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We will give top priority to reconstruction: Montek

By Our Special Correspondent

CHENNAI, JAN. 9. The Union Planning Commission will give the "highest priority" to reconstruction in the tsunami-affected areas.

"As chairman of the Planning Commission, the Prime Minister had clearly asked us [the Planning Commission] to get involved in the planning of the reconstruction," said the Commission's Deputy Chairman, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, in response to a question here today.

"We will be setting up our own team. We will be talking to the State Governments and see what they want to do," he said. The other task would be to find ways to finance the reconstruction effort, he added.

Mr. Ahluwalia was here to deliver the Frank Moraes Memorial Lecture on "economic challenges facing the nation." The lecture was organised by the United Writers' Association.

Mr. Ahluwalia said the havoc caused by natural disasters was recognised even in the 10th five-year plan. "There were references to the importance of dealing with this issue," he said.

Early warning system

Since the country did not experience a tsunami in the past several decades, the focus of the commission was on cyclones, floods and other similar disasters, Mr. Ahluwalia said. The same principles applied in the case of a tsunami too, he said. "We have to have in place mechanisms for relief; we have to have in place mechanisms that will bring about the earliest possible reconstruction and we need to have an early warning system," he said.

Asked if this was the right time to implement his idea of using a percentage of the foreign exchange reserves for financing infrastructure, Mr.. Ahluwalia said he had mooted that idea for "a much broader range" of infrastructure.

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