New Delhi, Apr.11 (ANI): In the run-up to this year's general elections, India has many challenges confronting it, but all of them can be tackled with a balanced approach, feels Cabinet Secretary K. M. Chandrasekhar.
In an interview to gfiles, a magazine focusing on the workings inside the government, Chandrasekhar, a 1977 Kerala cadre Indian Administrative Service officer, says that among the many challenges that the government has to deal with are reducing the impact of the global recession and ensuring that the rural and urban sectors of the country evolve and develop at the same pace.
This 29th Cabinet Secretary of independent India might appear mild but is quite hardboiled, having learnt the art of administration from his father, Kesava Menon, who was Chairman of the Railway Service Commission. He has traveled a long way from his days as the Collector of Idduki District in Kerala in 1977.
When asked during the course of the interview what was India's biggest challenge, Chandrasekhar said: "We have to make sure that the rural sector in particular develops at the same pace as sectors like services, manufacturing and the urban sector.
There has to be balance. Another challenge is what to do with the people below the poverty line. It is the most terrible thing when small children don't have food to eat. They don't have hospitals for treatment. We have to create the system for the poorest of the poor."
On the other challenges facing the government of the day, he said there was insurgency and militancy.
"The movements in the Northeast are descending into plain extortion. Militancy anywhere in the country has to be dealt with firmly. Another issue is traditional - education and healthcare for all. Infrastructure is one area where India is lagging. We need to invest more to build roads, ports, railway lines, railway bridges, under bridges," Chandrasekhar added.
Chandrasekhar, who has been Cabinet Secretary for two years, said that expected India to make a strong economic recovery by the end of 2009. Though "the International Monetary Fund forecast is that in one to two years, the economy should start turning around," he said.
"The effects of the economic crisis have been muted, primarily because we have a strong rural economy. We have not been affected much because we have policies like high minimum support price mechanism in place for agricultural products.
We have many flagship programs, so there was more income in that sector. That income resulted in more demand. Many sectors in the Indian economy continue to be strong. FMCG, steel, food processing, cement, and infrastructure are growing at a certain pace," he said, but added "India cannot remain untouched (by the global fiancial meltdown)."
"What I am emphasizing is that the effect of this crisis will be felt less in India than other countries. We see some signs of change. Even the automobile industry is recovering. I am hoping this year we will be able to do a lot better. We have to see how quickly the global economy recovers. Internationally, there is need for concerted action. I am hoping that in India it will take place earlier - maybe by the end of this calendar year," he said.
He also said that he did not see any problem with the continuance of coalition governments at the Centre.
"Throughout my career I have served coalition governments. It is not unfamiliar or uncomfortable for me. Sometimes dealing with a national politician is much easier than dealing at district level.
The perspective of a national leader is different. They have been Chief Ministers in the states, they are their respective parties' leaders. So the atmosphere is congenial. I have never faced any problems," Chandrasekhar said.
When asked why was India being attacked so often, Chandrasekhar told gfiles: "We have become economically stronger. The people of this country have realized that there is much to be gained by economic stability. Incomes are growing. There is change. To a great extent this has resulted in weakening the internal militancy."
He also did not agree with the view that it takes too long for a decision to be reached.
"We are constantly monitoring when a file goes in and out. In the Cabinet Appointments Committee, it used to take 50 days from establishment officer to Prime Minister's Office. Now, it is 17 days. We are electronically connected so it is easier now. Many Ministries are simplifying procedures.
Take Customs. They have improved a lot. They have introduced a risk management system. The Commerce Ministry has also changed their system. The External Affairs Ministry has expedited the passport system. It is happening every day. It is invisible, but can be felt," Chandrasekhar said. (ANI)