"On security, he said a policy of zero tolerance towards terrorism, extremism, riots and crime will be pursued, the defence forces will be strengthened, foreign equity norms on production of defence-related equipment will be eased and a national maritime authority will be set up."
By Arvind Padmanabhan

New Delhi, June 9 - If acche din aane wale hain or good days are to come was Prime Minister Narendra Modi's vote-pulling election slogan, President Pranab Mukherjee Monday outlined how in his 55-minute address to a joint session of parliament, listing the new government's priorities in areas ranging from domestic issues to foreign policy.

The president also reminded assembled lawmakers in the Central Hall of parliament that people must come first and serving them should be their top priority, without any room for corruption, in a transparent manner with minimum government, maximum governance.

Listing poverty elimination and control of inflation as the two top immediate priorities of the new government, the president also said the clear mandate given by the people was to see a vibrant and prosperous India that regains the admiration of the global community.

Brimming with hope and expectation, they want quick results, he said, adding: We must rise to the occasion to fulfil these great expectations. In 60 months from now, we must be able to say with confidence and pride that we have done it.

The president's address, a constitutional requirement, was approved by the cabinet June 4, after incorporating the suggestions given by each ministry and department. It will be followed by a debate, a reply by the prime minister and then a vote on a motion thanking the president for his address.

In the speech Monday, the president not only made simple yet welcome promises on behalf of the new government like all-weather houses for every family and basic amenities like water and electricity for all, but also sought to list and address specific needs of virtually every constituency and issue -- from minorities, youth and women to education, industry and foreign policy.

To the youth, he said barriers between formal education and skill development will be done away with, and announced a national multi-skill mission. To women he promised effective measures to curb violence against them and 33 percent reservation in all elected bodies.

The president also said Indians must not tolerate indignity of homes without toilets and public spaces littered with garbage. In a bid to ensure better hygiene, waste management and sanitation, he announced a Swachh Bharat or a clean India mission as a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi.

At the same time, he announced equal opportunities in areas like education, livelihood and health to not just the socially deprived and weaker sections, but minorities as well.

Government will especially strengthen measures to spread modern and technical education among minority communities and a National Madrassa Modernization Programme will be initiated, the president said, adding care will also be provided to the specially-abled people as part of government's vision of a caring society.

Reacting somewhat to the developments in recent months that had led to perceived policy paralysis due to fear among bureaucrats to take decisions, the president said while it will indeed set up a Lok Pal, or ombudsman to curb corruption, it will also make the environment conducive to work.

My government is committed to providing a clean and efficient administration focussed on delivery, he said, adding: My government will take steps to build the confidence and morale of our bureaucracy, enabling it with the freedom to work, and welcoming innovative ideas.

To the investing community, domestic and overseas, the president assured that the ease of doing business in India will improve and tax laws made more predictable, even as encouragement will be given to labour-intensive manufacturing and overseas capital that creates jobs.

The speech also had some specific measures to announce, such as a sea network that then gets connected with the hinterland, high-speed trains, a new energy policy, transparent allotment of natural resources, 100 new modern cities, interlinking rivers, waterways, converting employment exchanges into career centres and agri-rail networks.

With an audience that included the diplomatic corps in the visitors' gallery of the Central Hall, the president also said the new government will continue to maintain good relations with all countries, adding that the invitation to the leaders of India's neighbours for the inauguration event of Modi was a signal in that regard.

Apart from improving ties with countries in the immediate neighbourhood, the president specifically listed China, Japan, Russia, US and those in Europe as nations with which India would like to partner strategically and in areas including trade and investment, science and technology, and energy and education.

On security, he said a policy of zero tolerance towards terrorism, extremism, riots and crime will be pursued, the defence forces will be strengthened, foreign equity norms on production of defence-related equipment will be eased and a national maritime authority will be set up.

(Arvind Padmanabhan can be contacted at [email protected])


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