New Delhi: Following is the complete address of Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh to 2nd Annual Conference of Chief Secretaries of States in New Delhi on Friday. Following is the text of the Prime Minister’s address:

“I am very happy to participate in this inaugural function of the second Annual Conference of Chief Secretaries of States. I welcome each one of you to this very important conference and hope you will benefit from the exchange of ideas that takes place here.

As you are aware, the previous year has been a difficult one for our country. I would like to briefly point out here some of the major problems that we as a nation face today. The problem of high inflation has persisted now for several months driven mostly by supply-side shortages, Particularly those of agricultural commodities and also the rising prices of imported products, both primary commodities and petroleum products. The internal security situation has been tense in some parts of our country. There has been unacceptably high level of violence in areas affected by left-wing extremism and in the Kashmir valley.
Serious concern has been expressed in many responsible circles about the lack of ethical conduct and probity in our public life. Though our major anti-poverty programmes have achieved considerable success, the quality of delivery of service has not been always as good as it could be or it should be. The deprived sections of the community have a genuine grievance that the benefits intended for them do not reach them in full measure.

I am therefore glad to note that issues like transparency and ethics in government, important concerns regarding internal security and implementation of important flagship programmes are proposed to be discussed at length at this conference.

Our economy has been on a high growth trajectory for the past few years. We weathered the global financial crisis relatively well and we have reason to believe that we will do much better in the coming years as well. But, inflation poses a serious threat to the growth momentum. More importantly, it affects the poor and the vulnerable disproportionately harder. A year ago the primary concern was the rising prices of cereals, pulses, edible oils and sugar. These were being pushed up owing to the drought of 2009. These tendencies were reined in successfully due to additional releases through the public distribution system, augmentation of supplies through imports and curbs on exports and a determined effort to increase production. The recent spurt in prices has been driven by an increase in the prices of vegetables, fruits, milk, meat, eggs and fish. This poses a different kind of problem, as these commodities are not held in public stocks. Some of the increase in the prices of relatively superior food products like milk, eggs, meat and fish is partly attributable to rising income levels. This itself is a corollary of faster growth and the effectiveness of our programmes of social inclusion, which have succeeded in putting relatively more income in the hands of the poorer sections of the community. Whatever be the cause, the fact remains that inflation is something, which needs to be tackled with great urgency. The lasting solution for food price inflation lies in increasing agricultural productivity and production not only of cereals but also of pulses, oilseeds, vegetables and fruits and augmenting the supply of milk and milk products, poultry, meat and fish. There is a need for a paradigm shift in our institutional arrangements, for improving the availability of various commodities to meet the higher levels of domestic consumption. Since we have no control over the prices of imported goods, our ability to stabilise prices depends crucially on our ability to control the prices of non traded goods and services. As you all know, much of what needs to be done in this regard lies in the domain of State Governments. The functioning of the Agricultural Produce Market Committee Acts needs to be reviewed on an urgent basis. There seems to be a strong case for waiving mandi taxes, octroi and local taxes, which impede the smooth movement of essential commodities. The public distribution system needs to be strengthened. Storage facilities have to be augmented. Supply chains need to be strengthened and these need to be dovetailed with organized retail chains for quicker and more efficient distribution of farm products and more remunerative prices for our farmers. While the Central Government will continue to provide substantial support in this direction, each state has to work out a suitable plan of action suited to its requirements and its capabilities. I would urge all of you to pay particular attention to these and related issues in your deliberations.

As per our Constitution, the responsibility for maintenance of public order and peace rests with the states. But, in view of the complex and ever changing nature of problems we face, states often need Central assistance in these areas. It is only through a process of continuous and meaningful interaction between the Centre and the states that problems of left-wing extremism, cross-border terrorism and religious fundamentalism can be tackled and tackled effectively. Let me reaffirm today that the Central government stands committed to assisting states in all possible ways in these areas. But, while the Centre can provide resources, guidance and information, the basic task of modernizing state police forces, inducting better equipment, improving the quality of police personnel and strengthening the infrastructure available to them requires the attention of the State Governments. Funds are not a constraint, as the thirteenth Finance Commission has recommended substantial grants and the Central government continues making its contribution to augment the resources of the states. What is needed is a recognition of this problem, focused attention on these issues and a commitment to improving the professionalism and the quality of our police forces. Ultimately, it is a police man on the ground who will deliver results and he has to be equipped and treated well to have the morale and the capacity to deal with the problems of internal security. I hope to see some useful recommendations emerging out of your deliberations on these issues.

