M A I N   N E W S

President outlines UPA govt’s reform agenda
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 16
In the backdrop of Left parties’ serious differences with the government over economic policies, President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam today rolled out the government’s reform agenda for the economy announcing ambitious plans in the several sectors including infrastructure, a new civil aviation policy, creation of a common market for agriculture, rail freight corridor and an attractive FDI regime.

Promising to keep inflation moderate despite surging global oil prices, the President told the joint session of Parliament that the government would launch a 10-year National Manufacturing Initiative and would act as a driving force for employment and economic growth.

In his 45-minute address, Dr Kalam said that the government would evolve a policy framework for development of petroleum, chemical and petro-chemical investment regions with $ 10 billion in each location.

Steps have been initiated to set up a Sixth Pay Commission for government employees, he said adding model concession agreements were being formulated for public-private partnership to modernise ports and for development of national highways involving investment of Rs 1,75,000 crore in next seven years.

The President said the economy had bounced back to cross 8 per cent growth this year and equally important was that inflation has been moderated to provide comfort to “aam aadmi” (common man).

He also announced a Rs 14,000 crore package for reviving cooperatives and amendments to Essential Commodities Act, APMC Act to push up farm development.

Dr Kalam said a National Horticulture Mission, a National Rain Fed Authority, a National Biotechnology Authority and a National Biodiesel Programme would be launched in the country, apart from creating a common market for agriculture.

Giving a preview of the UPA government’s policy initiatives in the coming fiscal, the President said that since in the present era, every social and economic activity was driven by knowledge the government had constituted the National Knowledge Commission to seek expert advice on how to empower the people with skills and capabilities relevant to the knowledge era.

The commission was also expected to examine how to modernise the educational system in keeping with the emerging requirements of the future, Dr Kalam said adding the report of the commission was awaited shortly.

Elaborating on measures to tone up administration, the President said the government has taken several steps on reforming the instruments and processes of governance from the very top.

A new system of Performance Appraisal Reports and appraisal by an Eminent Persons Group has been put in place of the existing system of Annual Confidential Reports, he said adding the government was also introducing mid-career training systems with promotions based on a new criteria and an accelerated empanelment procedure for senior civil servants.

“A voluntary retirement non-promotion system on the basis of mid-career screening will be put in place for the All India Services to ensure that the best and the brightest are rewarded for their performance and commitment to good governance”, he said.

He said that a National Disaster Management Authority has been operationalised and was expected to play a fruitful role in coordinating and planning disaster mitigation and management efforts.

Observing that the Parliament was also considering several Bills to empower socially and economically SC, ST and OBCs and religious minorities, he said the backlog of unfilled reserved posts in government was being reduced speedily under a crash programme.

Laying more importance on investing in the knowledge economy, he said that the government had decided to create new centres of excellence in basic sciences, on the lines of the Indian Institute of Science, in Kolkata, Pune and in Punjab.

The recent satellite programme would revolutionise the broadcasting infrastructure in the country as the synergy had enabled the country to emerge as a major knowledge, media and entertainment power, he pointed out.

Dr Kalam said a Task Force on Information Communication and Entertainment had recently been constituted. “Given adequate attention, I am confident that our entertainment sector has the potential to be world class and compete with the best”.

He said that the government proposed to create a National Tiger Conservation Authority for more effective management of tiger reserves. For the first time, a draft National Environmental Policy had been formulated to harmonise environmental, social and economic imperatives, he said.

Observing that a National Rural Health Mission had been launched with the intention of providing universal basic health care to the people, he said it would also link efforts to provide safe drinking water, sanitation and nutrition.

Turning to the efforts taken in the field of education, the President said the prestigious Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, along with Mid-Day Meal programme, now covered 12 crore children in the country.

Besides, several other steps have been taken to widen access and ensure excellence in the field of education; he said, adding liberal funding of scholarships for students hailing from Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes families was also available.

Stressing that better water management holds the key to agricultural growth in the country, Kalam said a National Rain Fed Area Authority was being established to look into all dimensions of managing water resources under Bharat Nirman, he said adding that the government had started work on elements of the interlinking of peninsular rivers, beginning with work on two such links.

The President said that the government intended to propose statutory measures to prevent and deal effectively with communal violence and communal offences and to enable rehabilitation of victims of communal riots.

Observing that a Bill for providing Constitutional status to the Minorities Commission has been introduced in Parliament, he said a committee under Justice Rajindar Sachar was studying in-depth the condition of minorities and was expected to recommend steps for their economic and social development and empowerment.

The President underlined the need to pursue reforms in the judicial system and said the government was working on proposals to address these issues through more courts, the use of technology and computerisation, improved procedures and introduction of local courts.

The President also highlighted the need for electoral reforms. “Our electoral system has an impeccable record and is the pride of our nation. However, there is always scope for improvement, particularly in decriminalising the electoral process, reducing frivolous candidates and providing more teeth to electoral officers. My government is working on proposals in all these areas”.

Describing the Right to Information Act as a historic piece of legislation, he said by ensuring greater transparency in government functioning, it would help reduce corruption.

Dr Kalam said the government would make “every effort” to see that 33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament and State Legislatures was made “possible in the near future”.

The President said that plans for a Mumbai Metro and Bangalore Metro were in final stages.

Noting that the government was actively engaged in reviewing and streamlining policies and programmes for the North-East, he said a new industrial policy for that region would be announced shortly.

A North-East ‘health package’ was also being developed and would be put in place at the earliest, he said.

Touching on the foreign policy, which had been guided by “enlightened national interest,” he said the government had made vigorous efforts to build friendly and cooperative ties with the neighbours and to strengthen SAARC.



Highlights of economic agenda

The following are the highlights of unveiled by the President, Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, at the joint sitting of Parliament:

* GDP growth likely to cross 8 per cent in 2005-06

* Foreign policy to be guided by enlightened national interest

* Govt willing to talk to all political groups in Kashmir

* Punjab, Maharashtra, West Bengal to get IISc-like institutes

* Civil Aviation Policy on the anvil

* Dabhol power project to be revived

* $10 billion FDI in petrochem investment regions

* Rs 1,75,000 crore investment for national highways

* Eastern freight corridor from Ludhiana to Sonnagar

* Chennai, Kolkata airports to be modernised

* FDI policy to be rationalised, bottlenecks to be removed

* New 15-point programme for minorities

* Voting rights for non-resident Indians

* Need to reform Judicial system

* Electricity to every village by 2009

* Metro rail for Mumbai and Bangalore

* Rs 14,000 crore package for reviving cooperatives

* Common market for agriculture

* Need to amend the Essential Commodities Act, APMC Act

* National Horticulture Mission with Rs 2,300 crore outlay


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