Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today addressed the two-day conference of Governors at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. This is the 44th Governors' conference and the first such conference to be presided over by President.
Here is the full statement by the Prime Minister:
Over the last two days, we have all benefitted from the presentations and discussions that have taken place in this conference. Occasions like this help us not only in developing a deeper understanding of issues of vital national importance, but also in prioritizing and planning for the tasks ahead. The agenda before us covers some of the areas that are critical for the socio-economic development of our country. I would like to thank Respected Rashtrapati ji for organizing this conference.
I would also like to place on record my deep appreciation of the contribution that the participating Governors have made in the last two days. You are all very distinguished men and women, and your knowledge, wisdom and experience constitute a very valuable asset that our country should make full use of.
I have listened very carefully to all the participating Governors. Your deep insights in many areas are truly impressive. As I go ahead, I will attempt to respond to some of the views that have been expressed.
As you are all aware, our economy has slowed down considerably in the last two years. Growth in this fiscal year will be much below the average growth of about 8.0% that we have achieved in the last decade. The factors that have caused this slowdown lie both outside and within our country. The Finance Minister has dealt with the causal factor's in some detail. I can therefore be very brief in my remarks on this subject. It is imperative that we do everything possible to reverse this trend and the Government has made concerted and serious efforts in recent months to revive investment and growth.
At the Central Government level, efforts are being made to streamline the process of clearance of investment proposals, paying particular attention to clearances from the environment and forest angles as well as towards removal of infrastructural bottlenecks. However, the climate for investment is also affected by the activities of State Governments. Factors like the state of law and order, and how easy or difficult it is to acquire land and obtain electricity connections also have an important influence on the climate for investment.
Policy measures announced in the current year have generated optimism which is reflected in an upturn in the Business Expectations Index for the October-December quarter, the Purchasing Managers' Index in October- December and buoyancy in capital markets. Internal accruals of the corporate sector, necessary for a pick-up in investment, have also started improving. There has also been a moderation in core inflation. These factors point towards recovery in GDP growth in the second half of the current year.
A high level of fiscal deficit has been a specific cause of worry for us in the recent time. Our Government has broadly accepted the recommendations of the Kelkar Committee which was appointed to recommend a road map for fiscal consolidation. We intend to contain the fiscal deficit for the current year at 5.3% of GDP and reduce it to 4.8% in the next year. The fiscal deficit is targeted to be reduced by 0.6 percentage points each year thereafter.
We have also taken steps to bridge the infrastructure deficit in areas such as Railways, roads, airports, ports irrigation, and water-supply, which have come under additional stress because of our rapid economic growth in the last decade. These include the setting up of the Cabinet Committee on Investments to expedite decisions on approvals and clearances for implementation of major projects.
The year 2012 saw clear signs of improvement in the Internal Security situation, including in Jammu & Kashmir, the North East and Left Wing Extremism affected areas. However, there is a lot which still needs to be done. The Home Minister has briefed us of our plan of action to meet challenges such as terrorism and Left Wing Extremism, which have both external and internal dimensions.
Before I proceed further on security issues let me say that I have paid particular attention to the remarks of the Governors of Jammu & Kashmir and North Eastern States on security issues. Shri Vohra, Governor of Jammu & Kashmir has made some suggestions for more coherent action on the part of security agencies which I think are well worth exploring. Similarly, there have been suggestions from Governor of Arunachal Pradesh, General J.J. Singh about border roads, porter tracks and suspension bridges. His suggestion to pay adequate attention to the improvement of living conditions in border villages is also well taken. He as well as other Governors have suggested strengthening of the Border Roads Organisation and improving infrastructure in our border areas. The suggestion of Governor of Assam and some other Governors of North Eastern States to accelerate the pace of fencing along the Indo-Bangladesh Border also has merit. I am sure my esteemed colleagues Raksha Mantri Shri Antony and Home Minister Shri Shinde will have all such suggestions on security issues examined to see what action is possible on them.
The Government has taken several steps for the improvement of mechanisms and instrumentalities to counter terrorism. These include strengthening of the Multi Agency Centre (MAC) and the Subsidiary Multi Agency Centre (SMAC), creation of four new hubs of the National Security Guard (NSG), construction of coastal police stations and provision of high technology boats, setting up of the National Investigation Agency, and creation of NATGRID. The passage of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (Amendment) Bill in Parliament has given more teeth to the extant anti-terror regime and is at par with international standards.
In a secular polity that India is, the need for maintaining communal harmony can hardly be overemphasized. Both the Centre and States have to pursue a well coordinated strategy to achieve this objective.
On the external front, we remain committed to working for good relations and peaceful existence with our neighbors. However, we are also firm in our resolve to deal effectively with any threat to our country. Incidents like the one that took place on the LoC last month are against the norms of civilized international behavior and are simply unacceptable to us. We have also to recognize that our neighbourhood is characterized by growing instability and uncertainty.
To meet the entire spectrum of security challenges, the capabilities of both the Armed Forces and the Police forces are being constantly strengthened through provision of cutting edge technology and modern platforms. We are also undertaking infrastructure development programs in the border areas to enhance mobility as well as connectivity.
