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N A T I O N

New pay panel for employees soon: PM
GDP rate may grow at 10 per cent
New Delhi, February 1
India is inching towards 10 per cent GDP growth, buoyed by increased savings rate and robust industrial production, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said here today, while disclosing the government’s move to set up a new pay commission for Central Government employees soon.

PM handles questions with cool
New Delhi, February 1
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s pending press conference of 2005 will be remembered for his remarkable wit and spontaneity, strong defensive posture on non-political questions and cool response to a host of provocative questions.

Rural job scheme biggest achievement, says Manmohan
New Delhi, February 1
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today termed the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme, which will be launched by him tomorrow from Anantpur district of Andhra Pradesh, as the biggest achievement of the 20-month old UPA government at the Centre.



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New pay panel for employees soon: PM
GDP rate may grow at 10 per cent
R. Suryamurthy
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 1
India is inching towards 10 per cent GDP growth, buoyed by increased savings rate and robust industrial production, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said here today, while disclosing the government’s move to set up a new pay commission for Central Government employees soon.

“It is time for the new Pay Commission and we are working on it’’, Dr Singh said at his second national press conference since he took office.

He said the salary scales under the Fifth Pay Commission had become outdated and there was a need for a revision in the pay packets of the government employees.

“The economy has recorded 7-7.5 per cent growth in the last three years and we are inching towards 8-10 per cent,” he told reporters at the press conference attended by cross section of the media.

Dr Manmohan Singh said a hike in savings rate by 4-5 per cent on account of employment of younger generation will add up 1 per cent to the overall growth in GDP.

With higher growth in the economy, he outlined the need to increase the savings rate in the next few years from the present 29 per cent.

Increased efficiency because of competition will add another 0.5-1 per cent to the economic growth, he said, justifying the optimism for high 8-10 per cent growth.

The economy had logged over 8.1 per cent in the first half of 2005-06 after clocking 7.5 per cent last fiscal.

With the Sensex close to touching the 10,000-mark, the Prime Minister reposed confidence in the regulatory framework to tackle any malpractices in the stock markets.

“We should have confidence in the regulatory system to control any malpractices that may creep in,” he said.

While presenting a rosy picture of the economy, Dr Manmohan Singh said there was considerable improvement in the last 20 months of the UPA regime but admitted, “there was some problems that the government will tackle with determination.”

Clearly indicating that the reform process would continue, despite the protest by the key allies, the Left parties, the Prime Minister said the government was committed to undertaking further reforms to make India an active participant in the global economy.

On disinvestment, he categorically stated there was no plan to privatise or disinvest government stakes in Navratna PSUs.

The Prime Minister outlined the need for power reforms for which a meeting with state chief ministers will be convened in two weeks. “We have to increase the generation capacity by 1,50,000 MW in the next seven years. We have to improve distribution and transmission also. That will require heavy investment,” he said favouring “proper pricing” of power by all public utilities.

On free power being offered in some states, he said: “All public utilities have to price properly taking into account the paying capacity of users.” But, that does not mean that the scope of power subsidies does not exist. However, he said offering free power deviates from the efficient pricing of power.

However, he said the government had to strengthen the mechanism to improve the fiscal situation. “I have reasons to believe that if we accelerate the pace of economic growth, there will be significant improvement in fiscal situation.”

On state finances, he said: “If you look at the cash position, some states are plush with cash.” Their financial position was better than ever before, he said.

On the agricultural sector, he said “we are committed to expand agricultural credit in a big way”, adding that Rs 13,000 crore would be pumped in to reform cooperatives to augment rural credit structure.

He said during the last one year, agriculture credit had grown by 30 per cent.

Admitting wheat stocks were currently low, Dr Manmohan Singh said the country was on the threshold of a bumper wheat crop that will take care of the requirements.

“We will continue to provide remunerative prices to farmers. This is a commitment”, he said, adding “at the same time, food prices are to be kept in reasonable control”

Cautioning that there would be risks when Indian agriculture starts becoming commercialised, he said steps would be taken for neutralising the risk to farmers.

“We have to take a practical view of the remedies that are available”, the Prime Minister said, adding that there was a need to look at the possibilities of expanding the scope of insurance though there are difficulties.

Dr Manmohan Singh assured the nation that the UPA Government would not resort to “confiscatory” taxation to find resources to implement its major programmes like Bharat Nirman, Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and Rural Health Mission which together needs thousands of crores of rupees.

He said, “we are committed to moderate and broadbase tax structure and not confiscatory taxes... If the economy grows by 7-8 per cent that itself will create enough resources to meet our defined goals.”

Dr Manmohan Singh promised help to the small-scale industry in terms of providing them technological and marketing skills to face competition from India signing a host of Free Trade Area agreements.

The Indian industry has learnt to live with competition and it has the desired capabilities, although the small-scale industry should be helped, he said.

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PM handles questions with cool
Tripti Nath
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 1
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s pending press conference of 2005 will be remembered for his remarkable wit and spontaneity, strong defensive posture on non-political questions and cool response to a host of provocative questions.

