16 Sep :Hon’ble Vice-President, Hon’ble Prime Minister, Hon’ble Ministers, Hon’ble Governors and Lt. Governors and senior officials.
During my interaction with various Governors, I could sense that most of you were enthusiastically looking forward to the Conference of Governors. I am happy to have this opportunity today of meeting you all collectively. I extend a very warm welcome to you all.
I recall attending the last Conference in June 2005 as one amongst you. This time we have with us our new Vice President, Shri Mohd. Hamid Ansari. With a long and distinguished record of service to the nation, his breadth of vision would benefit us. Since this Conference last met, several Governors and Lieutenant Governors have demitted office. I thank each one of them for their valuable services and wish them many years of health and happiness. I would like to congratulate the Governors and Lt. Governors who are attending the Conference for the first time and offer my good wishes to everyone present.
I am glad that many of the recommendations made during the previous Conference have been translated into action. The achievements have been highlighted in the Action Taken Report already available with you.
Over the years, the Conference of Governors has served as a useful forum for constructive exchange of experiences and ideas on issues of national and regional concern. Bearing in mind the increasingly important role of Governors in view of the emerging challenges of governance and the growing expectations from them in ensuring the well-being of the people, certain contemporary issues of national importance have been identified for discussion during these two days.
I recall what Gandhiji commented about the role of Governors, "??Whilst I would resent much power of interference to be given to Governors, I do not think that they should be mere figureheads. They should have enough power, enabling them to influence ministerial policy for the better. In their detached position, they would be able to see things in their proper perspective and thus prevent mistakes by their Cabinets. Theirs must be an all pervasive moral influence in their provinces."
The big challenge facing us is the battle against terrorism, Left Wing Extremism and insurgency. Outfits with varying goals have been waging a long and enduring warfare against the State with some forming a mutually supportive grid in this proxy warfare. Intervention by trans-border elements also poses a threat to our security and integrity. Left wing extremism is fast becoming a vexed problem. The serial blasts which occurred on 13th September in Delhi is fresh in our mind. This emerging phenomenon of metro-terrorism has given a new dimension to subversive activities and is a matter of serious concern.
The State and Central Governments have to deal firmly with those who follow the path and culture of guns. Both the Governments have conjointly adopted a multi-pronged conflict-management and conflict-resolution strategy. During my visit to Shararat Post close to the Line of Control at Tangdhar in May 2008, I saw how our valiant soldiers guard our borders with dedication and a smile on their face. We are immensely proud of our security forces which have ably defended us from insidious forces. Their operational efficiency needs constant upgradation. We need to modernize our police force with greater investments in cyber and technical intelligence, communication systems and forensic capabilities. There is need for an institutional mechanism to seamlessly share intelligence on real-time basis to foil the attempts of terrorists and naxalites. A healthy police-population ratio needs to be maintained. It is for consideration whether the help of ex-servicemen who have experience in handling inimical forces could be enlisted in this effort. Some of the affected states, particularly in the North East, as reported have a deficit of one-fifth of the sanctioned strength of constabulary. Insufficient number of police stations affects police outreach. Fund allocations for security forces by the States has stagnated or grown marginally. All this has a crippling effect on the efficacy of the law and order machinery. Given your pre-eminent positions, you can provide the right lead in this direction.
As the Naxalite problem is also an expression of neglect, deprivation and disaffection amongst the downtrodden, the solution lies largely in our ability to deepen the democratic process, usher in good governance, rapid economic development, equity and justice besides expanding employment and entrepreneurial opportunities. While not showing any leniency to disruptive and separatist elements, we have to also sensitize our security personnel to exercise maximum possible restraint and show respect to local sentiments and gender sensitivity in the disturbed areas.
Our diplomatic initiative with our neighbouring country Bhutan and to some extent Myanmar has been fruitful in isolating and combatting militants. We need to embark on similar result-oriented strategies with other willing neighbours to create a climate of shared determination to extinguish terrorism from the common neighbourhood. Our Border Management policy measures include fencing, floodlighting, roads, border outposts besides strengthening surveillance of coastal areas. Governors can share their views on the operational effectiveness of our border management measures particularly on the Border Area Development Programme being implemented for balanced development of sensitive border areas.
