Monday, October 31, 2011

PM's speech at the Governors' Conference
The Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, addressed the Governors’ Conference in New Delhi. The following is the text of the Prime Minister’s address:

“I am happy to address the closing session of this conference. Over the course of the last two days, we have seen some very useful presentations by Union Ministers in diverse areas- Law and Order, Defence, Finance, Agriculture, Scheduled Areas, Women and Children, Education and External Affairs and so on. We have also had the opportunity to know the views of Governors on these very important issues. I am sure all of us will go back from this conference not only with a better perspective on the critical challenges that face our nation, but also with a better appreciation of special State specific problems. Collectively, Governors represent a vast repository of experience and expertise and it is only appropriate that we all benefit from their wisdom through conferences as the present one.

Let me refer to the discussion in the conference about the role of Governors and how it can be made more useful. I gather that there is a perception among Governors that the Central Government does not pay attention to their advice. Let me suggest that this perception is not totally correct, though I agree that there is scope for benefitting more from the analysis and advice of Governors. While it may not be possible for me to read all the monthly reports that Governors send, I do go through those which I feel could touch upon issues of critical importance. A summary of most of the remaining reports is also seen by me. But as I said, I agree that we could make more use of the information conveyed and suggestions made by Governors.

Suggestions were made yesterday for placing former Governors appropriately in the Warrant of Precedence and for better delivery of health services to them. I am sure the Home Minister has taken note of these suggestions. Hon`ble Governor of Andhra Pradesh and some others spoke on the need for more clarity on their role as Chancellors of State Universities and in relation to Central Universities. Indeed, they emphasised that these roles should be more substantial and useful. Though the Hon`ble Minister for Human Resource Development is not present, I will request him to very carefully examine these suggestions.

Over the last seven and a half years or so, our Government has strived for high economic growth along with inclusion. We have been reasonably successful in our efforts, despite at times facing an adverse international environment. The global economic slowdown of 2008-09 did affect us but not as much as other countries. The resources generated from the high economic growth that we have achieved have been ploughed back in massive programmes for inclusion, especially in the fields of rural development, education and health. We will continue on this path in the Twelfth Plan, with special emphasis on sustainability and fiscal prudence. I endorse the emphasis laid by the Finance Minister on the needs for fiscal consolidation.

We are looking at significantly enhancing our focus on development of infrastructure during the 12th Plan by mobilizing the private sector in a big way while simultaneously increasing public investment. We are paying special attention to speedily finding solutions to endemic problems in coal, power generation and distribution, and availability of fertilizers. With the recent announcement of the National Manufacturing Policy and our ongoing focus on skill development and other initiatives, it is my belief that we will be able to strengthen the manufacturing sector during the 12th Plan period.

The immediate challenge before us today is how to sustain a high growth path, while keeping inflation in check. The international economic environment that we face today is not very encouraging. The world economy is slowing down. The locomotive economies of USA, Western Europe and Japan are faced with sluggish growth prospects and instability. There is growing uncertainty in West Asia and North Africa. We face rising oil and commodity prices in international markets. We need to take into account all these factors while formulating our strategies for sustaining our growth processes.

High food price inflation has been a particular cause for worry in the recent months. As I have said on a number of occasions earlier, in the longer term the key to tackling rising food prices lies in increasing productivity and production in agriculture and allied sectors. We have taken a number of steps in this direction in the Eleventh Plan and these will be further strengthened in the Twelfth Plan. Meanwhile, our Government and the Reserve Bank of India will continue to take the required fiscal and monetary measures to ease inflationary pressures.

I would like to repeat here what I said a couple of days earlier while addressing Chief Ministers of States. We should guard against a mood of negativism. Our past record in dealing with difficult situations and our achievements should give us the confidence that collectively we can meet any challenge that comes our way. Indeed, there should be no doubt that we, as a nation, have the ability to deal with the most difficult of situations.

