Addressing the needs of rural India

The thrust of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Independence Day speech was not surprisingly on agriculture and the rural sector. The articulation of a broad vision, which is what addresses to the nation by the President and the Prime Minister to mark special occasions usually are, has to necessarily involve a fair amount of stock-taking in the areas of public policy and governance. This year's Independence Day speech of the Prime Minister, might, at one level be construed as a reiteration of the commitments made under the National Common Minimum Programme and the steps taken so far by the United Progressive Alliance Government. At another level, the overwhelming emphasis on the rural sector is particularly relevant today: overall economic growth is critically dependent on agriculture. While the industrial sector, including especially manufacturing and the services sector, has been performing well recently, it is agriculture that will determine whether the rate of GDP growth for the year will at least match last year's 7 per cent growth. Besides, the Prime Minister's stress on the rural sector assumes significance at a time when one of the important initiatives of the UPA Government for the rural sector, the bill ushering in the National Employment Guarantee scheme, is being introduced in Parliament.

Moreover, as the Prime Minister noted, the benefits of the higher economic growth of the recent period have not yet fully reached people in the rural areas. Several measures have been undertaken by the Government to alleviate the problems of farmers. These include improving and enhancing the flow of agricultural credit, increasing investment opportunities and storage facilities, and launching a National Horticultural Mission to increase the output and trade in fruits and vegetables. Promising to establish a Krishi Vigyan Kendra in every district by 2007, the Prime Minister hoped that the benefits of scientific research would percolate to all parts of the country. A new National Rainfed Area Authority will focus on the problems of farmers in dry land areas. Through another initiative, the Bharat Nirman Programme, the Government hopes to improve basic infrastructure in rural areas. Its objectives include the irrigation of one crore hectares of unirrigated land, connecting villages whose population is above 1000 with roads, and providing electricity connections to two and a half crore households. Most important perhaps is the reliance on Panchayati Raj institutions both for ensuring economic development and social justice. The Prime Minister, in his Independence Day speech, might not have made any new announcements. Some might find fault with an approach that stops short of analysing the weaknesses of specific schemes. However, there would be other occasions when those can be more appropriately discussed. The speech itself represents a holistic view of the vital rural sector, but a great deal depends on whether the needed investments come forth and how the schemes are implemented on the ground.

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