Violence has no place in democracy. Consensus building is integral to nation building. We have to evolve an acceptable, peaceful political solution taking on board the unfulfilled aspirations and emotive sentiments of the people in these disturbed regions. I find from the reports of the Governors of North-Eastern States that there is a crystallisation of opinion in favour of peace. Encouraging signals have been received in the form of surrender of many militants. It is therefore equally critical that the surrenderees receive all the benefits due to them under the rehabilitation package and as Governors you can play a watchful role. The desire for peace through dialogues like the Naga Talks is a positive development which needs to be speedily taken up to its logical culmination.
Preserving a climate of peace, pluralism and harmony is as crucial as the fight against terrorism. Acceptance of all religions and different ways of life are values that Gandhiji taught us. The aberrations of fundamentalism, violence and bloodshed have disturbed the equilibrium in the society. Some States experienced communal and social strife which not only vitiated social harmony but also pulled back the nation economically. We have to exercise vigil to prevent such happenings. There is an imperative need to instil in our youth the philosophy and practice of tolerance, coexistence and harmony. We have to work together to create a sense of common belonging, common consciousness and common destiny.
By securing a better life for our citizens we can secure a society at peace with itself. Since food security ranks first amongst our hierarchical needs, food availability with right nutrition content and assured accessibility has to occupy centre-stage in the country’s economic activity. The synergized endeavours of our policy makers, farming community, agricultural scientists and agri-business enterprises can help in attainment of the goal of food security for all. Agriculture being a State subject, the pivotal responsibility lies on the State government to protect and preserve farming as our living heritage.
We have to discover ways and means to produce more from the limited land available. While we must continue to respect and encourage the traditional wisdom of our farmers, adoption of new innovative farming practices is a must. This requires State-specific strategies based on local agro-climatic conditions besides institution and capacity building at the local level. Transfer of technology at the doorstep of farmers should be top priority of agricultural institutes. We may consider collaborating with advanced countries in research on development of better strain of seeds for dryland farming. We need to foster an evergreen revolution by consolidating the gains achieved and ensure new gains through enhanced investment in agriculture, diversification of farming systems, value addition and unshackling of the rural entrepreneurial spirit. Innovative practices like urban and peri-urban agriculture needs to be promoted.
Price-rise has become a pressure point in the economy. Rise in food prices has the greatest impact on common man’s inflationary paradigm. This also lends to the paradox of sufficient food-grains in the granary co-existing with the incidence of hunger. While such distortions cannot be corrected by a single stroke of action, there is a need to monitor pricing and streamlined flow of essential commodities. We would hear from our Finance Minister of the do’s and don’ts for effective management of the inflationary tendency.
We have a tradition to consider human-beings as an integral part of the eco-system. We have to harmonize ecological and environmental imperatives with our development strategies. Global warming, thinning of ozone layer, erosion in the Arctic permafrost and consequential climate change is emerging as one of the biggest threats to the bio-sphere. As Governors, I would urge to lend your stature and intellect to convince the people that the phenomenon is actually occurring and mobilize support towards sustainable development.
India has been playing an active role in addressing the climate change issues. Our Prime Minister released the National Action Plan on Climate Change in June, 2008 which emphasizes adaptation to climate and enhancing the ecological sustainability of our development path. It focuses attention on eight National Missions and recognizes the significant role that States will play in creating institutions to enhance the ability of the people to adapt to climate change. The consensus adopted recently by the Nuclear Suppliers Group on civil nuclear cooperation with India will help provide an enabling environment for clean energy. I compliment the Prime Minister for this historical achievement.
I also take this opportunity to express on my own behalf and others our sympathy and solidarity for the people of Bihar in braving the devastation caused by the Kosi. Time has come to go beyond post-disaster management approach and instead emphasize on prevention, mitigation and risk-reduction approach. I urge upon the concerned governments to ensure immediate and effective relief disbursal to restore normalcy and prevent recurrence of such calamities.
Another significant fact of our changing society is the transformation in the country’s demographic profile. We need to nurture this vast and precious human capital to prepare for their march towards the country’s progress. To my mind, our higher educational institutions must emphasize on experimentation and innovation. Only then the knowledge imparted would have an organic and living relationship with the societal needs and help in mediating the strands of challenges of a rapidly changing modern-day world. Also we should not overlook the need to have a system of education that teaches us positive values and makes us good citizens. As Chancellors, your sagacious counsel on how to guide the State University system will be of immense benefit.