The challenges to the maintenance of law and order and controlling terrorism and Left Wing Extremism in the country remain formidable. The Home Minister has given a lucid account of how we plan to meet these challenges. They have both external and internal dimensions. Seventeen of our States have international land borders. Also, our long coast line is shared by nine States and four Union Territories. Infiltration by terrorists, illegal migration and smuggling are the main problems we face along our borders. Our Government has endeavoured to enhance border security through a number of measures. These include fencing and floodlighting, construction of roads along the borders and creation of additional Border Out Posts. Hon`ble Governor of Punjab and Rajasthan mentioned about the need for border fencing of additional stretches and we will look into his suggestion. It was also pointed out that the Border Roads Organization was overburdened with work which was affecting its performance. I am sure the Hon`ble Defence Minister will look into this issue. Our Government has been working for greater cooperation with our neighbouring countries in tackling the problems we face at our borders. The signing of the Protocol to the Land Boundary Agreement of 1974 and putting in place the Coordinated Border Management Plan with Bangladesh are examples of what is possible through such cooperation.

Left Wing Extremism continues to pose a major threat to our internal security. Concerted efforts made by the Centre and the States in the past few years have shown some positive results. The quantum of violence in the current year has declined in comparison to the corresponding period last year. The steps we have taken to tackle the problem of Left Wing Extremism include deployment of additional Central forces, raising specialized forces and imparting training to State police personnel in counter insurgency, jungle warfare and anti-terrorism operations. But the extent of success we achieve through these measures depends critically on coordination between the Centre and States and between different States. We need to share intelligence on a real time basis and to coordinate police action across inter-State borders. Here I would like to emphasize the need to ensure that Left Wing Extremism does not spread to additional areas of our country. Hon`ble Governor of Assam pointed out to a possibility of such expansion in Assam and both the Central and State Governments should jointly ensure that this does not happen.

Those parts of our country that are affected by Left Wing Extremism also happen to be more backward and poor, and many of them have predominant tribal population. It is deprivation and extreme poverty that sometimes gives rise to Naxalism. We recognise that we also need to address the development deficit in areas affected by Left Wing Extremism, if we are to deal effectively with this challenge. As mentioned by the Home Minister, better policing and development have to be twin engines of a coordinated strategy. Our Government has launched the Integrated Action Plan for tribal and other backward areas, under which an outlay of Rs. 55 crore has been made available to each of the identified 60 districts, for augmenting development efforts over a two-year period. Further expansion of this scheme to additional districts is under consideration. We need to ensure that these funds are used to address the felt needs of the local people, particularly those belonging to the marginalized and weaker sections. The suggestion to focus on the block rather than the district as a unit for planning will be considered.

Governors have a direct and critical role to play in ensuring speedy development of the Scheduled Areas. The efficacy of the special Constitutional arrangements for the tribal population is borne out by the progressive expansion in the notified Scheduled areas and the gradual increase in the devolution of powers to such areas. These efforts have played a very significant role in addressing the longstanding demands and aspirations of our tribal brothers and sisters, especially those belonging to the Northeast. Whereas Governors have been given special responsibility for the administration of the Scheduled areas, with the passage of time, the roots of local democratic governance in such areas have also deepened. In the Fifth Schedule areas, the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, or PESA, has ensured a greater say for the population in both local governance and control over community resources. In the Sixth Schedule areas, the process of regular elections, coupled with greater devolution of funds and functions, has strengthened the Tribal Councils. Democratic processes and popular participation need to be further encouraged in the Scheduled areas. The growth of local democracy in these areas also necessitates a recalibration of the manner in which Governors discharge their special responsibilities. Initiatives that have a direct bearing on the inhabitants of such areas need greater attention and support. Particular attention must be given to effective implementation of the provisions of PESA and the Forests Rights Act. The relaxations recently granted under the Forest Conservation Act for expediting developmental works and the powers given to panchayats in respect of access to bamboo produce need to be fully utilized.

Our development strategy lays special attention to ensuring that the fruits of development are shared equitably. In this context, effective implementation of development programmes for scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, other backward classes, religious minorities, women and children assumes great importance. I urge Governors to take active interest in the implementation of these development programmes. Governors can perform the role of being eyes and ears of the Central Government in evaluating the effectiveness of major development programmes. As Chancellors of State Universities, they should take active interest in toning up the quality and administration of higher education in their states. As I have already stated earlier, the suggestions made by Governors in this regard will be carefully examined.

