Special Correspondent

Manmohan Singh calls for sustainable development

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday called for improving the economics of agriculture on a sustainable basis at the district level to end the agrarian crisis in the country. He said that while improvements in rural infrastructure, employment generation and asset creation through wage employment programmes, and investments in irrigation were all important, the final goal was to improve the conditions in which agriculture was practised.

Inaugurating a conference of the Project Directors of the District Rural Development Agencies here, the Prime Minister said that even now agriculture sustained over 70 per cent of the rural population and the government schemes could only act either as social safety nets or as inputs to better agriculture. "Till we focus on the larger goal of improving the economics of agriculture itself on a sustainable basis, we cannot alleviate rural distress."

Calling upon the officers directly involved in work at the grassroots to focus on the task of development of rural India, Dr. Singh said this task required inter-sector coordination. He asked them to draw up a district agriculture plan and dovetail all programmes of Bharat Nirman into a larger goal of improving agricultural incomes.

Noting that the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme (NREGP) had been widely welcomed, Dr. Singh, however, pointed out that the performance under the programme had not been uniform.

"The slow response in some States may be partly on account of low demand but in many States it may also be on account of delays in putting effective administrative arrangements in place,'' he said.

Suggesting that the programme needed effective watchdogs from society, the Prime Minister said panchayats and civil society organisations should be seen as complementary. "While panchayats deepen the democratic space, civil society organisations broaden it. The non-governmental organisations and citizen's groups should use instruments such as the Right to Information Act to increase accountability and transparency under the NREGA," he said.

Criticising some States for failing to achieve the targets, Prime Minister said the Centre looked for time-bound action by the State Governments under the ambitious Bharat Nirman programme. He mentioned Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh that together accounted for over 90 per cent of the backlog in rural roads.