In his address to the joint sitting of the two Houses of Parliament on the first day of the Budget session, President Ram Nath Kovind hoped Parliament would soon pass the ‘triple talaq’ Bill, and also called for more public debate on holding simultaneous polls for the Lok Sabha and assemblies. The President appealed to all to contribute to achieving the objective of constructing a ‘New India’ by 2022, the 75th year of India’s independence. In a reference to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the Centre and its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayasevak Sangh (RSS), the President said the “dream of a New India does not belong to one political party or organization”, but was an embodiment of the aspirations and expectations of 1.3 billion Indians. In his customary statement to the media at the beginning of a session, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Monday (the first day of the Budget session, the last full Budget session of the current term of his government) that he requests all political parties to ensure the passage of the ‘triple talaq’ Bill as a new year’s present to Muslim women. The first session of a new year begins with the address of the President to the joint sitting of Parliament, where the President details the government’s initiatives, policies and programmes of the past year and its plans for the new year. Article 87 (1) of the Constitution makes it mandatory for the President to address the joint sitting of Parliament in the first session after a Lok Sabha election, and on the first day of a Parliament session in a new year. This was Kovind’s first address to the joint sitting after being elected last year. Kovind said Aadhaar is being effectively used to eliminate middlemen, and digital payments are being carried out in more than 400 schemes of the government, preventing Rs 570 billion from going into wrong hands. The President spoke of the initiatives taken by the Modi government, including efforts to achieve ‘Swachh Bharat’, or clean India, by 2019, the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, by constructing toilets. Alluding to his humble background, the President said he has seen women collecting firewood for cooking and smoke-filled kitchens causing disease and suffering. He said the government, under the PM Ujjwala Yojana, has distributed 33 million cooking gas connections to the poor. On triple talaq, the President said, “For decades, the dignity of Muslim women has remained captive to political cost-benefit.” He said with the government tabling the Bill in Parliament, the nation now had an opportunity to "emancipate them from this situation.” He hoped Parliament will pass the Bill, which, once enacted, “will also enable Muslim sisters and daughters to live a life of self-respect with courage.” The Lok Sabha passed the Bill during the Winter session, while a united Opposition and some BJP allies, including the Telugu Desam Party, have demanded the Bill be referred to a Rajya Sabha Select Committee. The President said the government’s ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’ scheme has been extended from 161 districts to 640 districts. On financial inclusion, he said 31 million bank accounts have been opened for the poor under the Jan Dhan Yojana’, with women having especially benefitted from the scheme, as the percentage of Savings Bank accounts held by them has gone up to more than 40 per cent from the earlier 28 per cent. He said the government has encouraged self-employment. Under the Mudra Yojana, about 100 million loans have been sanctioned so far and more than Rs 4 trillion (Rs 4 lakh crore) worth of loans have been disbursed. He said nearly 30 million are first-time beneficiaries. In the farm sector, the President said, 2017 saw a record production of more than 275 million tonnes of food grain and about 300 million tonnes of horticultural produce. He said the government was committed to doubling of farmers’ income by 2022. To ensure remunerative price to the farmers for their produce, agriculture mandis are being connected online. He said agricultural commodities valued at about Rs 360 billion have been traded on e-NAM portal. The work of completing 99 irrigation projects that were held up for decades is in progress, he said. The President said a ‘Dairy Processing Infrastructure Development Fund’ with a corpus of Rs 110 billion is being set up. Kovind said more than 180 million poor have been covered under the PM Suraksha Bima Yojana’ and PM Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana’ and about Rs 20 billion has been paid out as claims. 8 million senior citizens are said to have benefited from the Atal Pension Scheme. The President said 270,000 common service centres have been set up that provide digital services at low cost, even in the remotest areas of the country.
Under the ‘Bharat Net Project’, the Government is providing broadband connectivity to 250,000 village panchayats and more 100,000 panchayats have been connected in the first phase. He said the government was in the process of providing electricity to 40 million poor households.He said village road construction has increased form 56 per cent in 2014 to 82 per cent now, and the target is to connect all villages by road by 2019. The President spoke of the efforts to improve lives of the tribal people, the disabled and the initiative to set up a commission for backward classes. Kovind said the government was committed to "empowerment and not appeasement”, and was making efforts for economic, social and educational empowerment of the minorities. To achieve the target of housing for all by 2022, about 9.3 million houses have been constructed in the past three-and-a-half years, he said. Giving details of the steps in the health sector, Kovind said 800 different medicines are being made available to the poor people at affordable rates through more than 3,000 outlets, over 5,200 lifesaving branded medicines and surgical implants are being provided through 111 outlets at discounts ranging from 60 per cent to 90 per cent. He said in over 500 districts, more than 2.2 million dialysis sessions for 225,000 patients have been conducted at discounted rates. To enhance the availability of doctors, 7,000 postgraduate seats and over 13,000 MBBS seats have been approved, Kovind said. The President said the annual rate of increase in immunisation coverage in the country has increased from 1 per cent to 6.7 percent. For employment generation, enterprises or companies creating new employment opportunities are being provided financial assistance and over 2 million people have benefited under this scheme and 500,000 youth have benefitted under the ‘National Apprenticeship Promotion Scheme’. He said the number of mobile manufacturing companies in the country have gone up from a mere 2 in 2014 to 113. This has helped in providing new employment opportunities to youth in small towns of the country, he said. The President also gave details of metro rail construction, development of national highways, ports and airports. “While only 76 airports of the country were connected with commercial flights since Independence, under the aegis of ‘UDAN’, work has been initiated to connect 56 airports and 31 helipads in a short span of 15 months. So far, flights have commenced from 16 such airports,” he said. Kovind said that for the first time the increase in power generation capacity in the country has exceeded the target and India has become a net exporter of power. He said the work on providing power to 18,000 un-electrified villages has neared completion. The President said 280 million LED bulbs have been distributed under the Ujala scheme, and the private sector has also sold over 500 million bulbs, which has resulted in an annual saving of Rs 400 billion and annual saving of 100 billion units of electricity to the nation. Without mentioning demonetisation, Kovind said that during the first quarter of 2016-17, the economy witnessed a temporary slowdown in GDP growth. The second quarter of 2017-18, however, has seen a reversal of this trend. “In the last 3 and a half years, the rate of inflation, as well as Government’s fiscal and current account deficits, have, on an average, shown a decline,” he said. The GST (goods and services tax) was mentioned only once in the speech. He said that in 2017, foreign exchange Reserves have risen to a level of more than $410 billion, and foreign direct investment (FDI) $36 billion to $60 billion during the last three years. He spoke about the government recapitalizing banks, cancelling registration of 350,000 dubious companies and improvement in the country’s ‘ease of doing business’ rankings. Govt’s progress card
- President Kovind said with the govt tabling the triple talaq Bill in Parliament, the nation now has an opportunity to emancipate Muslim women
- He said Aadhaar is being effectively used to eliminate middlemen
- With Aadhaar, digital payments are being carried out in more than 400 schemes of the govt
- Under the Mudra Yojana, about 100 mn loans have been sanctioned so far and more than Rs 4-trillion loans have been disbursed
- In the farm sector, 2017 saw a record production of more than 275 mt foodgrains and about 300 mt of horticultural produce