At the end of nearly 55 questions raised during the 90-minute conference at Vigyan Bhavan here, the Prime Minister came down from the stage to interact with mediapersons, some of whom complimented him on his brilliant handling of questions.

There were others who felt that he failed to make any dramatic impact or meaty announcements.

On being reminded that he has been described by the Opposition as the weakest Prime Minister, a fugitive Prime Minister, a Prime Minister in office but not in power, Dr Manmohan Singh chose to give an idiomatic explanation. Much to the surprise of the gathering, he did not lose his calm. “The proof of the pudding is in the eating. I have not done anything to deserve such epithets. I should be judged not by what Mr Advani says but what I do,’’ he said and drew attention to the fast-growing economy with an encouraging growth rate and savings rate.

Seizing the opportunity to hit back at Advani, said he was not the leader of a party like Mr Advani who paid homage to Jinnah and faced consequences of his utterances.

Dismissing the reported opinion of a CPI(M) leader that this government would be dethroned on the issue of airport privatisation, expressed the confidence that the government would complete five years.

On being asked whether the UPA Chairperson was less powerful than the Prime Minister, he gave a carefully worded reply. He said that the UPA Chairperson as the President of the Congress and the Chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance, has influence on the government. He was quick to clarify that this was not a matter of weakness for him but a matter of strength as Ms Gandhi took upon herself tasks which if he had to perform, he would be less effective.

When his attention was drawn to the concern of the prospective investors about the energy situation in India the infrastructure and fiscal position of states and the Centre, Singh said that Rome was not built in a day.

Asked to comment on sting operations, the Prime Minister repeated his previous observation made in Chandigarh that the media had an enormous responsibility. “It is very important that whatever powers media has are exercised.’’

Replying to a question about his contesting Lok Sabha elections, the Prime Minister said he had not yet spared a thought to this but the question had set him thinking.

Despite ground rules circulated to mediapersons for raising questions, some media organisations managed to raise more than the permitted two questions. Journalists who followed the instructions, were seen asking their neighbours to raise a question as their colleagues had already exhausted two chances to pose the question. Most media organisations were represented by more than three journalists. In some cases, the entire news bureau was present.

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Rural job scheme biggest achievement, says Manmohan
Prashant Sood
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 1
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today termed the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme, which will be launched by him tomorrow from Anantpur district of Andhra Pradesh, as the biggest achievement of the 20-month old UPA government at the Centre.

Answering a question during his press conference here about the biggest three achievements of his government, Dr Singh listed the Right to Information Act, National Rural Health Mission, Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission and the Bharat Nirman programme as the other major achievements of his government.

Dr Singh said that the Bharat Nirman Programme, which involves an investment of over Rs 1,74,000 crore, will change the face of rural India. The Bharat Nirman seeks to provide thrust in infrastructure for power, roads, irrigation, telecom, housing and drinking water by 2009.

The Prime Minister, who spoke at length of the steps taken to give a new deal to rural India, said the government was committed to increase flow of agriculture credit.

He said the government was committed to provide a more secure future to families of farmers, farm labour and workers, especially those in the unorganised sector. “The many initiatives we have already taken, especially Bharat Nirman and the programmes for rural education, health and employment generation will ensure this. Our new deal for rural India, including a massive increase in rural credit and the refinancing of cooperative credit societies, will also ensure this,” he said.

Dr Singh said the government had renewed hopes of millions of Indians by remaining steadfastly focused on equitable development. “We have been giving the highest priority to employment generation through increased investment, especially in agriculture and the infrastructure sector. Taken together, our five major initiatives will transform the face of India and the lives of ordinary people.

These initiatives include National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, National Rural Health Mission, Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana and Bharat Nirman,” he said.

The NREGA, beginning with 200 of the more backward districts, will gradually be expanded to cover the entire country. Terming it as a historic legislation, he said few countries in the world have such a guarantee. Answering a query, he said a lot of preparations had been made for launch of NREGA.

Giving credit for NREGA to UPA chairperson and Congress president Sonia Gandhi, the Prime Minister said “it is Soniaji who championed this Bill through Parliament.”

The Prime Minister said the UPA Government had been paying considerable attention to investment in the rural infrastructure. “Under Bharat Nirman, every village will have a pucca road, drinking water, electricity and a telephone by 2009. In addition, we will bring over 100 lakh hectares under irrigation and build 60 lakh houses. Under the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana, we have committed ourselves to taking electricity to all villages across the country by 2009,” he said.

Dr Singh said the National Urban Renewal Mission was an attempt to have world class cities. He said in the face of rapid urbanisation, the day was not far when almost 50 per cent will be living in urban areas. “We need to ensure that our cities and towns provide basic amenities to our people and have world class infrastructure.”

He said the success and popularity of the Delhi Metro has encouraged other cities to come forward with demands for better urban transport. “We will make sure that massive investment comes into our cities in the next few years. This will generate employment, bring in new investment and improve the quality of life of our people living in cities,” Dr Singh said.

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