Take care of weaker sections, Sonia tells party CMs

NEW DELHI, JUNE 16. The Congress President, Ms. Sonia Gandhi, today exhorted Chief Ministers of 10 party-ruled States to strive to become a model for good governance, growth-oriented and equity based economic management at a day-long in-house review exercise.

Ms. Gandhi chaired the meet with the focus on good governance, agriculture, fiscal management, sustainable development and weaker sections in order to provide a ``transparent, accountable and responsive administration'' in Congress-ruled States.

Attended by Chief Ministers from Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Karnataka, Pondicherry, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Nagaland, the meeting arrived at a consensus on the issue of ``right-sizing'' the Government, power- sector reforms and aims to eliminate the States' revenue deficit in the next five years.

The meeting was the second since Ms. Gandhi called party Chief Ministers in last November on party programmes for the weaker sections of the society. This time the party added two more Governments in Assam and Kerala, but Mr. A.K. Antony could not attend due to local commitment, the party spokesman, Mr. S. Jaipal Reddy, said.

Fiscal deficit

Briefing correspondents, the CWC member, Dr. Manmohan Singh, said there was general agreement on good governance and on controlling fiscal deficit. All Chief Ministers recognised that in order to spend on infrastructure, irrigation, agricultural programmes, education, health and social service, there must be tighter prioritisation of public expenditure and contain spending in less essential areas.

Dr. Manmohan Singh said the current combined fiscal deficit of the Centre and States which was over 10 per cent of the GDP was ``unsustainable''. The consensus among the Chief Ministers was to make efforts to eliminate revenue deficit. The thrust was on measures such as modernisation of revenue system and a close look at public sector undertakings in order to turn around those which can earn profits or shut down others with due care for workers' interests.

Power sector management came in for special focus with stress on cutting down the commercial and transmission and distribution losses. The Enron issue came up with the Maharashtra Chief Minister, Mr. Vilas Rao Deshmukh, explaining how the State was grappling with it.

Another aspect was the need to improve project management in each State which gets funds both from the Centre and external agencies to improve key sectors such as irrigation, rural infrastructure, power, etc.

The Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister, Mr.Digvijay Singh, said the Centre's decision to slash import duty on edible oil severely affected farmers in his State. He urged Ms. Gandhi to take up this and other issues that were affecting agriculture, labour trade on account of Centre's economic policies.

The Karnataka Chief Minister, Mr. S.M. Krishna, said the Congress-ruled States could replicate policies being successfully implemented in States where the party had a Government. For instance, Karnataka would adapt the M.P. model of district-level governance with changes to suit local conditions. Referring to ``right-sizing'', Mr. Krishna said Karnataka abolished 80 per cent of the 80,000 government jobs to which recruitment was frozen for a decade.

Interestingly, in her opening remarks the Congress president underscored that Congress Chief Ministers were in a peculiar position as they had to implement party programmes and policies while working with the NDA Government at the Centre.