The past year has seen a record level of foodgrains production. Production of wheat, maize and pulses separately too has touched record levels, as has oilseeds production. As pointed out by Shri Sharad Pawar, enhancement of minimum support prices, expansion in agricultural credit, substantial public investment in irrigation and transfer of crop production technologies are some of the initiatives that have helped achieve these record levels. In the Eleventh Plan our agriculture is expected to grow at about 3.5 percent per annum, as compared to 2.2 percent in the Tenth Plan. All these are very encouraging signs. However, the challenges that Indian agriculture faces are enormous. To meet the expected demand in the year 2020-21, our foodgrains production needs to grow at 2 percent per annum. This requirement has to be seen in contrast to the achieved average growth of 1 percent per annum during the 10 year period 1997-98 to 2006-07. Many parts of our country that witnessed the Green Revolution are suffering from problems of environmental degradation. In many other regions, particularly in the Eastern parts of our country, yields continue to be lower than what is attainable. Because a significant part of our agricultural growth has to come through application of new technologies and knowledge, we need to focus more on agricultural Research and Development, while simultaneously working for better availability of quality seeds, enhanced irrigation facilities, and improved extension services. We need more and better storage facilities. We need to remove some of the existing barriers to the free flow of agricultural products and to strengthen and streamline their marketing. I would urge Governors to encourage their States to make the required amendments to the Agricultural Produce Market Committees Act, if they have not already done so. We need a second Green Revolution that is broad based and inclusive. Several Governors have made useful suggestions for the development of agriculture. These will be carefully considered by the Government. About 60 percent of cropped area is rainfed and therefore this second Green Revolution must effectively increase yields in the rainfed areas. There is also an urgent need to increase the water use efficiency so that the benefits of irrigation accrue to an increased area. The National Rainfed Areas Authority has helped augment institutional expertise and capacity at the national level for rainfed areas. A Rainfed Area Development Programme has been launched this year and it offers a complete package of activities for adoption of Integrated Farming System approaches. This is especially expected to benefit small and marginal farmers. For enhancement of productivity of pulses and oilseeds in rainfed areas, a programme of 60,000 Pulses and Oilseed Villages was started in 2010-11. A new initiative has been taken up for promotion of millets.

One of the items on the agenda for this conference is the issue of ragging. The practice of subjecting promising young men and women to physical, psychological and emotional abuse cannot be tolerated in any civilized society. We must collectively do everything that is required to end this menace. The Supreme Court issued clear directions in May 2009 for curbing incidents of ragging, and our Government has taken several steps to check this practice. As Chancellors of the university system, Governors have a special responsibility to ensure that this menace is rooted out once and for all. It needs to be made unambiguously clear to the authorities of educational institutions, other enforcement agencies, and the student community, that there is zero tolerance to ragging of any kind. Hon`ble Governor of Meghalaya and some other Governors mentioned the discrimination that students from the North East face when they come to study in Delhi. This has to be seen in the general context of complaints of discriminatory treatment to our citizens from the North Eastern States when they choose to live in other parts of the country. Our Government stands committed to the physical and emotional integration of our North Eastern States into the mainstream of development. I would request the Home Minister to look into these issues again and do whatever more is required to address them.

There have been many other suggestions which I have not mentioned. They cover a large range of areas – agriculture, tourism, security, education, social welfare schemes and so on. Many of these suggestions are from Governors of North Eastern States. Hon`ble Governor of Arunachal Pradesh emphasized upon the need for exploiting the tourism potential of the State and consultation with the State Government in certain matters of foreign policy, Hon`ble Governor of Meghalaya said that the unacceptably poor quality of telecommunications in the border areas needs improvement, Hon`ble Governor of Nagaland spoke of the need for better rail and air connectivity to the State and so on. Some of the issues raised by Governors have already been addressed by my Cabinet colleagues in their presentations and responses. You have my assurance that we will carefully follow up on the remaining issues.

Our efforts for rapid progress and development can have their full impact only if we curb corruption in public life and improve the processes of governance. I believe this is the right time to move decisively in this direction. Our Government will do its utmost to improve transparency and accountability in the work of public authorities. We are committed to take all possible measures to curb corruption in administration and deliver good governance to our citizens. Apart from the Lokpal Bill, a bill to amend the Land Acquisition Act has also been introduced in the Parliament. We are working for enacting a law to bring more transparency and accountability into our procurement systems. I expect the State Governments also to act similarly so that these efforts touch all levels of governance in all parts of our country.

Let me end by thanking all of you for what has been a very useful exchange of views and ideas. We hope to continue benefitting from the knowledge, wisdom and experience of Governors. I wish you all the best in your efforts to contribute to the processes of nation building. May God bless your path.”

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