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Govt pledges to pull people out of poverty

* Dar says more than half of country’s population lives below poverty line * Rs 103bn will be earned with elimination of tax SROs

ISLAMABAD: Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said on Wednesday that pulling almost half of the country’s population out of poverty was the major policy objective of the government in the federal budget 2014-15.
“If we consider $2 the minimum daily wage, then more than half (about 90 million people) of the country’s population lives below the poverty line,” he said while addressing the post-budget press conference. The government, he said, had launched many schemes in the budget to help the needy, provide soft loans to unemployed youth and assist the deserving students in completing higher education. He said these steps would ensure sustainable development in the country. 
Dar said projects such as Prime Minister’s Youth Programme and Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) were the biggest projects of the government to help the poor and needy. He criticised the previous government “for failing to provide appropriate relief to the poor”. In 2008, Dar said, he allocated Rs 34 billion for the BISP. He said, “When we inherited this programme last year, only Rs 40 billion were spent.” He said the government immediately raised the funding to Rs 75 billion besides making it an important component of the PM’s Youth Programme. “We are further enhancing this allocation to Rs 118 billion, approximately 200% increase since 2012-13,” he added.
Finance Minister Dar reiterated that his government would leave no stone unturned in keeping prices under control, and warned that the violators will be dealt with an iron fist. He also declared that there will be no concession to price hikers and measures proposed in the budget to attain prosperity will not be withdrawn. The government, the minister said, had also launched specific schemes to help the unemployed youth have access to soft loans for starting their own businesses. 
Most of the applicants had shown interest in agriculture-related projects, he added. About the fiscal deficit, Ishaq Dar said at present it stands at 8.8 percent and in the coming years it will be brought down to 4%, saying its reduction was a priority of the government. However, it goes further up if the government increases the salaries, as it will have to borrow loans to fill the gap.
The federal minister reiterated the government’s stance that tax net would be broadened and around Rs 103 billion will be earned through the elimination of those SROs that extend concessions to the privileged class. “We would make an end to a culture of non-tax return filers from the country,” Dar said, adding, that the SRO culture will end within next three years.
He deplored that out of the two million retailers only a few thousand were registered for sales tax returns, and noted that a 14.6 percent increase in taxes within 11 months is a good sign. He warned those parliamentarians who fail to file tax returns by June 10, that they would not be given any allowance.

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