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Health and infrastructure in UPA-II focus

india Updated: May 25, 2009 00:29 IST
Varghese K George

After focusing substantially on rural employment and rural roads in its first tenure, the new United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government will turns its attention to health, infrastructure and education in a big way, said senior Congress sources.

“Health and infrastructure need huge public investments and effective governance. We have, therefore, told our allies that the Congress wants to keep health and some other portfolios related to infrastructure development,” said a senior leader in the know of things.

Health and Road Transport — two key portfolios handled by Congress allied Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) respectively — were evidently the laggards in the UPA first tenure from 2004-09. Congress sources said both are up for major corrections, and soon enough.

Congress’s M. Veerappa Moily is expected to get Road Transport and Ambika Soni is expected to get Health in the new cabinet. Neither portfolio has been allotted yet, and the Congress will do that only after settling the power-sharing formula with the DMK.

“Infrastructure investments will go up and this will be anti-dote for global economic slowdown too. Creating a thriving domestic market is the best way to insulate ourselves from global fluctuations,” said Moily.

In order to finance new investments in the slowdown season, the Congress leadership is also considering relaxations in the FRBM Act 2003 to allow some room for deficit spending.

The National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), started in 2005, seeks to provide effective healthcare to the rural population throughout the country with special focus on 18 states that have weak public health indicators.

The mission seeks to raise public spending on Health from 0.9 per cent of GDP to 2-3 per cent of GDP by 2012 — two years before the tenure of the current government ends.

“Health is a matter of universal concern. It’s time that we took care of the health of the poor,” a Congress leader said.

Education is another sector that the new Manmohan Singh government is going to focus on. Though the ministry of Human Resources Development was under a Congress minister, Arjun Singh, the PM and the minister were rarely on the same page on any major issue concerning the sector. With 30 new central universities, eight IITs and seven IIMs in the pipeline, the country’s higher education is set to expand.

“India is a young country. Proper training will turn our young population into a demographic dividend. Otherwise it will be demographic disaster,” said Moily.

Kapil Sibal, who shares the PM’s vision on reforming the education sector is likely to be the new HRD minister.