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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 February, 2004, 09:42 GMT
Indian economy 'better than ever'
Jaswant Singh
Strong farm output has done Mr Singh a favour
Indian growth could hit 8% this year, the government has forecast in its last pre-election budget update.

Finance Minister Jaswant Singh said the economy had "never been better", and that it was India's "national destiny" to be a leading global power.

Mr Singh forecast a slight fall in the deficit, despite a raft of tax cuts and inducements in recent months.

India's coalition government, led by the Hindu nationalist BJP, faces elections in April or May this year.

"This is a budget for elections and not for people and development," said Shivraj Patil, a leader of the opposition Congress party.

Election incentives

Mr Singh also said India would for the first time meet its revenue goals from the privatisation of state-run firms in the fiscal year to March.

India began to liberalise its protectionist economy in 1991 but the drive had been repeatedly delayed amid domestic opposition.

However, one of the success stories of last year was the sale of the country's largest car manufacturer Maruti.

The company's shares surged by 31% on their first day of trading in July and for the first three months to September, Maruti reported a profit of 1.24bn rupees ($27.4m, 16.2m).

Mr Singh used the interim budget to unveil yet more incentives for the electorate.

The biggest announcement was a pay increase for nearly 3.5 million federal government employees, who will now see 50% of a so-called dearness allowance made part of their basic salaries.

Mr Singh also promised soft loans for tea growers, and a scheme to grant credit cards to farmers.

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