Discussions at the Congress Chintan Shivir indicated that an unfettered subsidy regime that spreads across various commodities and services, and is applied universally, cannot be sustained any longer.
While several leaders did emphasise on the need for welfare measures, the overarching sense of the discussion in the group on social and economic challenges was that welfare has to keep fiscal constraints in mind. “We will have to draw our lessons from the recent European fiscal crisis. We must decide who are eligible for welfare and subsidies. It has to be targeted and focussed,” said Digvijaya Singh, chairman of the group.
The push to the right in economic policies was so evident that some speakers in the group even complained that the word socialism doesn’t find any mention in the draft discussion paper. Other speakers countered that social sector schemes in recent years, which were funded by economic growth, have been much more useful for the poor than the slogan of socialism. Mani Shankar Aiyar was one voice of dissent in the group, warning against cutting subsidies.
Union minister K V Thomas, who is piloting the food security programme, also said that commodities must be prioritised before offering subsidies. “While a subsidy on foodgrain is essential, that cannot be said about petroleum products,” he said.
There was widespread approval for the government’s recent move towards effecting a Direct Benefits Transfer regime. Participants pointed out that the regional parties — allies and non-allies — were taking credit for central schemes.
The panels on Emerging Economic and Political Challenges, Women’s Empowerment, India and the World, Emerging Political Challenges and the Organisation dealt with issues identified as crucial by the party and forwarded suggestions to the CWC, for incorporation in Jaipur declaration.