New Delhi, June 04: President Pratibha Patil on Thursday unveiled the new government’s agenda that includes reviving the economy through more investments in sectors such as infrastructure, a blueprint for national security and a host of social welfare programmes focused on creating a more inclusive society and economy.
“In 2004 my government had set before the country a vision of an inclusive society and an inclusive economy. My government sees the overwhelming mandate it has received as a vindication of the policy architecture that it put in place,” Patil said.
She was addressing a joint session of parliament, which met for the first time after the Lok Sabha elections brought back the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) to power.
The session, in the humongous Central Hall, was attended by over 700 MPs of the lower house (Lok Sabha) and the upper house (Rajya Sabha). Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, members of his newly sworn in council of ministers and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi were seated on the front row along with Leader of Opposition L.K. Advani.
Enunciating the policies and programmes of the new government, the president highlighted 10 areas that would get top billing during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s second term in office. These include internal security, growth in agriculture and manufacturing, health and education, governance reform and energy security.
The president underlined that the welfare of the common man topped the government’s concerns and said it would also give priority to boost urban employment and to battle recession.
Ensuring food security through a law to help millions of India’s poor is high on the priority list. The UPA government will guarantee 25 kg of rice or wheat each month to impoverished families, Patil said.
The government would strengthen welfare programmes like the rural job scheme by enlarging the scope of works permitted under it, she said. The current scheme is only for unskilled manual work. The government will also set up an equal opportunity commission as part of a slew of measures for the welfare of the minority communities, Patil said.
Inclusive growth combined with fiscal prudence will be the guiding mantra of the new dispensation as it takes steps to encourage foreign investment inflows, list shares of state-run firms on stock markets and pump more capital in banks.
“As part of process reform, all proposals to the cabinet will have to report on how the proposal under consideration will enhance the goals of equity or inclusion, innovation and public accountability,” she noted.
“An area of major focus for my government would be reform of governance for effective delivery of public services.”
“The current financial year is expected to see a slowing down of growth on account of the global recession. Our immediate priority must be to focus on management of the economy that will counter the effect of the global slowdown,” she added.
“The yearning of our young people for inclusiveness – economic, social and cultural – and the rejection of the forces of divisiveness and intolerance that my government spoke of in 2004 continues as both its inspiring vision and unfinished business.”
On the economic front, the government’s immediate focus would be to counter the effects of the global slowdown and focus on sectors that are adversely hit, especially small and medium enterprises, exports, textiles, commercial vehicles, infrastructure and housing.
Infrastructure development, financial sector reforms and divestments in state-run enterprises will be other key economic priorities of the new government, she said.
The president also dwelt on the 100-day action plan of Manmohan Singh’s government that is expected to give emphasis to the UPA’s unfinished agenda.
This will cover early passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill setting aside one-third seats in parliament for women, constitutional amendment to provide 50 percent reservation for women in panchayats, strengthening the Right to Information, roadmap for judicial reforms in six months and a delivery monitoring unit in Prime Minister’s Office to monitor flagship programmes.
A detailed plan to address internal security challenges will be implemented in a time-bound manner, the president said.
“A national counter-terrorism centre will be established to take pro-active anti-terrorism measures. Special forces and quick response teams will be raised and deployed in vulnerable areas,” Patil said over six months after the Mumbai terror attacks shook India and the world.
Emphasising zero tolerance towards terrorism, the president said some of the areas that have already been activated include the multi-agency centre for intelligence sharing and the National Investigation Agency that has been empowered to handle terror related offences.
The president also mentioned that while the government would pursue police reforms, the participation of citizenry in community policing will be promoted.
In the arena of foreign policy, India will pursue, Patil stressed, the country’s “enlightened national interest”, while retaining its strategic autonomy and independent decision-making.
India, Patil assured, will as a responsible member of international community and work with other countries in tackling global issues like terrorism, the economic crisis, climate change, energy security and reform of multilateral institutions to reflect contemporary realities.
Working with neighbours will be accorded the “highest priority” while maintaining the momentum of improving relations with major powers, she said. The president, however, made it clear that reshaping relationship with Pakistan depends on the sincerity of Pakistan to confront groups who launch terrorist attacks against India from its territory.