Calling for redoubled efforts for mitigating rural distress from the after-effects of drought, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Wednesday that the prime task was to put purchasing power in the hands of the most-needy parts of the country’s population using the mechanism of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA).

Addressing the Conference of State Ministers of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj, Dr. Singh said the fortunate revival of the monsoon in most parts of the country augured well for the kharif crop, but most areas of the country would still suffer from deficient rainfall.

Union Minister for Rural Development C.P. Joshi presided over the function.

“Therefore, we have to redouble our efforts to mitigate rural distress arising from the after-effects of the drought,” the Prime Minister underlined and recalled Nobel laureate Amartya Sen’s observation that “famines are not necessarily famines of deficient production but of deficient purchasing power.”

Dr. Singh said that the country had the means to increase the purchasing power of the rural poor through the NREGA.

At the same time, the Prime Minister said that the country had adequate food stocks and ruled out any concern over shortage. The government was committed to tackling the situation effectively and resolutely and making foodgrains available in areas of deficient production. Dr. Singh also stressed that utmost care ought to be taken to deal with the scarcity of fodder and drinking water.

Applauding the functioning of the NREGA and the Swarnajayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojna, which is to be restructured as the National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM), the Prime Minister said that it had created an effective safety net in rural India against poverty and afforded a measure of protection against natural calamities and market-induced vulnerability.

Dr. Singh said his government attached highest priority to the successful implementation of these flagship and anti-poverty programmes. The need was to put in place a reform programme that met the legitimate aspirations of the rural population.

He, however, expressed concern that the performance had been uneven across States with some lagging behind. “I urge them to catch up. We can’t fail the poor of our country, particularly at a time when resources are available to provide gainful livelihood security for at least 100 days to the rural poor.”

Pointing out that Rs.68,000 crore had been allocated under poverty alleviation programmes, the Prime Minister stressed upon the need to ensure that “our people get the best value for every rupee spent on their behalf. Effective oversight of these programmes is, therefore, extremely important.”