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New Delhi, February 22, 2010
President Pratibha Patil today said the Government continued to accord the highest importance to ensuring relief to the common man on food prices and was committed to bringing forth a legislation to ensure food security.
Addressing the joint sitting of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha at the start of the Budget Session of Parliament here, Ms Patil listed the several steps taken by the Government to control the prices of essential items and increase production.
She recalled that the Government had recently convened a meeting of the Chief Ministers and State Ministers of Food and Civil Supplies to discuss issues related to the rise in the prices of food articles and evolve a coordinated strategy. A Core Group consisting of senior Ministers of the Union Government and some Chief Ministers had been constituted to examine a wide range of related policy issues, she said.
Ms Patil said that, in the longer term, the country's food security could be ensured only through sustained efforts at increasing agricultural productivity, combined with a comprehensive reform of the public distribution system and open market intervention.
She said the Government now looked foward confidently to further improvement in the country's growth performance in 2010-11.
"My government will aim at a growth rate above 8% in 2010-11 and seek to achieve 9% growth in 2011-12," she said.
According to her, the Government would concentrate on infrastructure development, agriculture and rural development, education and health and ensure that the growth process is adequately sensitive to the concerns and well being of the weaker sections of society. It would work to create an environment which encourages investments, including in Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises, she said.
The President said her Government was voted to office with a clear cut mandate to protect and deepen the values of pluralism and secularism, and to ensure rapid growth with justice and fairness for all.
"Since assuming office in May 2009, my government has worked single-mindedly to build on the achievements of its earlier term to deliver the promise of faster and more inclusive growth. The' aam aadmi' was and is at the core of this promise; the 'aam aadmi' had to be protected against the ravages of the worst ever global economic crisis since the Great Depression and against the failure of the monsoon in large parts of the country in mid-2009," she said.
She said the Government had combined a caring and sensitive approach in dealing with the immediate economic and social problems, had taken measures to strengthen the nation's security, had proceeded with a desire to accommodate disparate political and regional voices, had sincerely worked towards deepening the country's federal polity, had vigorously pursued enlightened national interests in pro-actively engaging with the global community, and had introduced sensitivity in the partnership between the institutions of governance and civil society.
"The global economic slowdown was met by strong policies of administering a domestic stimulus to the economy which has yielded handsome results. Economic growth which had slowed to 6.7% in 2008-09 is likely to improve to around 7.5% in 2009-10. At a time when industrialised countries have experienced negative growth, India has continued to grow at an impressive rate," she said.
The President listed the steps taken by the Government to cope with the unexpected and severe drought that posed special challenges in managing the economy in 2009. At the same time, there had been an unhappy pressure on the prices of foodgrains and food products, she said.
"Higher prices were inevitable given the shortfall in domestic production and prevailing high prices of rice, cereals and edible oils globally. They are also to some extent a reflection of the implementation of our schemes of inclusive growth involving payment of higher procurement prices to our farmers and the impact of higher public spending on programmes of rural development, which have successfully raised incomes in rural areas," she said.
Ms Patil said the Government firmly believed that the time had come to focus on ensuring that the processes of governance were sensitized, administrative instruments sharpened, and that the benefits of welfare programmes reached the common man.
She said this commitment to canons of good governance must guide the massive slew of rural and urban reconstruction initiatives under Bharat Nirman, and other schemes for ensuring inclusive growth and social protection.
She gave details of the progress in the implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) and other flagship programmes of the Government in areas such as rural housing, rural electrification, urban renewal, urban housing, and so on.
The President said the Government subscribed the idea of a balanced approach to national development, with special attention to the border states. She spoke about the progress in the Prime Minister's reconstruction plan for Jammu & Kashmir and the plans for the rapid development of infrastructure in the North-Eastern States.
Similarly, she dwelt at length on the progress in the implementation of various schemes aimed at making the disadvantaged sections of society - especially Scheduled Tribes and other forest dwellers and minorities - a part of the Indian success story.
"Our unity and social harmony is the best answer to the terrorists and their divisive designs. Hence, government is committed deeply to protecting our social fabric and to that end, it proposes to move for the early passage of the Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill, 2005, in this Session of Parliament," she said.
The President said the Government was committed to ensuring early passage of the Women's Reservation Bill which was introduced in the Rajya Sabha in May 2008, urging members of both Houses of Parliament to accord special attention to this critical proposal.
She said two Bills for Constitutional amendment to provide 50% reservation for women in panchayats and urban local bodies had already been introduced and hoped these could be passed during the Budget session of Parliament.
She said the National Youth Corps Scheme had been introduced to enable young men and women between the age group of 25 and 35 years to serve two years in nation-building activities. In the first phase 20,000 volunteers would be deployed and they would be utilized in several creative social activities like cleaning the Dal Lake in Jammu and Kashmir, she said.
The President spoke in detail about the measures being taken by the Government in the area of education.
"My government is committed to bringing about a paradigm shift in our education infrastructure based on the three pillars of expansion, inclusion and excellence," she said.
She said a National Council for Higher Education and Research would soon be established as an overarching body to regulate higher education and research in India. She said the Government was endeavouring to bring forward an appropriate legislation for facilitating the participation of globally renowned and quality academic institutions in the higher education sector, and for bringing in foreign education providers for vocational training and skill development.
She spoke about the Government's plans to list profitable public sector companies on the stock exchanges through a public offer of at least 10 per cent of the equity.
She also detailed the several steps taken by the Government to meet the challenge of climate change, ensure energy security and build infrastructure, including highways. She also mentioned the efforts to revive national carrier Air India and expand and modernise the country's airports and sea ports. She said the Government was committed to a substantial expansion in capacity and modernisation of the Railways, including new lines in Jammu and Kashmir and the North-Eastern states and the construction of the Dedicated Freight Corridors on the Eastern and Western trunk routes.
