Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday described the challenge of reducing inequity and inequality as the most important issue before the country and said focus should be given on meeting core development needs.
"To my mind, the most important issues before us are to meet the challenge of reducing inequity and inequality. We should focus on meeting core development needs essential for human growth," he said.
Singh was inaugurating the first conference of chairpersons of District Planning Committees here.
He said areas that need attention include combating of disease, eliminating malnutrition, providing safe drinking water, good quality universal education, providing people with skills and job opportunities and preserving environment.
Singh said programmes like Rural Water Supply should be planned and implemented at the district level and medium term development plans in urban areas should be continued.
Describing local governments as "unsung heroes" of the nation's march forward, he said though the progress on genuine empowerment of panchayats might have been "uneven", remarkable success has been achieved in deepening democratic practice by holding regular elections to local governments.
"At one stroke, panchayat elections combined political empowerment with social empowerment," he said.
Singh said there was need to build the capacity of elected representatives in the local institutions. "We have not yet focused adequately on this," he said.
The Prime Minister said it was the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi who spearheaded moves towards evolving a national consensus on revitalising local governments.
Singh said the UPA government established Panchayati Raj Ministry at the Centre to translate the "silent political and social revolution" into concrete task-oriented actions for welfare of the people.
He said several significant steps have been taken towards strengthening and improving upon Panchayti Raj and pointed out that almost every state was taking steps for empowerment of panchayat.
The Prime Minister said several states have engaged in the process of providing connectivity and were undertaking e-governance measures at the panchayat level.
"In the last four years, we have strengthened the district as the unit of planning in almost all our centrally sponsored programmes. We have consciously structured our flagship programmes in a manner that strengthens decentralised management through local institutions," he said.
Singh, who released a handbook on district planning, said a blueprint has been prepared to form the basis of guidelines for the Backward Regions Grant Fund that operates in 250 poorer districts.
He said it was for the district planning committees to consolidate the urban and rural plans into draft development plans of a particular district.
"The next step is to match resources with the plan," he said adding that over the past nearly five years, fund transfers to Centrally Sponsored Schemes have increased nearly threefold from Rs.36,000 crore in 2004-05 to Rs.1,20,000 crore in 2008-09.
The Prime Minister said 19 states have constituted District Planning Committees and requested the rest to complete the task expeditiously.