Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's opening remarks at the meeting of council of ministers in New Delhi
My Cabinet colleagues and members of the Union council of ministers, I welcome you to this meeting of the full council of ministers. Since a number of new colleagues have joined the council following the recent reshuffle, I thought it opportune to convene this meeting to welcome them and also to share with all of you a few thoughts on the agenda of our government.
The United Progressive Alliance government is now in its ninth year. We should take pride in the fact that, during this time, we have notched up significant achievements in the field of social and economic policy-making.
Flagship initiatives like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the setting up of the Unique Identification Authority of India to provide every resident with an 'Aadhaar' number to access social support services -- the Rural Health Mission, the Jawahar Lal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission, Skill Development Mission and legislation bringing into effect the Right to Information and the Right to Education -- these are only a few examples of the UPA government's work in order to realise its fundamental objective of inclusive growth.
We have also, during most of this time, enjoyed sustained and robust economic growth, which in turn has made possible the enhanced social sector spending necessary to support our initiatives in the fields of health, education, employment, agriculture and rural development and other vital areas.
While we should take justifiable pride in our successes, it is important to recognise that we are now also experiencing the fallout of difficult economic conditions worldwide. As a result, our growth has decelerated, our exports have fallen and our fiscal deficits are expanding.
Of particular concern is the fiscal deficit, which is too high and acts as a deterrent for domestic and foreign investment. These issues have a rippling effect across the economy and on the work of many departments that are represented here.
In order to have a clearer appreciation of the macro-economic picture that we are faced with, I have also requested Finance Minister P Chidambaram to share an assessment of the economic situation with us.
My own view is that while we need not be unduly gloomy about our prospects, we certainly need to redouble our resolve to meet the challenges before us and rise to the task of governance.
One area that is at the top of our agenda and will require particular attention and effort at multiple levels across government is infrastructure. During the 12th Plan, we have set ourselves a target of realising nearly $1trillion of investment in infrastructure sectors.
To do so, we will have to overcome the constraints that currently deter or slow down this investment. Fuel supply arrangements, security and environmental clearances and financing difficulties are among these constraints.
The growing gap between demand and supply of energy has emerged as a major constraint on our development. It is a major factor in widening the deficit on current account of our balance of payments as well as the fiscal deficit.
It is imperative that we come to a common understanding on these issues and work out mechanisms and remedial measures that will enable us to tackle these critical deficiences on a priority basis.
Friends, I am of the firm belief that the future holds great promise for India. We can achieve the targets we have set for ourselves, provided we approach the task with courage and with conviction.
I am aware that we are working against the political calendar, but we should not lose sight of the fact that we are also involved in the task of nation-building. Our responsibilities and our commitment therefore need to transcend other considerations.
I have no doubt that, in the time that is available to us, each one of you will bring your best efforts to complete the unfinished task before us and extend your support to all our colleagues across government in achieving the objectives we have set for ourselves.
In addition, since a number of energetic and younger colleagues have now joined the council of ministers, I would also request my senior Cabinet colleagues to make full use of the capacities and capabilities of their ministers of state by assigning them substantive tasks.