Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s Closing Address at CM's Meeting, Srinagar 31-05-2003

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Yet another meeting of the Congress Chief Ministers Council has come and gone by. We have reviewed and reflected on our performance. We have renewed our commitment to the people through a reaffirmation of Congress Ka Haath, Garib Ke Saath.

A number of issues have emerged from our discussions, some of which relate to governance where we are in power and some concern us as a political party with the single-minded objective of defeating the forces of communalism. We will be following-up with you on all the important points that have been made. Let me this afternoon deal with some larger concerns.

Many of our chief ministers have spoken of the urgent need to have an effective ideological counter to the Saraswati Shishu Mandirs where the seeds of bigotry are first planted in young and impressionable minds. Some of our states have taken initiatives but these have to go well beyond government-run programmes. This has to become a movement, a peoples' campaign.

Yesterday, I spoke about the need to enforce the law of the land without fear or favour to deal with all those who disturb social peace and harmony. I would like to emphasise this today as well. We must not waver in our determination to deal with religious fundamentalism of all kinds. We must and we will do all we can. At the same time, there is urgent need to amend existing laws like the Indian Penal Code and enforce some of them like the Representation of Peoples Act effectively to deal with the growing menace of communalism of all varieties. While political will is essential, I would also urge all of you to take the strictest action against those in the administration who are unable to control effectively communal tensions and their fall-outs. There should also be prompt and uniform compensation to all victims of communal violence

On matters relating to governance, we have gone over an extensive agenda.

I spoke yesterday of the need for expediting the completion of reliable surveys on BPL families. I would urge the chief ministers to ensure that this gets done in the next two months.

We have underscored the need for massive employment guarantee schemes but it is clear without the assistance of the central government, we will not be able to make the type of impact that is needed.

We have drawn attention to the proliferation, politicisation and fragmentation of all rural development schemes that have diluted their impact at the grassroots. The merging of DRDAs with zilla panchayats , the direct financing of PRIs/nagarpalikas and the augmentation of untied grants must all receive top priority.

We have recognised the imperative for agricultural diversification and value-addition, apart from the need to significantly step-up public investment in agriculture, irrigation and rural infrastructure.

We have recalled the need to make panchayats and nagarpalikas as vibrant institutions of self-government. It is now time for the simultaneous devolution of funds, functionaries and finances. The 16-point draft action programme should be adopted by all PCCs at state-level conventions before August 20, 2003.

Many of our chief ministers have spoken on mid-day meal schemes and how they can be further improved. We will take up this particular matter with the centre. Personally, I believe that midday meal schemes, if implemented well, will make a dramatic difference both to education and nutrition.

We have highlighted the criticality of the 3Es for the weaker sections of society---education, employment and empowerment. I commend the land distribution programmes of the type that have taken place in some of our states. We must also equip the weaker sections in the modern sector and technical skills. The strictest vigil must be maintained against atrocities on the weaker sections.

There has been a widespread appreciation of the self-help group approach that is so visibly transforming the lives of so many poor women across the country. I would urge the states to radically increase their efforts and targets for self-help groups.

On health, a number of our colleagues have spoken of the need to ensure that the infrastructure that has been created in rural areas functions effectively. Health insurance for the poor is a vast unmet need. Some of our states have launched new schemes in this area but clearly the scale needs to be expanded.

We have had a very substantive discussion on administrative reforms. What is needed now is not tinkering but systemic change. Political leadership is key to giving the administration a firm and clear sense of direction. We must the set the standards for transparency, accountability, probity and efficiency. Discretion and patronage must be minimised.

Enhancing investments in vital social sectors depends crucially on improvements in the fiscal position of states. And the fiscal position of states itself depends predominantly in the success of power sector reforms. The need for a vital national consensus on this has been pointed out by many of the chief ministers.

All of us have expressed our deep concern over the grim employment situation. This is a direct outcome of the policies of the central government. I hope that all our states will enact laws to protect workers in the unorganized sector and enhance their social security. This must become a political campaign as well.

It has been five years since we had the Pachmarhi conclave. Since then, we have had five meetings of the Congress Chief Ministers Council and a number of AICC sessions as well. But it is time for another exercise in self-introspection and brainstorming on fundamental political, economic and social issues. This is essential even as we prepare to fight the electoral battles ahead. We will be announcing the details of this conference shortly.

Let me in closing thank all of you for being here and making the deliberations so very meaningful. I invite you to join me in the Press Conference in the next room.

This article is posted by Press Brief.

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