Prime minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday told the 77 ministers in his cabinet the government’s target of $1 trillion investments in infrastructure over the next five years “must be met at any cost”.
That translates into Rs53.71 lakh crore, or more than Rs10 lakh crore a year, over the 12th Plan period of 2012-17.
“Infrastructure is at the top of our agenda and will require particular attention and effort at multiple levels across the government,” Singh said in his opening remarks, setting the tone for what was also the first meeting of the plenary — the entire council of ministers — since the United Progressive Alliance returned to power in the 2009 elections.
“To do so, we will have to overcome the constraints that currently deter or slow down this investment.”
The prime minister listed fuel supply arrangements, security and environmental clearances and financing difficulties among the constraints and said the growing gap between demand and supply of energy had emerged as a major roadblock to 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 deficiencies on a priority basis,” said Singh.
“While we should take justifiable pride in our successes, it is important to recognise 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,” he said, listing the UPA government’s achievements.
“My own view is 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,” said Singh.
He said he had asked finance minister P Chidambaram to share an assessment of the economic situation with the ministers to give them a clearer appreciation of the macro-economic picture.
The government targets could be achieved, provided the task is approached “with courage and with conviction”, he said.
“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,” he said in an obvious reference to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
He urged all present to put in their “best efforts to complete the unfinished task” and requested senior ministers to make full use of the abilities of the “number of energetic and younger colleagues” who had joined the council of ministers “by assigning them substantive tasks”.
The 32-member cabinet met separately, shortly afterwards.