Talking of education, one notes with satisfaction that we have been able to reduce the gender gap in enrolment. There is still lot more to be done for them. Inspite of their constituting 48% of our population, they continue to suffer from discrimination, disparity, indignity and exclusion from decision-making processes. I have been constantly focusing attention on the need for women’s empowerment and elimination of social evils as they retard the progress of both society and nation. Any agenda for empowerment of women should cover gender needs at every stage of life beginning from protection in the womb by prohibiting female foeticide, checking female mortality through better nutrition, addressing gender preferences in families, giving equal educational opportunities to girlchild, making them economically independent by imparting skills, making work-places safe for women, building defence against domestic violence and allowing women to fully realize their capacities. A major milestone has been the setting up of over 2.2 million Self Help Groups at the grassroots level. Such initiatives could flourish with your support and encouragement.
We have to be ever vigilant to mainstream gender into laws, policies and programmes of the government. Special attention needs to be given to Gender Budgeting. While various departments implement schemes for development of women, they are often not implemented in close coordination thus making the approach fragmented. There is a need to bring about the right modicum of convergence so as to make the cause of women’s development a collective concern. As a step in this direction, I am glad to state that at the instance of the Prime Minister, the Union Ministries have constituted Task Forces to identify specific action points on convergence of Government programmes for gender equality and fighting social evils. These would be integrated into a concrete Action Plan alongwith activities of the civil society and the private sector. This Action Plan is to be examined by a Committee of Secretaries under the Cabinet Secretary for implementation. Similar initiative can be made by the State Governments.
The Scheduled Castes who constitute 16% of our population still continue to remain a disadvantaged section of the society. There is a pressing need to ensure that they lead their lives with dignity and honour, free from atrocities. We have about 85 million tribal people in our country. There is a felt need for continuous intervention to ensure their speedy development and welfare. The Fifth Schedule of the Constitution dealing with the administration of Scheduled Areas and Scheduled Tribes envisages a specific role for the Governors. It empowers the Governor to direct whether a particular enactment shall apply with or without modifications or be not applied to any scheduled area. It also empowers the Governor to make regulations for peace and good governance.
In view of these special provisions, there is a feeling in certain quarters that the Governor should play a pro-active role. On the other hand, it is understood that court judgments and debates in the Constituent Assembly provide that the Governor is bound by the advice of the Council of Ministers in the exercise of his powers under the Fifth Schedule. This causes considerable uncertainty. Government could seek authoritative legal opinion to set at rest this ambiguity. Annual Reports required to be submitted by the Governors under Fifth Schedule requires streamlining. Further the Tribes Advisory Councils set up under this Schedule have not functioned with the vigour expected of them thus warranting remedial action at your end. We would be keen to hear from you about your views and perception of making your role in this regard more meaningful.
I understand that "The Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996", (PESA) has extended Panchayati Raj to the nine States namely, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa and Rajasthan under Fifth Schedule. However, they are yet to frame requisite local enactments to comply with the PESA Act. Since the quality of government-citizen interface at the grassroots level determines the quality of governance, you may urge the State Governments to have informed discussions on this matter and chart out the most optimal path for the good of the people.
I want to advert your attention to another segment of the society where there is both need and scope to improve. We have about 21 lakh ex-servicemen and 4 lakh war-widows. The constant vigil of our security forces keeps us safe and secure. We must take special care of their welfare and rehabilitation. I had requested you all for a special report on the activities of Sainik Boards and Amalgamated Funds. While the focus of a few States seem to lack drive, some have embarked on innovative schemes like computerization of Sainik Board data in West Bengal, medical reimbursement in Goa, reimbursement of housing loan interest in Jharkhand, just to name a few. I would urge upon all the Governors presiding or chairing the Rajya Sainik Boards to hold regular meetings and impart greater dynamism to these Boards; take up resource-mobilization drives besides a prompt redressal of their grievances.
As regards emoluments, allowances and privileges of Governors, the Cabinet approval for enhancement of salary of Governors along with others is a reason for cheer. On the issue of pension and terminal benefits, we may hear from the Prime Minister and Home Minister how best they can address your concerns.
At the end, I would like to mention that the Governor’s Monthly Reports, in some cases, are narrative and statistical. Their usefulness will be enhanced if important developments could be highlighted along with an assessment and analysis of the situation. Secondly, I would also suggest that Governors could take more intensive tours of their own States so that they appreciate the felt needs of the citizens better.
I have taken much of your time in sharing my thoughts. You have a heavy agenda before you. I expect that the discussions would enable us to arrive at suitable conclusions and map out a strategy which can be mainstreamed into the process of policy making. I have great pleasure in declaring the Conference of Governors open.