New Delhi, Mar 13: Congress party general secretary and Lok Sabha MP from Amethi, Rahul Gandhi, today said that India's full economic potential could only be realised when the empowered and those aspiring to be empowered spoke in one voice.
Delivering a speech on the budget proposals for 2008-09, Gandhi, who has just returned from a four-day visit to the underdeveloped parts of Orissa, said there were two distinct voices -- the louder of them coming from an India that is empowered, an India that has proven to itself and to the world that it will shape the future, an India rich with opportunity and talent, straining to be unleashed, and the other voice that was yet to be empowered, but was reverberating across the country.
"It is the voice of disenfranchised people, reminding us that they too have a potential to fulfil. They too are enterprising, hardworking, and self-reliant, and they ask only to be given an opportunity," Gandhi said.
He said the UPA Government believes that India's growth can and must be symbiotic, and there were two reasons for this view -- (1) The poverty of our people is an assault on our principles. Freedom from poverty is not a matter of charity or luck; it is a right. I am proud that under the leadership of the Prime Minister, our government has recognized and institutionalized this idea. The NREGA delivers employment as a right. The Tribal Act delivers ownership of land as a right. The RTI Act delivers information as a right. The Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill seeks to deliver basic minimums rights to those being displaced and (2) The speed and continuity of our economic growth depends on inclusion. A small, resource-rich section of India cannot grow indefinitely while a vast, disempowered nation looks on. If opportunity is limited to a few, our growth will be a fraction of our capability as a nation.
Emphasising that it is crucial to connect these two India's, Gandhi complimented Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Finance Minister P. Chidambaram for giving "us a budget that stays true to this goal."
"A strong voice begins with effective education. The allocation of Rs 34,400 crores to education will allow for 2 lakh more teachers and 5 lakh more classrooms. It will also provide for programs such as mid-day meals, means based scholarships and schools for girls so that the most vulnerable voices are clearly heard. Our investments in expanding IITs, IIMs and other institutions of higher learning will ensure that our brightest minds continue to shine on the world stage. The budget invests extensively in vocational education and the creation of a National Skills Development Organization. This will ensure that our technical training institutions will respond effectively to the voice of our youth," Gandhi said.
"A child's voice is much stronger when it is healthy, well fed and sheltered. Our Government has recognized and provided for this. The Rs 16,500 crores allocated to health will help combat illness and disease. Allocations to programs such as Bharat Nirman, the Indira Awaas Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana and Rajiv Gandhi National Drinking Water Mission are delivering to Indians everywhere a minimum standard of life. The budget pays special attention to the poor and makes provisions to support our most marginalized people. The allocation planned for NREGA will take the program nation-wide and give every eligible Indian access to basic social support," he added.
He also said that this year's budget has especially heeded the plea of the debt-ridden farmer. The decision to free 40 million farmers from the bonds of indebtedness was indeed historic.
The UPA government continues to bolster economic growth, and Gandhi said that for this growth to be taken forward, especially for farmers, there was a need for considering a proposal to make land ceiling variable based upon land productivity.
Secondly, he said that a single cut-off date unfairly penalizes farmers in some regions, and therefore it would greatly help if localized cutoff dates were considered so that every deserving farmer benefits from the waiver.
He concluded by saying that the several government programs announced by the Finance Minister would be better implemented if funds transfers were linked to achieving RTI and social audit objectives.