Infrastructure, the services sector and social justice have been priority areas for the Democratic Front government during its four years in power.
"WITH India being recognised as one of the promising economies the world over, Maharashtra has striven to be in the forefront in this drive. Maharashtra will continue to contribute its mite to further the pace of India's economic growth." This was the promise made by Chief Minister Sushilkumar Shinde in his speech at the second India-ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) Business Summit in Mumbai in September. He welcomed the delegates to participate in a process that would assure them guaranteed returns.
The four-year-old Democratic Front (D.F.) government in Maharashtra has set itself some clear goals, identifying infrastructure development, service sector enhancement and social reforms as the primary areas of importance.
Infrastructure projects have been given top priority in the State for some years now and the sector continues to gain importance. At the India-ASEAN conference, the Chief Minister made a special reference to the State's infrastructure plans informing the delegates that during the past 12 years, foreign direct investment (FDI) of $13 billion had been committed to more than 3,000 projects in Maharashtra. Referring to the Rs.5,300-crore Nagpur cargo hub project, he explained that it was a convenient geographical location for long haul flights between Europe and South-East Asian countries and that the hub could help minimise aviation costs. Shinde also referred to the proposed Golden Triangle road development project between Mumbai, Pune and Nashik, which will infuse new life into the industrial sector in the western section of the State. Without going into any details, the Chief Minister said that other possible sectors for foreign investment were partnerships in Mumbai's entertainment business and in tourism.
In order to promote growth in the services sector, Maharashtra is taking a series of initiatives such as building a knowledge corridor between Mumbai and Pune and establishing Special Economic Zones (SEZs) at various places (Maharashtra was the first to introduce SEZs).
During the past few years the State has progressed well with its road infrastructure project. Also there are a number of innovative proposals, which are likely to get off the ground. One such is the Skybus project, which is expected to radicalise urban transport. In the fields of Information Technology and roads and road transport, the State government has taken a variety of initiatives and consolidated reform measures. Working on the premise that higher growth is the best antidote to mass poverty and unemployment and the best way to generate the revenues needed to supply public goods and provide vital government services, it becomes imperative to put the economy back on a higher growth path, of the order of 7 to 8 per cent. The State may play the role of facilitator to enhance the growth of the economy by providing good infrastructure, incentives for establishing industries and making finance available on easy terms.
SOCIAL justice has been a top priority of the D.F. government, and the passing of the Right to Information Act is evidence of its good intentions. In his Independence Day-eve speech, the Chief Minister called upon the people to back the government's policies based on "the tripod of social justice" in order to enable it to pass on the benefits of "social integrity, overall progress and its outflow to the grassroot level of society".
Referring to the 2003-04 State budget, Shinde said the government devoted the fiscal document to the weaker sections of society by earmarking Rs.600 crores for schemes relating to social justice aimed at uplifting the underprivileged sections of society. In order to ensure stability and democratic ethics, the government is enacting a piece of legislation which could be invoked to move a no-confidence motion against presidents of Zilla Parishads, chairpersons of taluk panchayat samitis and sarpanches.
One of the major achievements of the government is the boost to local self-government. With Governor Mohammed Fazal giving his assent, the amended Bombay Village Panchayats and the Maharashtra Zilla Parishads and Panchayat Samitis Act, 2003, has become operative from August. The Constitution (73rd) Amendment was enacted by Parliament in 1992. Even though the State government had amended all the relevant State Acts, it realised the pressing need to bestow additional powers and authority upon the gram sabhas in the Scheduled Areas so that such gram sabhas could work as units of self-government. The objective of the amended Act was not only to quicken the process of democratic decentralisation but also to redeem the solemn resolve of the founding fathers of the Constitution by establishing gram sabhas in the true spirit of Mahatma Gandhi's concept of Gram Swaraj. Although development programmes are important they do not constitute the core of self-governance. Hence the State government decided to vest the gram sabhas with additional powers by amending the Act. At another level, it enforced welfare measures to protect the rights of domestic servants (ghareloo kamgar) who hitherto were deprived of any statutory cover since they were a part of the informal labour sector.
Family planning measures and health facilities are back as government priorities. In fact, proof of this comes from the Governor's call recently for a concerted effort by the State administration to implement family planning policies along with adequate health care for women and children. Census 2001 results reveal that Maharashtra is the second most populous State in India. This is a cause of concern and has invited the attention of the State government. The State has never baulked at the problems of overpopulation. In order to contain population growth, the State government has already initiated policy measures. Some of them have even been put into action. They are: reduction in the neo-natal child mortality rate by providing improved health facilities to pregnant women in pre-natal and anti-natal stages, enhanced education and counselling to raise the age at marriage, promoting spacing and other family planning methods among young couples, projecting a positive image of girls to reduce son preference and prevent sex-selective abortions.
The challenges for the coming decade include sustaining long-term high economic growth; finding local solutions for basic issues such as providing water for drinking, agriculture and industry; and promoting local self-government. The intricate linkages of good governance cannot be over-emphasised. High growth, for example, will depend upon the performance in agriculture, manufacturing and a whole range of services activities. And yet, in the context of intense liberalisation and globalisation, the industrial sector in recent years has become as vulnerable as the agricultural sector has been for decades. At the same time, the services sector cannot be expected to remain vibrant unless the output of commodities both in farms and in factories remains high. This, undoubtedly, will be the major challenge before the economy of Maharashtra in the coming decade. The D.F. government has recognised this challenge.Mantralaya, Mumbai 400 032 7/10/2003
I am glad to learn that Frontline will be publishing a Special Feature on Maharashtra.
Maharashtra is the most industrialised State in the country, has the best infrastructure; has evolved pragmatic policies; is the economic powerhouse of the country and a socially progressive State. Above all, it is a State devoted to securing social justice.
Ever since the Democratic Front government assumed power in October 1999, it has adopted measures to curtail the expenditure on administration and announced policies on women, population control, development of children and industrial development. It has laid due emphasis on programmes aimed at achieving the welfare of the weaker sections of society, minorities, farmers and farm labourers. This year's budget deserves special mention inasmuch as it provides special inputs for the development of socially deprived and neglected sections.
Maharashtra abounds in places of historical interest, caves and temples, rich flora and fauna, mountains and valleys and rivers and has a long coastline, which attract tourists. The State also has a rich heritage in art and culture.
I am sure the Special Feature will highlight the salient features of the State and will be informative to the readers.I wish the effort all success.