As I have said on a number of occasions earlier, our strategy for dealing with the menace of Left Wing Extremism is two pronged. Even as we have intensified operations against the extremists, we have also endeavored to bridge the development and governance deficit in the Left Wing Extremist affected area, many of which have predominantly tribal populations. The steps we have taken include deploying additional Central forces, raising specialized forces, strengthening police stations and imparting training to State police personnel in counter insurgency, jungle warfare and anti- terrorism operations. The need for greater inter-State coordination in operations against Left Wing Extremists was emphasized by Governor of Andhra Pradesh, Shri ESL Narasimhan. One cannot agree more with him.
The Integrated Action Plan for 82 select and backward districts, most of which are affected by Left Wing Extremism, is beginning to show encouraging results. Road connectivity in these districts is also being improved. We have also taken steps to streamline the process for vesting of forest rights under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act to the entitled people.
Due to all these efforts, the geographical spread of the menace of Left Wing Extremism has shown a shrinking trend. Further, the number of incidents of Left Wing Extremist violence in 2012 showed perceptible decline compared with the previous year. However, much more remains to be done and we will make all efforts to accomplish what we still have to do. As has been pointed out by Governor of Assam, the expansion of Maoist activities to upper and lower Assam is worrisome.
Rashtrapatiji began his inaugural remarks in this conference by mentioning that the horrific incident of gang-rape in Delhi had shaken the collective conscience of the country. The Government has been prompt in acting on the recommendations of the Justice Verma Committee by promulgating an Ordinance to strengthen the law to deal with crimes of sexual assault of an extreme nature against women. We have also taken a number of administrative measures to enhance the safety and security of our women, particularly in public places. However, as Rashtrapatiji said, real and effective change in the status of women in our country can come only if there is a change in our societal values. This is a goal that all of us need to collectively work for.
Here, I would also like to point out that there is a need to sensitize the police forces towards showing special care in dealing with crimes against the weaker sections of our society, including women, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, Minorities and Children. There is also a need to induct more women in our police forces. I urge the Governors to guide their State Governments in this direction.
Under the Constitution, Governors have been given special responsibility for administration of the Scheduled Areas. They have a direct and critical role in ensuring speedy development of these areas. These Constitutional arrangements have played a very significant role in addressing the long standing demands and aspirations of our tribal brothers and sisters, especially those belonging to the North East. In the Sixth Schedule areas, the process of regular elections, coupled with greater devolution of funds and functions, has strengthened the Tribal Councils. In the Fifth Schedule areas, the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA) has ensured a greater say for the population in both local governance and control over community resources. However, we still have a long way to go in terms of strengthening democratic processes and ensuring devolution of funds, functions and functionaries to the institutions of local self governance in the Scheduled areas. I would urge the Governors to pay particular attention to the effective implementation of the provisions of PESA and the Forest Rights Act. Shri Ram Naresh Yadav, Governor, Madhya Pradesh had urged that the office of Governors be suitably equipped to discharge the constitutional mandate in Fifth Schedule areas. He had also raised the matter of formation of Tribes Advisory Councils. These issues need to be looked into.
My ministerial colleague, Shri Sharad Pawar has outlined the measures being taken to ensure our food security and increase crop productivity, particularly in the Eastern Region of our country. It is heartening to note that that the programme for 'Bringing Green Revolution to Eastern India' (BGREI) is yielding encouraging outcomes. Adoption of modern agricultural practices through this programme has resulted in record production of rice during the last year. Some States have even doubled their rice production.
It is very satisfying for our Government that the average rate of growth in agriculture and allied sectors during the 11th Plan improved to 3.7% compared with 2.4% in the 10th Plan. However, there are many challenges in this area which need to be addressed on an urgent basis. These include environmental degradation in many parts of our country that witnessed the Green Revolution, bottlenecks in farmers' access to affordable and timely credit facilities, weaknesses in Agricultural R&D, inadequate food processing facilities, and barriers to the free flow of agricultural products. The States in general need to strengthen extension services. Smt. Margaret Alva, Governor of Rajasthan has suggested that students of Agricultural Universities should be involved in extension efforts. I would request the Agriculture Minister to examine how this can be done.
One of the items on the agenda for this Conference is the issue of Water Management and Sanitation. There are several concerns that need to be addressed in this area. These include a widening gap between availability and demand of water, depleting ground water levels, polluted water bodies, and inadequate sanitation facilities. These concerns were part of the deliberations during the meeting of the National Water Resources Council held in December 2012. I am happy to inform you that based on a broad consensus, the National Water Policy, 2012 has been adopted by the Council. The New Water Policy contains several significant recommendations like access to potable drinking water and sanitation for all, uniform norms for urban and rural people, independent statutory Water Regulatory Authorities for water pricing and water use efficiency benchmarks. I would request Governors to encourage their State Governments to bring their respective State Water Policies in alignment with the National Water Policy.
