All women in the country would be literate in five years, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Tuesday while noting that female illiteracy and poor infrastructure were obstructing India's economic growth.
The prime minister, who was launching the Rs.65 billion (over $1.3 billion) literacy mission 'Saakshar Bharat', said: "In fact, many observers have seen infrastructure development in the economic sector and female literacy in the social sector as two very critical factors that impede India's steady climb to a higher and sustainable level of growth and development."
Kicking off the flagship programme on International Literacy Day, he said his government had put in place several major initiatives like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the National Rural Health Mission and the Right to Information Act. Literacy, he stressed, was the key to their success.
"Literacy is central to the success of all these programmes and initiatives female literacy is especially so. Female literacy is a force multiplier for all action for social development. This is self-evident and does not require any elaboration.
"Female literacy is also absolutely necessary to empower the Indian woman in her every day struggle in dealing with multiple deprivations on the basis of class, caste and gender," Manmohan Singh elaborated.
He said the country could not remain satisfied with poor literacy levels and his government was committed to making all women literate in five years.
"The president of India, in her address to parliament earlier this year, had announced that the government will recast the National Literacy Mission to make every woman literate in the next five years. Today we take the first step towards fulfilling that promise to our people."
"One-third of India's population still continues to be illiterate. About half of our women cannot still read or write. The number of illiterates in India is probably the highest among all nations of the world. We cannot therefore be satisfied with the status quo."
He said persistent illiteracy, particularly among women, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, minorities and other disadvantaged groups, was a "challenge that we must face and meet head on".
"We must make our nation fully literate if we want to empower the average citizen and make rapid progress," the prime minister added.
The estimated cost of the mission is Rs.65.02 billion. Of this, nearly Rs.50 billion would be funded by the central government and the rest by the states. The mission's target is to make 70 million adults above the age of 15 literate -- of these 60 million would be women.
Under this programme, beyond basic education, women would be imparted skill training to make their lives sustainable. Panchayats, the prime minister said, would play a key role in implementing the mission by involving local communities, NGOs and civil society.
Manmohan Singh also reiterated his government's commitment to providing good quality education to all and said funds were no "constraint". "Our government is committed to providing good quality education to each and every child in our country. Resources will not be a constraint in the quest of achieving this goal."
The event was also attended by Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal, his deputy D Purandeswari, UNESCO additional director general Nicholas Burnett, several diplomats and parliamentarians.