Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Friday, Jun 25, 2004
Industry & Economy - Economy
Reforms must create more jobs, benefit all people: PM
New Delhi , June 24
SIGNALLING a distinct Centre-Left tilt in the economic priorities of his United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government, the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, on Thursday said reforms were "not just about freeing private enterprise from the shackles of bureaucratic control," and policies aimed at promoting growth must have to "advance the cause of distributive justice and create new employment opportunities."
In his first official address to the nation, in which words such as privatisation, disinvestment or labour reforms did not figure, Dr Singh acknowledged that the benefits of accelerated economic growth had "not touched all our citizens in equal measure." Growth, he pointed out, "is not an end in itself" and is only "a means to generate employment, banish poverty, hunger and homelessness and improve the standard of living of the mass of our people."
The Prime Minister noted that much of the focus of economic reforms in the past decade had been on reducing the role of the Government in controlling the private sector. While these reforms were necessary, there are many critical areas though, where the Government has a role.
"These include the provision of social and physical infrastructure for development, the provision of elementary education and public health, providing drinking water and sanitation. They also include economic infrastructure, which in our country in large part must be provided by the Government such as irrigation, power, roads and railways. Our people expect the Government to be proactive and sensitive to their needs. In each of these areas, at each level of governance, the reform of government is today an urgent task before us," Dr Singh said.
In an indication that the Government would enhance expenditure on welfare programmes in the coming Budget which corporates fear may even involve measures such as the proposed 2 per cent education cess on all central taxes the Prime Minister said that his Government would work to step up public spending "to universalise access to elementary education and to improve the quality of our education." And to achieve these objectives, the Government would make effective use of the mid-day meals programme.
Dr Singh also promised a "New Deal" to rural India and the agriculture sector, which, he contended, had registered a significant slowdown in growth over the past five years. Accordingly, public investment in agriculture would be "greatly increased", which will be over and above the measures to enhance farm credit and restructure debts of farmers announced last week. Specifically, the Government will "reverse the neglect of public investment in irrigation."
The Prime Minister also indicated the Government's intent to enact an Employment Guarantee legislation by stating that a "food for work programme, efficiently implemented, can greatly assist in achieving the objective (of expanding opportunities for gainful employment in agriculture and in off-farm rural activities)."
While critics feel that the measures contemplated would end up bleeding the Exchequer and a sure recipe for fiscal disaster, Dr Singh, however, maintained that his Government was committed to a "high degree of fiscal and financial discipline."
He added that the focus of reforms would be on agriculture and the way public institutions operate in the country. "The Indian farmer has suffered from too many controls and restrictions. There are still far too many internal barriers to trade that must go. We must re-examine those aspects of our policies that prevent a creative interaction between farmers and agro-industries," the Prime Minister said, indicating that major changes in the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee laws are in the offing.
Dr Singh also renewed the Government's commitment to introduce a nation-wide value-added tax regime along with evolving an "Energy Policy" that will look into "all aspects like energy security, access and availability, affordability and pricing, efficiency and environment."
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