New Delhi: The issue of safety and security of women was of the highest priority, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Thursday and asked all Chief Ministers in the country to pay special attention to this critical area.

Addressing a meeting of the National Development Council, the Prime Minister said "no meaningful development" could take place without the active participation of half the population. And this participation, he said, cannot take place if their safety was not ensured.

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"Women and girls represent half the population and our society has not been fair to this half; there can be no meaningful development without the active participation of half the population and this participation simply cannot take place if their (women) security and safety are not assured," the Prime Minister said.

"We must reflect on the problem which occurs in all states and regions of the country and requires greater attention," he added.

The emergence of women in public spaces, which is an absolutely essential part of social emancipation, was accompanied by growing threats to their safety, the Prime Minister said.

Referring to the 23-year-old gang-rape victim in the national capital, he said the culprits had been apprehended. The Prime Minister told the gathering, comprising Chief Ministers and senior ministers, that the government had decided to review the laws in cases of aggravated sexual assault.

He said that a commission of enquiry has been set up to look into issues of safety and security of women.

The 57th National Development Council meeting is being held at Vigyan Bhavan. The NDC, which comprises Cabinet Ministers and state Chief Ministers, is meeting here to approve the 12th Plan (2012-17) document.

The meeting was attended by all the chief ministers including recently sworn-in Gujarat CM Narendra Modi.

PM for gradual hike in energy prices, cut in subsidy

Describing the current economic situation as a difficult one, the Prime Minister hinted at tough decisions like hike in energy prices and reduction of subsidies to achieve the growth target of 8 percent in the 12th Five Year Plan.

Singh cautioned that "business as usual" policies will not be sufficient to achieve the scaled down growth target of 8 percent, which he said was "ambitious".

The Planning Commission for the second time proposed reduction in the average annual growth target for the 12th Plan. It was first scaled down from 9 percent to 8.2 percent and now to 8 percent. Noting that energy prices in India are "too low", Singh said, "some phased price adjustment is necessary".

The Central Government and the states, he said, "must work together to create awareness in the public that we must limit the extent of energy subsidies".

The Prime Minister further said that the 12th Plan has made a case for containing subsidy as failure to control them would mean that "other plan expenditures have to be cut or the fiscal deficit target exceeded".

‘Infrastructure, involvement of women must for rapid growth’

India needed some 20 years of rapid growth to emerge as a middle-income economy, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said, adding that infrastructure development and involvement of women remained the keys to achieving this goal.

"We have been reasonably successful in what we have achieved so far. But we must also remember that we are still a low income economy," the Prime Minister said.

"We need 20 years of rapid growth to bring it to middle-income level. The journey is long and requires hard work," he said..

"Better infrastructure is the best guarantee for rapid growth of the economy," he said. "There can be no meaningful development without the participation of half the population (comprising women), their security must be assured."

An extra-constitutional, non-statutory body, the council is the apex institution for decision-making in India, led by the Prime Minister, and includes cabinet ministers, the Chief Ministers of all states and representatives from union territories.

GST regime

Seeking cooperation of the states to implement the GST regime, the Prime Minister said there is a need to increase the tax ratio as a percent of GDP through combination of tax reforms and better tax administration.
"Early implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) is critical in this context. I hope we will have the co-operation of the States to introduce the GST as quickly as possible," he said.
Singh said growth rate of many states have improved in the recent years. "The average growth rate of the five poorest states exceeds the national average for the first time in any Plan. I think we may be reaching the stage when the term BIMARU states can be relegated to history," he said.
Loopholes in central schemes

Referring to states' complaints regarding leakages and corruption in Central schemes, the Prime Minister said from January several subsidies would be transferred directly to the Aadhaar-linked banks accounts of beneficiaries.
"In due course, a wide range of benefits like scholarships for students, pensions for the elderly, health benefits, MGNREGA wages and many other benefits will migrate to direct transfer into bank accounts," Singh said.
This, he said, was also necessary to contain subsidies within the limits of fiscal sustainability.

Energy sector

Elaborating on the urgency to deal with energy related issues, Singh said: "Unfortunately, energy is underpriced in our country. Our coal, petroleum products and natural gas are all priced well below international prices.
"This also means that electricity is effectively underpriced, especially for some consumers. Immediate adjustment of prices to close the gap is not feasible, I
realise this, but some phased price adjustment is necessary."
Singh further said Centre and states must work together to create awareness about limiting the extent of energy subsidies.
The experts, he said, are of unanimous opinion that the country cannot achieve rapid, inclusive and sustainable growth without adjusting the energy prices in line with world prices.
Moreover, he added, there is also a need to moderate the demand of petroleum products as country is a net importer of this critical energy resource. India imports over 75 percent of its crude oil requirement.
Singh also said the recently created Cabinet Committee on Investment under his chairmanship will help in speeding up clearances to large projects which are stuck.


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