it said and promised to enhance the status of the jawan and the benefits to the families of jawans in cases were the jawan dies in action. "We will set up a Committee to draft new Service Rules for personnel of the CAPFs," it said.
Talking about good governance, the party said: "We believe that self-regulation is the best way to correct the abuse of media freedom. We will amend the Press Council of India Act, 1978 to strengthen the system of self-regulation, protect the freedom of journalists, uphold editorial independence and guard against government interference."
It also talked about enforcing anti-corruption laws and initiate an investigation in several deals entered into by the BJP Government in the last 5 years and, in particular, the Rafale deal. "Congress will also investigate the circumstances under which a number of scamsters were allowed to leave the country and will take determined steps to bring them back and face legal proceedings.
The party also promised to decriminalise laws that are directed against civil violations and can be subjected to civil penalties, such as making 'defamation' a civil offence. "Omitting Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (that defines the offence of 'sedition') that has been misused and, in any event, has become redundant because of subsequent laws," it said.
Congress also pledged to scrap the "opaque" Electoral Bond Scheme "that was designed to favour the ruling party and set up a National Election Fund to which any person may make a contribution. "Congress will ensure that EVMs and VVPATs are tamperproof. During counting, the count in at least 50 per cent of the EVMs will be matched against the physical count of the voting slips in the corresponding VVPATs," the party manifesto said.
The party also promised to will pass the Constitution (Amendment) Bill to provide for reservation of 33 per cent of seats in the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies in the first session of the 17th Lok Sabha and in the Rajya Sabha. "We will amend the Service Rules to reserve for women 33 per cent of appointments to posts in the Central Government," the manifesto said.
Talking at length about the preparation of manifesto, Rahul Gandhi said: "It is a massive step by the Congress party. When we started a year ago, I spoke to Mr Chidambaram and others and told them that this manifesto must reflect the wishes of the people of India. Whatever is in the manifesto must be truthful. I made it clear that nothing in this can be a lie, because we live in a time where we hear a large number of lies every day."
Convener of Manifesto Committee Rajiv Gowda said NRI's from 12 different countries were consulted during the preparation of the manifesto and 20 sub-committees were formed for wider consultations.
Former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, who was present in the manifesto launch event, said, "In Congress' manifesto, all section of society has been taken care of. The focus of the manifesto is to spell on the vision of Congress party."
"Unemployment, farmer distress and women safety are the top three issues. Our manifesto is about marrying wealth and welfare. Our manifesto will focus on this and lay out the path to ensure this happens," Congress leader P Chidambaram said. UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and other Congress top leaders were present during the launch of party's manifesto for the general elections.