New Delhi: In a strong signal ahead of the presentation of Budget 2010 on 26 February, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) reiterated the government’s commitment on its development strategy of inclusiveness, even as it was bullish that growth would bounce back to 8%-plus from the next fiscal.
At the same time, the government played down expectations ahead of the resumption of bilateral talks with Pakistan on 25 February after a 13-month hiatus, with President Pratibha Patil saying that New Delhi would have a “meaningful relationship with Islamabad” if the latter “seriously addresses the threat of terrorism and takes effective steps to prevent terrorist activities against India”.
Clear signal: President Pratibha Patil addressing the joint session of Parliament on Monday. PTI
The President was making her customary address, reflecting the government’s thinking, to both houses of Parliament ahead of the Budget session.
Invoking the speech of Jawaharlal Nehru at midnight on 14 August 1947, when he emphasized poverty alleviation and condemned income inequalities, Patil said: “Our country stands at a historic turning point. Never before were we so close as we are today to realizing our national aspirations as envisaged by our founding fathers.”
In her speech that lasted a little under an hour and was laced with several references to the aam aadmi (common man), Patil also conceded that the UPA was not in a position to give a deadline for the much-awaited Food Security Bill’s introduction while still being committed to it. In all, the speech had four references to aam admi and nine mentions of “inclusiveness”.
The development strategy, likely to be articulated in the Budget, envisages social protection for the common man through maximum access to energy resources. Patil announced the launch of the Rajiv Gandhi Gramin LPG Vitarak Yojana for distributing liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) to rural people, electricity for all by 2012, besides food security.
“My government firmly believes that the time has come to focus on ensuring that the processes of governance is sensitized, administrative instruments sharpened, and that the benefits of welfare programmes reach the aam aadmi,” Patil said while kicking off the three-month-long Budget session.
The message was clear to the party faithful.
“The President’s speech has given clear signals that the UPA is continuing its focus and attention on rural development because the government knows that India will fail to go up unless rural infrastructure improves,” said V. Kishore Chandra Deo, a senior Congress MP. “Even prices can be controlled only when rural development takes place. The government is in the right direction.”
But the President indicated that last year’s drought had set back the government’s food security plans. In her last address to Parliament, the first after the UPA returned to power, the President had listed enacting the National Food Security Act as one of its priorities in the government’s 100-day programme.
In an attempt to pre-empt criticism by the Opposition, Patil listed the measures undertaken by the government to contain food inflation, which touched 17.97% for the week ended 6 February. The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Left parties and some allies of the Congress in government have sought a detailed debate on inflation even before the customary discussion on a motion thanking the President for her address.
“The nation is burdened with the problem of price rise. The address of the President does not give any indication of the government’s policy or resolve to contain it,” said Gopinath Munde, deputy leader of the BJP in the Lok Sabha.
The Prime Minister’s economic advisory council recently said that surging food prices may lead to broader inflation and endanger the economic recovery.
Patil also said the government was committed to bringing a “paradigm shift” in the education infrastructure based on the three pillars of expansion, inclusion and excellence. She referred to the law to make education the fundamental right of every child in the 6-14 age group passed by Parliament in August.
To prevent opposition parties from taking political advantage of what they termed the government’s failure in unearthing unaccounted money stashed outside India, the President announced measures such as amending the Income-tax Act to enable the government to enter into tax agreements with non-sovereign jurisdictions.
“Renegotiation of the tax treaty with Switzerland is in process,” she said.