New Delhi, March 8: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today cited “my friend” Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s zeal for rapid industrialisation to contend that manufacturing is the answer to the current stagnation in agricultural growth.
Replying to the debate on the motion of thanks in the Lok Sabha on the President’s address, Singh expanded the scope of the debate on special economic zones (SEZs).
He said the Bengal chief minister had a point in suggesting that the only long-term solution for India is to wean workers away from agriculture towards manufacturing.
“I know there are issues that cause concern about whether a particular process of industrialisation is leading to loss of land at a pace which has undesired consequences. But I sincerely believe that my friend Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is right when he says the time has come in this country to work steadfastly to rapidly industrialise the economy,” Singh said.
Referring to the crisis in agriculture, Singh said the future lies in creating an attractive alternative for the workers in agriculture. Quoting Karl Marx and Jawaharlal Nehru, he said India’s destiny lies in aggressive industrialisation.
“In a country like ours, where the average landholding is so small, there are limitations to improving productivity. The long-term solution to that problem has to be to take people away from agriculture, to manufacturing, to services and other non-agricultural pursuits. Creating an environment in which industry can create a lot more jobs becomes a priority,” he added.
The Prime Minister must be hoping that his “friendship” with the chief minister will come in handy in tackling other tricky issues that the CPM high command find hard to digest.
One such factor popped up today when an American delegation called on Bhattacharjee in Calcutta. The trade team, headed by Ron Somers, made a strong case for more foreign direct investment in insurance — something that the CPM opposes.
FDI in insurance is now capped at 26 per cent but the Centre wants to raise the ceiling to 49 per cent.
Somers handed over to Bhattacharjee a paper on insurance. “The association presented its case for opening insurance, pension and retail sectors. Given the magnitude of investment required for infrastructure, it is critical to develop a long-term debt market. The market can be created by opening insurance and pension,” Somers told The Telegraph.
A source said the chief minister did not convey his views immediately. “This is something that our party collectively needs to decide on,” he said.
The delegation also invited Bhattacharjee to the US. Industry minister Nirupam Sen is likely to tour the US in end-June. The chief minister’s visit will follow once investment offers crystallise.