Dec 102006

In a world where journalists are taught that ‘man bites dog’ is news, it is hardly surprising that they will look at a 5 page academic report by the Prime Minister, and pick out the only line that they possibly understood. This morning, on return from a lovely weekend in Lonavala, we saw the papers and saw the headlines blaring Muslims Must have first claim on Resources .

"We will have to devise innovative plans to ensure that minorities, particularly the Muslim minority, are empowered to share equitably the fruits of development. They must have the first claim on resources,"

Obviously with the Hindi and English channels blaring the same, including "do you feel that Muslims require special treatment" you had the hysteria factor being built back into the news. And it was shocking for me because I didn’t expect someone as educated and genteel as the Prime Minister to start creating communal vote banks. I can expect it possibly of almost anyone in politics, but he never struck me as someone who is callous about the country. So I went back and read the speech – it is dry and matter of fact as most of his speeches are. But, full of relevant information. Excerpts : On the approach paper "Towards Faster and More Inclusive Growth" – a key for the 11th plan

We need faster growth because, at our level of incomes, there can be no doubt that we must expand the production base of the economy if we want to provide broad-based improvement in the material conditions of living of our population, and if we are to meet effectively the rising aspirations of our youth.

On monitoring change

To emphasise the multi-dimensional nature of our objectives, the Approach Paper specifies not only a growth target but also a number of quantifiable and monitorable socio-economic targets relating to employment generation, school drop out rates, infant mortality rates, maternal mortality rates and other important indicators.

On Agriculture:

Water is a critical input for agriculture and we need to reexamine all aspects of our water economy. We are not spending enough on irrigation and what we are is not being utilised efficiently. Projects take far too long to complete and resources are spread far too thinly The central government is in the process of establishing a National Rainfed Area Authority as a professional high powered body charged with the responsibility of ensuring technically efficient design of watershed development.

On employment

We do need to provide non-agricultural work opportunities for those moving out of agriculture, but we also need to create quality jobs in the organised sector of the economy. The Approach Paper proposes several policy initiatives that will achieve a faster growth in the manufacturing sector and, within manufacturing, encourage investment in labour intensive manufacturing and also encourage units to graduate from small to medium and from the unorganised to organised sector.

On fiscal prudence

We have all experienced the painful reality of coping with fiscal imprudence in the past, and we should resolve never to find ourselves in that situation ever again. Higher levels of public spending are needed in many areas but they should and they must be achieved through improvements in revenue mobilization and greater efficiency in expenditure.

And it continues in the same vein. Rather like a chairman giving an AGM report to shareholders. Then at the end comes the paragraph on Centre State relationships and who does what. it is in this context that he says

I believe our collective priorities are clear. Agriculture, irrigation and water resources, health, education, critical investment in rural infrastructure, and the essential public investment needs of general infrastructure, along with programmes for the upliftment of SC/STs, other backward classes, minorities and women and children. The component plans for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes will need to be revitalized. We will have to devise innovative plans to ensure that minorities, particularly the Muslim minority, are empowered to share equitably in the fruits of development. They must have the first claim on resources. The Centre has a myriad other responsibilities whose demands will have to be fitted within the over-all resource availability. The Planning Commission will of course undertake a thorough review of ongoing programmes to eliminate those which have outlived their original rationale, but we cannot escape from the fact that the Centre’s resources will be stretched in the immediate future and an increasing share of the responsibility will have to be shouldered by the states.

Given the findings of the [tag]Sachar Committee[/tag] report, the [tag]Khairlanji massacres[/tag] and the new figures on the[tag] gender imbalance[/tag] in India – I am not surprised that the Government has asked the states to pay special heed to minorities. I am also glad that the PMO has decided to strike back on this issue. The speech is actually a fairly good one. If this was an enlightened democracy we would have 6 pages of op-ed on the Water policy. Gvien that we are a market place where business interests matter more than accuracy or fair reporting – we end up with half statements.