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A CHARTER FOR DEVELOPMENT

PRIME MINISTER MANMOHAN Singh could not have made a more thoughtful and comprehensive presentation of a new charter for equitable, balanced, and accelerated development. His first address to the nation, delivered without political rancour and in a tone of equanimity that is in keeping with his non-confrontationist personality, covers broadly the same ground as the Common Minimum Programme. Yet what is distinctive is the moral compass that the Prime Minister has brought into the field of economic reforms and his vision of growth with distributive justice. It is not a new idea, but it needed the people's verdict of 2004 to remind the polity that rapid economic growth is not an end in itself but only the means to improve the quality of life of the majority of Indians. Dr. Singh, the father of India's economic reform programme, promises to pursue policies that will lay as much emphasis on making the Government more "effective, efficient and people-friendly" in delivering social and economic services, as on encouraging dynamism among India's entrepreneurs. The vision is of economic development that is all-inclusive in that it will not discriminate between gender, caste, religion, and geographic region.

It is now clear that the immediate challenge before the United Progressive Alliance Government is to restore Indian agriculture to a measure of health. A livelihood crisis of enormous proportions confronts the agricultural workers and farmers in many States. The Prime Minister commits the Government to respond to this crisis in much the same fashion as a great American President Franklin D. Roosevelt put together a New Deal in the early 1930s to rescue the domestic economy from the ravages of the Great Depression. The Manmohan Singh version of the New Deal will make interventions at every link of the production and marketing chain in agriculture. From placing a fresh emphasis on farm research to removing internal trade barriers, the UPA Government's plan is to tackle all the problems that have emerged in the sector. Yet two imbalances in the proposed New Deal have to be pointed out. The Prime Minister has spoken of a food-for-work programme but this is not enough. A degree of employment security for rural labour will be possible only if the Government enacts and implements legislation that guarantees 100 days of work to one able-bodied member of every poor rural household. This was a CMP promise that originally appeared in the Congress Party manifesto but the Prime Minister is silent about the proposal. Secondly, while the speech does address the crisis in water, there seems to be an inadequate recognition of how the many inappropriate and wasteful uses of this precious resource have contributed to the farm crisis.

Dr. Manmohan Singh has used the occasion to elaborate on another burning issue — the responsibility of the state in delivering services. Two important sets of statements have been made. The citizen expects the Government to play an important role in the social and infrastructure sectors. The UPA Government will fulfil its responsibility, reversing the neglect over the past decade. Secondly, it is not enough for the Government to recognise its role in social and economic development. Reform of the administration is essential for greater efficiency in the provision of public services. The Prime Minister has recognised that it is important to stress that while more funds can be channelled into programmes, the quality of services that the Government provides will not improve without an overhaul of public institutions. The CMP, the President's address to Parliament, and the Prime Minister's address to the nation have laid out the Government's priorities. The challenge is now to act on them resourcefully, transparently, and with missionary zeal. An early test will come when the first budget of the UPA Government is presented in less than a fortnight.

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