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PM launches `Bharat Nirman' project

Our Bureau

New Delhi , Dec. 16

THE Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, on Friday launched the ambitious Bharat Nirman initiative aimed at strengthening the country's rural infrastructure including water supply, power, housing and roads, and proposed a `specific financing window' for the Rs 1,74,000-crore programme.

"Most of this will come from the Government's development outlays. We are also proposing a specific financing window for the Bharat Nirman through Nabard for funding selected components," Dr Singh said addressing a conference organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry.

Panchayat-privates sector partnership: The delivery model proposes to involve panchayats and the private sector as partners, he said, adding that the Planning Commission was working on ways to enhance the management of rural infrastructure programmes by panchayats.

"State Governments are key implementing agencies and panchayats would need to activate the demand side without which service delivery would not be effective," he said.

The four-year programme is aimed at achieving identified goals in six selected areas of rural infrastructure - irrigation, water supply, housing, roads, telephony and electrification.

Roads, housing: "In four of these areas we would like to see universal coverage where every village in India with over a 1,000 population will have an all-weather road, every habitation would have water supply, every village would have a telephone and every village would be in fact electrified," he said.

The Government plans to build 60 lakh houses to address rural homelessness and add 10 million hectares to irrigation capacity. Dr Singh said that Bharat Nirman, along with the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, National Rural Health Mission and Sarvashiksha Abhiyan, was aimed at giving a `New Deal to Rural India'.

The India-Bharat divide: Dr Singh said that the major challenge of the economic reform programme was that of balancing the growth process and bridging the various divides, particularly narrowing the gap between India and Bharat.

The Prime Minister used the term `Bharat' to signify rural areas and `India' to specify urban areas, while asking business to bridge the phenomenal gap between the two.

Irrigation: He noted the steady decline in public investment in irrigation over the years. "There have been a large number of projects which have been languishing for want of funds. The effort under Bharat Nirman is to identify all such projects and target their completion to create 10 million hectares of additional irrigation capacity," he said.

The Government has identified major and medium irrigation projects amounting to four million hectares, which could be completed, as well as 2.8 million ha that can come from minor irrigation.

Communication: On the communication side, he said by September 2007 the Centre is expected to provide every Indian village with telephone access. Currently, as many as 66,822 villages are without telephone connection.

Electrification: Expressing his concern over the loss of momentum in recent years in the development of rural electrification, he said, "Over 100,000 villages still do not have electricity connection. To correct this we have initiated the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana. Our effort is to ensure electrification of all villages by the year 2009," he said.

Stating that a wealth of opportunities lay at the `bottom of the pyramid', the Prime Minister urged the industry not to restrict itself to competing in existing markets but explore the possibility of creating new markets at the bottom.

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