Congress MP Rahul Gandhi on Thursday made a strong speech in Parliament demanding the widening of the scope of relief granted to farmers through the loan waiver scheme announced by Finance Minister P Chidambaram in the Budget 2008-09.
Here is the transcript of the speech made by the Congress heir apparent:
"Mr Speaker Sir, thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak in support of the Budget 2008-2009.
Each one of us is responsible for listening to the people of India and reflecting their voices in this august house. It is therefore a privilege for me to put forth my views here today.
Mr Speaker Sir, there are two distinct voices among India's people today. The louder of these voices comes from an India that is empowered, an India that has proven to itself and to the world that it will shape the future. It is an India rich with opportunity and talent, straining to be unleashed.
The other voice is yet to be empowered. It is not as loud, but reverberates across the country. It is the voice of disenfranchised people reminding us that they too have potential to fulfil. They too are enterprising, hardworking, and self-reliant, and they ask only to be given an opportunity.
Some believe that the progress of these two India's is not just separable but mutually exclusive. Some believe that India can shine only when we direct attention and resources to those Indians who already soar, while ignoring the aspirations of the disempowered. Others believe that the poor will progress only if we stifle our nation's entrepreneurial energy.
Our government believes that India's growth can and must be symbiotic. The two India's are fundamentally inseparable. Our philosophy is not to choose which India to nurture, but to grow together.
There are two reasons for this view.
First, the poverty of our people is an assault on our principles. Freedom from poverty is not a matter of charity or luck; it is a right. I am proud that under the leadership of the prime minister, our government has recognized and institutionalized this idea. The NREGA delivers employment as a right. The Tribal Act delivers ownership of land as a right. The RTI Act delivers information as a right. The Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill seeks to deliver basic minimums rights to those being displaced.
Second, the speed and continuity of our economic growth depend on inclusion. A small, resource-rich section of India cannot grow indefinitely while a vast, disempowered nation looks on. If opportunity is limited to a few, our growth will be a fraction of our capability as a nation.
Mr Speaker Sir, permit me to give an example to illustrate why it is crucial to connect these two India's:
On the one hand we have thousands of young Indians looking for jobs. On the other we have a galloping industry with massive manpower demand. But we have invested too little in developing the skills of our youth. This renders them unqualified to do the jobs our industries require.
Indian enterprise will realize its full potential not by distancing itself from the poor, but by fully connecting with their aspirations.
Mr Speaker Sir, the true magnitude of our economic potential will only be realized when the voices of the empowered and the aspiring speak as one. This is the core of our 'aam aadmi' agenda.
I compliment the prime minister and the finance minister for giving us a budget that stays true to this goal.
A strong voice begins with effective education. The allocation of Rs 34,400 crore to education will allow for 2 lakh more teachers and 5 lakh more classrooms. It will also provide for programs such as mid-day meals, means based scholarships and schools for girls so that the most vulnerable voices are clearly heard.
Our investments in expanding IITs, IIMs and other institutions of higher learning will ensure that our brightest minds continue to shine on the world stage. The budget invests extensively in vocational education and the creation of a National Skills Development Organization. This will ensure that our technical training institutions will respond effectively to the voice of our youth.
Mr Speaker Sir, permit me to reflect on a subject critical to our nation's future. The UPA government has given the nation an education budget 3 and a half times what it inherited. However, we must acknowledge that there are deep structural issues with our delivery infrastructure.
It is my conviction that our schools and universities will become worthy of our nation's voice only when the education sector undergoes a revolution of the kind we saw in telecommunications.
Returning to the budget at hand. A child's voice is much stronger when it is healthy, well fed and sheltered. Our government has recognized and provided for this. The Rs 16,500 crore allocated to health will help combat illness and disease.
Allocations to programs such as Bharat Nirman, the Indira Awaas Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana and Rajiv Gandhi National Drinking Water Mission are delivering to Indians everywhere a minimum standard of life.
The budget pays special attention to the poor and makes provisions to support our most marginalized people. The allocation planned for NREGA will take the program nation wide and give every eligible Indian access to basic social support. The allocation to the Backward Regions Grant Fund will allow us to correct inequalities by directly targeting devastated and chronically neglected regions such as Bundelkhand and K-B-K.
This year's budget has especially heeded the plea of the debt-ridden farmer. A historic decision has been taken to free 40 million of our poorest farmers from the bonds of indebtedness. This decision has corrected a grave injustice and given our small and marginal farmers the ability to look to the future with hope.
Mr Speaker Sir, our nation's social objectives are being achieved without burdening the economy or the taxpayer. Our economy has grown at 8.8% under the stewardship of the prime minister. The UPA government continues to bolster economic growth. The exemption threshold for personal income tax has been raised to Rs 1.50 lakh. The government maintains its sharp focus on enabling enterprise through the creation of infrastructure. For example, the allocation for road transport and highways has risen 70% to Rs 17,550 crore during the tenure of our government. The continued emphasis on Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission encourages states to build urban infrastructure capable of absorbing the massive migration to our cities.
Mr Speaker Sir, I would like to put forward some suggestions.
The loan waiver brings tremendous relief to our farmers. I have discussed the scheme with several experts and would like to make two points.
First, the current ceiling of 2 hectares for eligible farmers does not account for land productivity and excludes deserving farmers in poorly irrigated areas. I refer specifically to dry land areas like Vidarbha. Perhaps, Sir, we could consider making the land ceiling variable based upon land productivity.
Second, in some parts of the country, the cropping cycles are such that the bulk of loans have been taken after the cut-off date of March 31, 2007. A single cut-off date unfairly penalizes farmers in these regions. Sir, it would greatly help if localized cutoff dates were considered so that every deserving farmer benefits from the waiver.
Finally, Sir, I would like to make a few suggestions regarding service delivery, accountability and transparency in institutions and programs.
Recently, some colleagues and I conducted an evaluation of NREGA in our constituencies and high-performing states. We compiled a set of recommendations that we presented to the honourable prime minister.
Mr Speaker Sir, I humbly submit to the finance minister that a host of government programs would be better implemented if funds transfers were linked to achieving RTI and social audit objectives.
Sir, the budget establishes total financial inclusion as a key objective, and specifically targets SHGs as instruments to access credit. Sir, building SHGs is a resource-intensive process. I humbly request the finance minister to consider budgetary provisions and incentives to encourage states to build SHG networks which comprehensively cover the poor.
Finally, Sir, in dwelling upon accountability and transparency, I cannot omit to mention our Panchayati Raj Institutions. Panchayati Raj brings the voice of even the poorest Indian into decisions shaping their lives. Therefore, Mr Speaker Sir, I humbly urge the finance minister to place PRIs at the centre of program implementation and create incentives for states to do the same.
With that, Mr Speaker, Sir, I conclude my submission by once again complimenting the prime minister and the UPA government on a landmark budget.