Corruption strikes at the roots of good governance. It is an impediment to faster growth. It dilutes, if not negates, our efforts at social inclusion. It dents our international image and it demeans us before our own people. This is a challenge which has to be faced frontally, boldly and quickly. As you might be aware, we have set up a Group of Ministers to look into all measures, legal or administrative, to tackle this menace. Two bills have already been introduced in Parliament relating to judicial accountability and the protection of whistle blowers. Along with legislation, the necessary revamp of administrative practices and procedures needs to be fast-tracked. A systemic response that reduces opportunities for corruption needs to be put in place. It is now well documented that the introduction of competition, greater choice and modern technology can cut down the opportunities for corruption in a very meaningful manner. Delays, another major cause, can be addressed to a large extent by effective decentralization and delegation of power and responsibility. All these issues require your wholehearted attention and I have no doubt that if all of us work together we can bring about vast improvements in governance.

Our social sector programmes for the empowerment of the poor and the disadvantaged have met with reasonable success. They have generated substantial employment, enhanced wage rates, put additional purchasing power in the hands of the poor and mitigated distress during adverse circumstances such as natural calamity. In short, they have succeeded, to a large extent, in blunting the harsh edges of deprivation and distress. But, there is a perception that the schemes, designed to help the poor, do not provide the intended benefits to them in full measure on account of leakages and at times tardy implementation. The answer, perhaps, lies in effective decentralization and delegation of powers to the panchayats so that the voice of the targeted beneficiaries gets heard and reflected in the implementation of various services.

We should also make full use of technology to improve the delivery of our schemes. Technological advances, including broadband connectivity and mobile phones, provide opportunities and tools for better monitoring, improved communication and greater transparency. Unique identification numbers and the extension of the business correspondence model of commercial banks to remote areas should help in prevention of leakages and promote financial inclusion. These are tools and options at your disposal and it is up to you to use them effectively and imaginatively.

I would like to draw your attention to two more areas I consider important. The first is infrastructure. As you know, the infrastructure deficit in our country is considered a major obstacle in the achievement of our growth potential. We need better roads, better ports and better airports, improved supply of electricity and expanded irrigation facilities. While we have made some progress in the last six and a half years in improving our infrastructure and tried new models like the Public Private Partnership, much more needs to be done and it has to be done on a priority basis. I would urge all Chief Secretaries to explore ways and means by which the infrastructure deficit in their state can be bridged. This is even more crucial for those States that continue to lag behind in the race for social and economic development.

The other area is the administration’s response to the special needs and problems of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, minorities, women and other vulnerable groups of our society. Speaking to Chief Ministers three days ago, I had said that it is a shame that atrocities against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes still continue in our country. I expect all Chief Secretaries to lead their administration in preventing such atrocities and ensuring punishment to the perpetrators when they do occur. I expect a similar sensitive and responsive attitude towards the issue of violence against our women.

As India marches ahead, we should pause and ponder on the nature of the society we wish to build for our country. Economic growth and rising national income are not enough by themselves, though they are essential. These have to be tempered with equity and inclusiveness and with social and religious harmony. Our people have to be imbued with a modern outlook, a humane attitude and an ethical value system. The way we run the administration of this great country has a significant bearing on the kind of society we can hope to build and leave behind for our children and grand children. This is something which I would like each one of you to keep in mind.

In conclusion, let me end by wishing you all the best in your deliberations over the next two days. I hope to see useful recommendations emerging from your discussions. May your path be blessed.”