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New Delhi, May 24, 2010
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said inclusive growth and controlling prices were at the top of his Government's agenda and set a medium-term target of 10 per cent economic growth for the country.
"The agenda for our second term seeks to strengthen the pro-people policies and programmes initiated by our government since 2004," Dr Singh said at a press conference here today to mark the completion of one year of the UPA Government's second five-year term in power.
"The social and economic uplift of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes, other backward classes, minorities and women will continue to receive priority attention in our plans," he said.
The Prime Minister said the country needed a rapidly growing economy to generate productive employment and also resources to finance its ambitious social and economic agenda.
"Our medium term target is to achieve a growth rate of 10 percent per annum. I am convinced that given our savings and investment rates, this is an achievable target. However, its achievement will require determined efforts to increase investment in social and economic infrastructure, enhance productivity in agriculture and give a fresh impetus to the manufacturing sector," he said.
According to him, the past couple of years had been exceptionally difficult years for the Indian economy.
"The year 2008 saw a global financial crisis, which threatened to push the world into a recession. We also faced a severe drought in 2009," he said.
Dr Singh said that, inevitably, the Government's first priority was to protect the economy from the global slowdown and ensure that the momentum of inclusive growth did not get interrupted.
"I leave it to you to judge how well we have done on this count. Our annual growth rate had averaged 9% for four years before the crisis. It reduced to 6.5% in 2008-09 but recovered to 7.2% in 2009-10. We expect 8.5% growth in this financial year. This is widely regarded as one of the best performances among the larger economies of the world," he said.
He said this outcome was in large part due to India's workers, farmers and youth, who had shown great enterprise and worked hard to keep the engine of economic growth running.
Listing some of the important steps taken by the Government over the past year, he said the flagship programmes such as Bharat Nirman, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the National Rural Health Mission and the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission were progressing well.
"We are on a learning curve and we can and will do more to strengthen these programmes and improve delivery," he said.
Dr Singh said the Right to Education Act enacted last year was a historic step forward in making every Indian a literate and empowered citizen. He said the Government was undertaking a comprehensive review of the system of higher education, including medical education. A draft National Council for Higher Education and Research Bill has already been put in the public domain.
To strengthen political inclusion, it had introduced bills to provide 50% reservation for women in all panchayats and urban local bodies, he said.
Nearly one crore scholarships have been granted last year to students belonging to the SCs, STs, other backward classes and minorities. A large proportion of these scholarships have gone to girls, he said.
Dr Singh mentioned the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission launched in January this year, which aims to create a capacity of 20,000 MW grid solar power by 2022.
He said India had signed free trade agreements with ASEAN and South Korea in the last year.
The Government had decided to set up a National Social Security Fund for workers in the unorganized sector with an initial corpus of Rs. 1,000 crores and a draft National Food Security Bill was under preparation, he said.
Dr Singh said prices continued to be a matter of concern. "The government attaches the highest priority to containing inflation so that there is no distress to the common man. As a result of the steps we have taken, there are signs of prices showing a moderating trend. We will closely monitor the situation and, together with state governments, take all corrective steps to bring down prices and protect the vulnerable sections of our society from the impact of high prices," he said.
"Addressing key constraints in the modernization of agriculture and in the expansion of infrastructure need long term strategies backed by stepped up investment. We have taken important steps in these areas, which will continue to receive the focused attention of the government," he said.
In response to a question, Dr Singh said the Government was hopeful of bringing the inflation rate down to around 5-6 % by December this year.