Reforming the insurance sector and labour market is all very well but the government’s economic priority is to increase investment in rural infrastructure, education and healthcare, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Friday.
Fielding questions from a largely elite audience at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit, Dr. Singh said the reforms process needs to be pushed forward and will be. But rural areas must get the “benefit of health and education.” He was responding to a question by a former bureaucrat who said there was international concern about major reforms being held up because of the government’s focus on tackling poverty. “We have to create an environment conducive to growth of entrepreneurship in our urban economy. At the same time we must ensure government’s greater involvement in rural development,” the Prime Minister said. “We need to push forward the reform process... and we will do so but it has many dimensions. The focus will be on increasing investment in rural infrastructure and education.”
Asked to elaborate on his ideas on healthcare for the masses, Dr. Singh said the government’s immediate concern was to strengthen primary healthcare in rural areas. He also said he hoped “health insurance becomes a viable instrument for providing healthcare” for all, including the poor.
On the problems caused by the ongoing Maoist insurgency in various parts of the country, the Prime Minister acknowledged there was “alienation of the people, especially in tribal areas.”
“Every State has to maintain and enforce law and order,” he added, without which there could not be “sustained social and economic development.”
Dr. Singh expressed caution on the idea that India’s water-related problems could be solved by river linking. It was essential that expert opinion is taken because these projects could also cause “irreparable damage to our ecology,” he said.
In his keynote address to the gathering, the Prime Minister said that India “cannot be built from Delhi alone” and that the future of the country depended a great deal “on the quality of political leadership and of government at the State and at local levels.”