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`Time for corporate role in rural growth'

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The Union Minister for Rural Minister, Mr M. Venkaiah Naidu, at a press conference in Kolkata on Friday.

KOLKATA, Feb. 15

IN a bid to clearly define the role of States in the ongoing campaign to concretise public-private partnership for rural development, the Government has convened a two-day `Colloquium of Secretaries' in Hyderabad beginning on February 21.

Involving trade bodies like Assocham, FICCI and CII, the colloquium aims to evolve a proper policy thrust to fructify the four-point programme chalked out by the Ministry for uniform rural development.

The focus would be on the four aspects of organisation, finance, technology and marketing.

Speaking to members of the Bengal Chamber of Commerce & Industry at during an interactive session on rural development on Friday, Mr M. Venkaiah Naidu, Union Minister of Rural Development, said that rural development Secretaries of States would meet under the aegis of the Ministry at the brain-storming session in Hyderabad to clarify the role of States in greater public-private partnership for rural development, essentially to bridge the growing urban-rural divide.

Stating that the Centre was seriously committed to the task of meeting the aspirations of the rural people, for long been deprived of a better quality of life, Mr Naidu said that following detailed discussions with the Finance and other Ministries, a National Rural Development Fund had been created within the Ministry for this purpose.

He urged the corporate sector to do its bit for the rural population by contributing to the fund.

The Minister also said that efforts were already on to achieve convergence (connectivity) in rural infrastructure development, in consultation with the Ministries of Telecommunications, Power and IT.

"Removal of the urban-rural divide will largely depend on our capacity to make technology available in the rural areas, not as a curiosity but as a way of life. Its use lies as much in agriculture, trade, veterinary and healthcare as it does in bringing people closer.''

Urging the industry to join hands with the Government in this convergence exercise, Mr Naidu said that the new programme involved Governmental support to all self-help groups involved in rural development.

He said that the industry was free to identify the choice of activity and place of location for this work, and assured full Governmental support.

A task force has already been set up at the Ministry to monitor the progress of work and address the implementation problems.

Elaborating on the ongoing programme for the construction of rural roads (under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana), which entails investment to the tune of Rs 60,000 crore, Mr Naidu said that the task was too stupendous for the Government to tackle alone.

The roads being built under the Yojana would have a five-year minimum guarantee - given by the contractor concerned - for stability.

On the `evil' of politicising of roads construction by politicians, especially on the eve of elections, Mr Naidu said that the zilla parishads were now being empowered to identify roadless villages, on the basis of population, and compile a district roadmap, which would be open to verification by the Government.

The MLA or MP concerned would be given the task of supervising this arrangement, with the help of the State level planning committee.

The Ministry is also setting up a National Rural Road Development Agency soon to address the various problems pertaining to rural roads.

Describing the recent Cabinet decision to lift all restrictions on movement of foodgrains across the country, he said: "We are now moving towards a deregulated environment, which would encourage farmers to take up direct marketing of agricultural produce in a big way.''

He added that farmers should be allowed to sell their produce directly without having to go through middlemen. "We are in the process of setting up a district rural produce marketing centre soon for this purpose."

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