New Delhi: Setting the political agenda ahead of the crucial budget session of Parliament, President Pratibha Patil said the government’s focus in the next fiscal year would be on fighting corruption, containing inflation and generating new jobs.
Since the President’s address normally sets out the government’s strategy, it is likely that the Union budget, due to be presented on 28 February, will contain fresh policy action on all three issues.
Ahmed Raza Khan/Mint
The signal came on the same day that the Prime Minister’s economic advisory council remained bullish on growth, forecasting it at 9% in 2011-12.
The accent of the strategy suggests that the government, ahead of elections to the four key states of West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Assam, is keen to rebuild its image. The government will formally agree to a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) on Tuesday, which may ensure smooth functioning of Parliament and thereby facilitate new legislation.
“My government’s foremost priorities in 2011-12 will be: to combat inflation and, in particular, to protect the common man from the impact of rising food prices; to address frontally the concern regarding the lack of probity and integrity in public life; to sustain momentum of economic growth, while ensuring that the poor, the weak and the disadvantaged get a fair share in the fruits of growth,” Patil said at the beginning of her 45-minute speech.
Also Read | All of Mint’s budget coverage so far
The President, who maintained that good governance is an entitlement for citizens, said the agenda focus would also include internal and external security, besides foreign policy.
Pointing out that the President’s priorities are usually reflected in the budget, Rajiv Kumar, economist and director general of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, said: “This, however, requires significant efforts to control inflation and control corruption. Controlling inflation is difficult because it has become tricky, you will have to reduce the fiscal deficit and increase interest rates, and you may also require a trade-off between time to control inflation and force growth upwards.”
Echoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s assurance of fresh policy action, the President said the government should work on reform-friendly policies to attract foreign investment.
“We have to strive to make the domestic environment more conducive to investment, encouraging public as well as private investment, and domestic as well as foreign investment, particularly foreign direct investment (FDI). We have to maintain the momentum for reforms on a wide front,” Patil said.
The United Progressive Alliance government’s second term has been marred by corruption charges, including irregularities in the allotment of second-generation (2G) spectrum and in preparations for the October Commonwealth Games, apart from a series of controversies such as the government’s failure in pursuing black money, allegedly stashed away in foreign banks.
Some investors had expressed fears that the image of a corrupt government would discourage investment from overseas.
In April-December of the current fiscal, FDI inflows declined 23% to $16.03 billion (Rs72,295 crore today), from $20.87 billion in the year-ago period.
The government’s stance against a JPC probe into the 2G allotment had stalled the proceedings of Parliament during the winter session. It has now agreed to such an investigation.
Singh is expected to make a suo motu statement in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, requesting speaker Meira Kumar to initiate the process for constituting a JPC.
The Lok Sabha is expected to begin a debate on the issue on Thursday.
In keeping with its strategy to stage a political revival, President Patil said: “Our citizens deserve good governance: it is their entitlement and our obligation. My government stands committed to improving the quality of governance, and enhancing transparency, probity and integrity in public life.”
The speech also assured measures on electoral and judicial reforms, extension of adult literacy programmes for disadvantaged sections to 365 districts that have a high rate of female illiteracy, and new initiatives to push small and medium sector enterprises that provide jobs to more than 60 million people.
According to Jayati Ghosh, professor of economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University: “If it (the government) is looking to control inflation by reducing public expenditure, it’s not going to help. It has to control food inflation by strengthening and enhancing the public distribution system (PDS) to provide affordable food security and improve the condition of employment in the country.”
The opposition dismissed the President’s speech.
“When the country is looking for some inspiration, the President’s speech was disappointing, insipid and uninspiring. We expected more from the speech,” said Arun Jaitley, senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader and head of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha.
P. Karunakaran, a Communist Party of India-Marxist leader, said the President did not announce any fresh initiatives for the farm sector or strengthening PDS.
However, Congress member of Parliament V. Kishore Chandra Deo said: “The President has spelt out the government’s commitment to deal with the issues of inflation and corruption through political intervention.”
PTI also contributed to this story.