Over the past several years, our Government has been implementing the National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP) and the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) to assist States in enabling the availability of safe drinking water in rural and urban areas of our country. Reports indicate that approximately 74% of our rural habitations have been provided with access to adequate safe drinking water. I am happy to note that the Bharat Nirman target of providing adequate and safe drinking water to identified and hitherto uncovered habitations has been achieved. However, we still need to address the issue of contamination of drinking water sources which affects many rural habitations. We also need to ensure that Gram Panchayats and local communities are fully involved in the planning, implementation and Operation &Maintenance of rural water supply systems.
We are now giving much more attention to the area of sanitation than before. In order to accelerate the progress of sanitation in rural areas, a paradigm shift has been made in the Total Sanitation Campaign which is now called the 'Nirmal Bharat Abhiyaan' in the 12th Plan. Our goal is to achieve 100% access to sanitation for all rural households by 2022. While on the subject of Sanitation, I would also like to inform Governors that last year we introduced a new Bill in Parliament for the elimination of manual scavenging and the rehabilitation of manual scavengers. The new Bill seeks to put an end to the dehumanizing practice of manual scavenging. I am hopeful that Parliament will soon enact the proposed legislation.
The need for access to good quality education for our citizens cannot be over emphasized. Our potential demographic dividend can very easily turn into a liability if we are not able to equip our youth with the right types of education and skills.
We have invested in and expanded access to Higher Education on an unprecedented scale. During the 11th Plan period, 16 new Central Universities were established. In addition 7 new Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), 8 new Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), 10 new National Institutes of Technology (NITs), 5 Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (ISERs) and 2 new Schools of Planning and Architecture (SPAs) were set up. Several measures were taken to enhance the quality of education and research in institutions of higher learning, and address the concerns for equity. Our initiatives have shown positive results. For example, the Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) for higher education has grown to 18.1%, from 12.3% in 2006-07.
During the 12th Plan, we will continue our focus on expansion, equity and excellence with greater emphasis on the quality of Higher Education, while consolidating the gains of the 11th Plan. Our goal is to raise the GER in Higher Education to 25.2% by 2017 and 30% by 2020. We also propose to launch a Rashtriya Ucchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA) in the 12th Plan to provide strategic funding to State institutions in an outcome based manner. A National Mission on Teachers and teaching is also being launched. The National Mission in Education through ICT and the National Knowledge Network will provide the backbone and content for greater collaboration among students and teachers. A national initiative for greater inclusion of socially disadvantaged sections of SCs, STs, Minorities, Backward Classes, Girls and Persons with Disabilities is also planned along with a National Initiative in Indian Languages.
The State Governments have a critical role to play in the formulation and implementation of educational policies. I would urge Governors, as Chancellors of State Universities, to take an active interest in toning up the quality and administration of higher education in their States, and guiding the State Universities to lay much greater emphasis on research and innovation. Some Governors have complained about lack of clarity of the role and functions of the Chancellors. I would request HRD Minister to examine if guidelines could be formulated to clarify these matters.
Our Government has been alive to the need to curb corruption in public life and improve the processes of governance. This is a pre-requisite for achieving our efforts towards the development and progress of our nation. We remain committed to the enactment of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas legislation. We hope Parliament will pass this Bill shortly. The Public Interest Disclosure and Protection of Persons Making the Disclosure Bill, The Prevention of Bribery of Foreign Officials and Officials of Public International Organizations Bill, Citizens Right to Grievance Redressal Bill are all under consideration of the Parliament. Shri ESL Narasimhan spoke about the need for providing effective protection to well-meaning civil servants, particularly those who have retired. The Government is considering amendments to the Prevention of Corruption Act not only to enable faster punishment of the guilty public servants but to also provide more effective protection to those who are honest.
The Direct Benefits Transfer Scheme is an important step that the Government has taken to improve targeting, reduce corruption, eliminate waste and enhance efficiency in the public delivery system. We plan to incrementally roll out the scheme from identified districts to the whole country to deliver benefits of identified schemes to the beneficiaries. The Aadhar Numbers being issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) constitute an integral element of the Direct Benefits Transfer strategy. This Scheme is also expected to bring about unprecedented financial inclusion of our rural masses.
Smt Margaret Alva, Governor of Rajasthan and Shri Nikhil Kumar, Governor of Nagaland have advised caution in going ahead with the Direct Benefits Transfer Scheme. Their concern is about inadequate coverage under Aadhar and unsatisfactory coordination with the State Governments respectively. I am sure that the Finance Minister, Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission and Shri Nandan Nilekani have taken note of these concerns and will take action to address them.
Shri ESL Narasimhan, Governor of Andhra Pradesh has emphasized the need for more efficient use of scarce resources by concentrating them on fewer programmes, and better targeting of beneficiaries. I am happy to inform all of you that the Government is actively considering reduction in the number of Centrally Sponsored Schemes so as to make them more focused and useful.
These are some of the thoughts that I wished to share with you today. Let me conclude by once again thanking Rashtrapati ji. I also wish the Governors all success in your efforts towards building a modern, prosperous and liberal India.
Thank you. Jai Hind.