Drought may hurt economy, but no one will go hungry: PM

Drought may hurt economy, but no one will go hungry: PM


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh inspects a guard of honour on Independence Day celebration at the Red Fort on Saturday. AFP

After the global meltdown shaved off economic growth, the drought threatens to make it worse by eating into agriculture production. "It is our ardent desire that not even a single citizen of India should ever go hungry.

"We will provide all possible assistance to our farmers to deal with the drought... in view of deficient rainfall we have postponed the date for repayment of bank loans... are also giving additional support for payment of interest," he said in his address to the nation on its 63rd independence day.

The UPA, which in its previous term wrote off farm loans, also promised to take a slew of measures including increasing capital flows into the country, encouraging exports or increasing public investment and expenditure to put the economy back on high growth trajectory.

"Restoring our growth rate to nine per cent is the greatest challenge we face... we expect that there will be an improvement in the situation by the end of this year, but till that time we will all have to bear with the fallout of the global economic slowdown," he said in his address from the ramparts of the Mughal-era Red Fort.

He appealed to the business community to fulfill their social obligations by joining the government's efforts to ensure inclusive growth.

Cooperation of private businesses, Singh said, was necessary to prop up growth that has slided from an average nine per cent between 2004-05 and 2007-08 to 6.7 per cent in the last financial year due to global uncertainties and has further come under pressure owing to deficient rainfall in most parts of the country.

Singh said India has adequate stocks of food grains and all efforts would be made to control the rising prices of essential commodities.

The country has a buffer food grain stock of 50 million tonnes that is good to last demand for 13 months.

To ensure that no one goes hungry, he said the government is working to bring a food security law that provides for supply of 25 kg of rice or wheat at Rs 3 a kg to families living below poverty line.

He appealed "to all state governments to exercise their statutory powers to prevent hoarding and black marketing of essential commodities."

Singh's warning to black marketeers comes in the wake of a sharp rise in prices of pulses, sugar and other edibles.

Prices of lentils, especially toor dal, have spiralled up from Rs 60 a kg in June to Rs 90 a kg now, partly driven by speculation after monsoon this season brought 19 per cent less rainfall than usual.

He said there was a need for a second 'Green Revolution' to achieve the targeted four per cent growth in farm production which was "achievable" in the next five years.

To mitigate farmers' miseries, he said loan repayment has been postponed by six months till December 31, this year.

"Our scientists must devise new techniques to increase the productivity of our small and marginal farmers," the Prime Minister said, adding that the country needs to pay more attention to those farmers who do not have means for irrigation.

Nearly 66 per cent of India's cultivable land depends on rainfall, while only 34 per cent is irrigated.

He also said more efforts are required to improve physical infrastructure.

The government, he said, has initiated programmes to construct 20 km of national highways every day. Similarly, railways have started work on the dedicated freight corridors.

Singh also said that scope of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme, which provides for 100 days assured job to every poor-rural household, would be expanded to take new types of works.

Referring to Bharat Nirman programme, he said: "We will set more ambitious targets for schemes for house construction and telecommunications in rural areas."

"We are giving careful attention to the problems of Air India and will resolve them soon," Singh said, touching upon the ailing aviation sector, especially the national carrier.

The Civil Aviation Ministry had recently made a presentation before the Union Cabinet on the plight of the sector and need for equity infusion in the national carrier Air India.

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