The President said the Government was, similarly, committed to extending the benefits of modern communication facilities to rural areas. It had already initiated action to set up 10,000 towers in 2010-11 for connecting remote areas across the country.
As against the target of 60 crore telephone connections by 2012, the achievement already exceeds 57 crore, with an unprecedented addition of nearly 2 crore connections in the month of December 2009 itself, she said.
Ms Patil said Mission Clean Ganga, under the aegis of the National Ganga River Basin Authority, was expected to ensure that by the year 2020, no untreated municipal sewage and industrial effluents flow into the Ganga.
She also mentioned the steps being taken by the Government for improving the system of justice and healthcare.
The President said the Government had undertaken a number of steps to unearth unaccounted money parked outside India. These include amendment of the Income-tax Act, 1961 to enable the Central Government to enter into tax agreements with non-sovereign jurisdictions. Steps have already been initiated for negotiations for entering into Agreements for the Exchange of Information with major jurisdictions. Renegotiation of the Tax Treaty with Switzerland is in process. India is an active part of the global efforts to facilitate exchange of tax information, and to take action against tax evasion, she said.
She said the Government wanted to make access to news and entertainment affordable and universal. In addition to notifying guidelines for providing Headend in the Sky services, the digitalization of both All India Radio and Doordarshan was on the anvil, she said.
According to her, the Commonwealth Games 2010 will be covered in High Definition format by Doordarshan for the first time. She said the country was also proud that Indian films and music compositions had got international acclaim and recognition for Indian artistes.
Ms Patil said the Unique Identification Authority of India had been established with a mandate to issue unique identity numbers based on biometrics to all residents of India. "This mammoth and unprecedented exercise will serve as a great enabler to improve targeting and delivery of major government welfare programmes and public services, especially to those who are poor and marginalized. The first set of unique identity numbers is expected to be issued in the early part of 2011," he said.
She said the Government was committed to creating an innovation strategy for government, industry, entrepreneurs, technologists and academicians with a focus on inclusive growth and appropriate eco-system necessary to bring about generational change in the approach to development.
She also referred to the fact that Delhi would be hosting the 19th Commonwealth Games in October this year. "Preparations for the event are at an advanced stage. Every effort will be made to ensure a befitting and successful conduct of the Games," she said.
Turning to the international arena, the President said India had played its role in global affairs with responsibility and in the pursuit of peace, stability and progress in the region and beyond.
She said the Government would continue its active engagement with the world based upon the principles laid down by the nation's founding fathers, and with the objective of furthering its goals of rapid and inclusive economic development and poverty alleviation in an increasingly interdependent world.
She referred to the recent visits to India by the King of Bhutan and the Prime Minister of Bhutan, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, the President of Maldives, and the President and the Prime Minister of Nepal and said these had given new content to the country's traditional ties of friendship with neighbouring countries.
"Following the elections in Sri Lanka, we will continue to work with the Government to enhance our partnership. India will contribute to the humanitarian and rehabilitation efforts for the Tamil minority and long term re-construction in conflict-affected areas. India's assistance to the reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan witnessed important milestones and we will continue to partner Afghanistan in its development efforts," she said.
Ms Patil said India's relations with the major powers had been further consolidated. She said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to the United States had laid the framework for the further expansion of the India-US partnership at the bilateral, regional and global level.
She said her visit and the visit by Dr Singh to Russia had renewed India's time-tested friendship and opened new areas of cooperation.
She also referred to India's relations with the European Union, China, Japan, Brazil, countries of East Asia, ASEAN and Central Asia. She also mentioned India's cooperation with members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and its cooperation with countries in Africa and Latin America.
"India's views on global challenges such as terrorism, energy and food security, climate change and the international financial and economic crisis were unambiguously articulated at the appropriate fora. The issue of reform of institutions of global governance was brought to the fore of the international agenda. India's voice was heard with respect in the G-20 process, the G-8 plus G-5 Summit, and the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen," she said.
Ms Patil praised the contributions made by the overseas Indian community in all walks of life aross the globe, which had earned them high respect.
She said that, as part of the ambitious expansion of the country's nuclear energy programme, approval was accorded for the construction of additional Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors and sites for setting up Light Water Reactors.
Following the availability of imported fuel as a result of the opening of international civil nuclear cooperation, commercial production had commenced in two units of the Rajasthan Atomic Power Project, and one more unit was expected to begin commercial production soon. New agreements for cooperation in the field of civil nuclear energy were concluded with Russia, Mongolia, Namibia, Argentina and the United Kingdom, while others are under negotiation, she said.
She said the country's space programme continued to provide societal services to the nation in the areas of tele-medicine, tele-education and village resource centres.
"The Oceansat-2 satellite was successfully launched onboard the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle. The flight test of the GSLV-D3 launch vehicle with indigenous cryogenic stage, and the launch of the Cartosat-2B, INSAT-3D and Resourcesat-2 satellites are planned in the near future. The GSLV-Mark III launch vehicle will be further developed and activities towards the Chandrayaan-2 Mission will be initiated," she said.
Ms Patil said the country today stood at a historic turning point. "Never before were we so close as we are today to realizing our national aspirations as envisioned by our founding fathers and spelt out by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in this very hall on the midnight of 14th August 1947," she said.
"The service of India means the service of the millions who suffer. It means ending poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity.
"We have taken decisive strides towards reaching these goals. Still, much remains to be done. The road is long, but our journey is in progress. Let us march together with confidence to a new, bright future," she added.