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Kalam's 2008 interview: 'Economic prosperity has to reach 700 million people in rural areas'

July 28, 2015 19:38 IST
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Former President A P J Abdul Kalam, who passed into the ages on Monday, had spoken to Rediff.com in 2008. We republish the feature.

Former President A P J Abdul Kalam kindly answered Archana Masih and Saisuresh Sivaswamy's questions for an exclusive interview with rediff.com:

What are the top most recent achievements that India has reason to be proud of?

The Indian economy is in an ascent phase. Particularly, our economy is growing at 8 to 9 per cent per annum for the last four years. However, there is a need to control inflation by increasing productivity, particularly in the consumer sector.

Photograph: Rajesh Karkera.

There is a marked improvement in our infrastructure such as roads, particularly rural roads, tele-density, international airports, metro-rail connectivity.

In the agricultural sector, our food production has increased to 237 million tonnes. It is essential to give highest priority for agro-food processing. This will enhance earning capacity of farmers.

In the automobile sector, India has become a leading manufacturer of cars, commercial vehicles and components. The Nano car is an important milestone in the small car segment. Work is also on to convert the automobile to run with emulsified fuel having 75% fuel and 25% water.

The PSLV C9 mission launching precisely ten satellites, including eight satellites for international customers.

And where have we failed? What have been our greatest failures and where have we failed our people?

While there has been all-round growth in many sectors during the last 60 years, the fact that there are still 220 million people living below the poverty line shows the failure of our system. Hence, connectivity and working with integrity are the immediate solutions. Providing Urban Amenities in Rural Areas (PURA) which gives physical connectivity, electronic connectivity and knowledge connectivity leading to economic connectivity in rural areas is the possible solution. We need 7000 PURA complexes for covering 600,000 villages in the country.

 India has faced many terrorist attacks recently, what should be our course of action for protecting innocents and punishing the perpetrators?

I realise that the recent serial bomb blasts at Bangalore and Ahmedabad have to be condemned. To sustain the economic progress of the nation and to achieve of India Vision 2020, assured safety and security of the people is of paramount importance. I was thinking for the last two days, the agony of the people who have experienced, particularly the kith and kin of families who were directly affected by the blast.

The dynamics of intelligence should be understood in the right sense at the right time by the intelligence agencies and nip it in the bud. Information collection has to be followed in multi-pronged approach through manual, remote observation, movement of information floating through the Internet and media.

Vulnerabilities need to be identified by an unified approach. Disjointed intelligence reports will not serve the purpose. Hence, we need a unified and empowered intelligence mechanism with task forces under a single roof at the Centre which will act in a mission mode to tackle terrorism.

I believe the time has come, apart from our multiple agencies forecasting and handling of the terrorist activities, we need to evolve an aggressive Mission called National Campaign to Eradicate Terrorism (NCET), with mission oriented integrated management structure, duly passed as a Bill by Parliament.

Under the NCET Bill, we need to bring out the following:

1. Creation of a unified intelligence agency across the country, empowering them to deal with the state and central government intelligence agencies under one roof of administration with the latest technological tools and devices.

2. Enact a law which will provide stringent punishments and faster justice to the perpetrators of the crime in a time bound manner.

3. Create a sense of awareness among the people to work together in identifying these incidents and eliminating these tendencies with transparent procedures to inform the intelligence agencies and work with intelligence agencies to combat the terrorism.

4. Implement National Citizen ID card for all the transactions with government services, business services and private services at the earliest.

5. Equitable national development for inclusive growth: Central and state governments should reorient their administrative mechanisms to ensure that development reaches all sections of society equitably for achieving inclusive growth and ensure that none in society feels alienated socially, economically and politically.

I am suggesting the evolution of an NCET Mission to be around action oriented people of the highest integrity and competence drawn from multiple functional areas, committed to the vision of NCET to eradicate terrorism as a time bound mission. We must do this with a great sense of urgency for 'When evil minds combine, good minds have to work together to combat.' Hence the mission of NCET.

  With inflation and slowing down of the growth rate, how do you see it impacting the opportunities for the youth of this country?

Normally high productivity in the consumer sector will have tremendous effect in bringing down inflation. It can be seen whenever oil price is hiked, it has an impact on inflation. Our solution is the nation has to go for energy independence. That means we have to come out from the dependence on fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal).

Does India have enough opportunities for young graduates emerging out of India's universities? There is a view that the quality of Indian graduates is not good enough for them to be employable. What are your thoughts on this view?

As we are in the ascending economic trajectory, we are concerned about rising unemployment and illiteracy. Unemployment is not the major problem; the question of un-employability is a bigger crisis.

According to the India Labour Report 2007, 53% of employed youth suffer some degree of skill deprivation while only 8 per cent of youth are unemployed. The remaining 47 per cent of India's youth suffer some degree of unemployablity. Only 7 per cent of the population in the 15 to 29 age group has received some form of vocational training.


300 million youth will enter the labour force by 2025. The unfinished product from the education system makes it vulnerable and creates social instability and inequality. The skill deficit among our youth is the most important issue to be addressed on priority. Recently, I went to meet the members of the Communication and Progress (CAP) Foundation at Hyderabad which is addressing this problem in its own unique way.

We need many institutions like CAP to work on mission mode to make every Indian youth fully employable and an active contributor to national development missions. A similar system is required for enhancing the employability quotient of our university graduates.

Sir, you recently supported the India-US Nuclear Agreement, which many don't know if it is good or not for India. Could you explain why it is good and what will India get if this deal is passed?

Passage of this deal will enable India to get uranium from many countries for the existing uranium-based power plants. It will also accelerate the pace of development of thorium-based reactors using the fast breeder system which will eventually make India self-reliant. It will definitely be useful in our energy independence mission.

How do you view the debate over the nuclear deal which you have endorsed? Does the deal have the potential to emasculate indigenous science and technology efforts, as some critics fear?

The deal has nothing to do with Indian science. Definitely, this deal will put pressure on nuclear scientists and India to become self-reliant in thorium-based nuclear reactors.

Indians recently saw bribe money being brandished in Parliament. All this takes hope away from the people and results in a lack of faith in government. Why has governance taken a backseat? Why has politics fallen to such depths?

People have the responsibility to elect the right type of members of legislative assemblies and Parliament. There is no point showing helplessness after electing the members. Always remember, elect the representative who will work for development politics -- that is national economic development with a value system as the primary goal.

2020, when you had said India will become a developed nation, is now not very far away. What do you see as hurdles in our path? How can they be overcome?

I  believe it is essential that economic prosperity has to reach 700 million people who are in the rural areas.

The solution is establishment of 7,000 PURAs (Providing Urban Amenities in Rural Areas) across the country and graduating our economic development measure from growth in GDP to growth in National Prosperity Index, NPI.

After your term as President has ended, you continue to criss-cross the nation. Do you find any change in the popular mood from the time you were Rashtrapati to now?

What I see is that the youth is restless. They want to contribute to make India great.

The time has come to launch a youth movement for national development. This, I am progressing.

What is your message on Independence Day?

Let us all, citizens of India resolve on the 61st Independence Day, 'I will work with integrity and succeed with integrity.'

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