New Delhi, Feb 15: Exuding confidence that a nine per cent GDP growth can be sustained even in the face of a global slodown, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh gave a categorical assurance that the government will take all possible steps to assist Indian industry to wade through troubled waters and propel growth.
"I am confident that this year too we will be able to sustain nine per cent growth and hold the price line at acceptable levels. There are global concerns about a slow down. We need to be aware of these concerns and we will take steps to limit their impact on us. The Finance and Commerce Ministeries are seized of the matter," Dr Singh said in his address to the 80th Annual General Meeting(AGM) of the Federation of Indian Chambers and Commerce and Industry (FICCI).
"The domestic economy has the potential to sustain such growth. The challenge before us is to ensure that we tap into this potential and make it work for us," the Prime Minister said.
Without mentioning the party by name, Dr Singh took on the NDA government for not adequately focussing on the economic agenda, but instead indulging in divisive agenda.
Dr Singh said the early 1990s saw a similar optimism as now, but that dynamism was not sustained. After three years of above 7 per cent annual growth between 1992 and 1997, the economy slowed down considerably. In the Ninth Plan period, between 1997-98 to 2002, the growth rate declined to 5.5 per cent.
"The governments of the day were unable to inspire. They were preoccupied with divisive agendas and their economic agenda was not focussed. There was no attempt to make our growth more broad- based and inclusive," he said.
The Prime Minister then went on to tell the captains of industry as to how his government has succeeded on two major fronts-- accelerating economic growth substantially and putting in place an architecture necessary for ensuring that the growth is broad-based, socially inclusive and thus sustainable.
The Prime Minister spoke about the dual trends operating on the economy. First, the economy having registered a growth rate of 9.6 per cent last year and likely to touch nine per cent this year. On the other hand, there were clouds on the horizon with a distinct possibility of global economy, particularly the developed coountries, expressing a downturn in the coming year. "At the same time, we must be aware that we cannot be completely insulated from the chilly global winds that may blow in our direction," he said.
The Prime Minister said Indian industry, however, has shown enormous resilience in an increasingly integrated and competitive global economy.
"There is a new sense of confidence in the air. When I come to gatherings like these I am no longer confronted by petitions, prayers or protests. Rather I hear more about performance, potential and possibility. I am aware that there are many persistent problems", he said.
The Prime Minister patted Railway Minister Lalu Prasad for his splendid performance, again without mentioning him by name.
"As for Railways, this sector has seen a revolutionary transformation in four years. Their performance has improved on all fronts--revenues, operating ratios, cash surpluses and safety. In fact, the turnaround of Indian Railways demonstrates what good leadership can do even in a large government organisation," he said.
Dr Singh spoke of the new mechanism that the Railways have set up for attracting private investment. He said many firms were already running container trains. Soon, the Railways will have private investment in logistics, parks, stations and coach production.
He dwelt at length on how his government has launched one of the "most ambitiuous programmes" relating to educational opportunities since independence. The Prime Minister said soon the government will introduce a Bill providing the Right to Education to every child.
This, he said, was the surest way of ensuring rapid and inclusive growth in the long run.
Dr Singh spoke about the stress given to agriculture by his government and was hopeful that the economy of rural India will catch up with urban areas in the next decade. This will be partly a result of greater agricultural productivity and more industrialisation.
He said the civil aviation sector was undergoing an unprecedented boom. He said two brand new international airports will go into operation in Hyderabad and Bangalore in a few weeks. Delhi and Mumbai too are seeing a transformation in airport infrastructure, the Prime Minister said.