Honourable Members, I extend a warm welcome to you at this first session of Parliament in 2003. This is my first Address to Parliament at the start of the Budget Session.
2. Let me first welcome the newly elected Members of the Rajya Sabha, as also of the Lok Sabha. I congratulate the people of Jammu and Kashmir who, in the October elections to the State Assembly, replied to the threat of the bullet with the power of the ballot. The entire Nation is grateful to our Armed Forces, Paramilitary Forces, and Police Forces for their dedicated service under extremely trying conditions. We pay our homage to those who became martyrs in the call of their duty.
3. Today I would like all of you to join me in paying tribute to Kalpana Chawla and her six fellow astronauts, who died in the tragic break-up of Space Shuttle Columbia minutes before its touchdown on February 1. The remarkable journey of courage and determination that made this Indian woman, hailing from a small town in Haryana, a Citizen of the Milky Way will remain a source of pride for all Bharatvasis and Bharatvanshis. It will also inspire young Indians, especially women, to dream big and to work hard to realize their dreams. I commend ISRO's gesture in naming the METSAT series of satellites after Kalpana Chawla.
4. This is the first session of Parliament after the National Development Council adopted the Tenth Five-Year Plan. The Plan aims at accomplishing faster economic growth with a stronger thrust on employment generation and equity. It has set the target of 8 percent annual average GDP growth rate during the Plan period, with a companion target of 5 crore additional employment and self-employment opportunities. The Plan convincingly explains why these ambitious goals are achievable. It has distinguished itself from the previous Plans by underscoring that it is not merely a Resources Plan, but a Reforms Plan. It has deepened the domain of economic reforms by, especially, providing reforms-linked incentives to State Governments. It has also broadened the agenda of reforms by showing the categorical imperative to remove numerous non-financial barriers to faster development through reforms in civil service, judiciary, education, and above all, in governance at all levels-at the Centre, States, and Panchayati Raj Institutions. I would especially like to draw the attention of the Union and State Governments to the detailed list, contained in the Plan document, of the legislative and administrative initiatives needed to translate the Tenth Plan's goals and targets into reality.
5. The Tenth Plan is important for yet another reason. No nation attains greatness without an energizing vision guiding it. The Prime Minister, in his Independence Day address last year, has called upon the people to strive towards the goal of transforming India into a Developed Nation by 2020. This vision captures our people's heightened self-confidence, rooted in India's impressive achievements in many fields. It also reflects the increased expectations of our people at the beginning of the new century, that India no longer be categorized as a developing, much less, a poor country. Nearly 260 million people, who are below the poverty line, want to join the mainstream of development. Our people are impatient to achieve 100 percent literacy, health for all, shelter for all, prosperity through knowledge-driven productivity, and a better quality of life-all of these enriched with our value system. Hence, it is time India launched a new vision, which I would call "Vision - 2020". I would like Parliament, which is celebrating its Golden Jubilee, to discuss this subject. I also call upon the Union and State governments to evolve an action plan for making the Tenth Plan a People's Plan and Development a People's Movement. To achieve this, they should concentrate on two mantras: Effective Implementation with People's Participation; and Effective Communication for People's Participation.
6. A key element of "Vision 2020" would be "Providing Urban amenities in Rural Areas (PURA)". More than two-thirds of India's population lives in rural areas. We need to give a new thrust to their all-round development through a mega mission for their empowerment. This is best achieved through provision of four critical connectivities: Physical Connectivity by providing good roads, transport services and quality power; Electronic Connectivity by providing reliable communication networks; Knowledge Connectivity by establishing more professional institutions and vocational training centres, schools with high quality infrastructure, teachers who are devoted to teaching, production centres for rural artisans, primary health centres, recreation centres, etc; and Market Connectivity that will help realize the best value for the products and services of rural people, and constantly expand and enrich employment opportunities for them. The model envisaged is a holistic habitat that would improve the quality of life in rural areas and also help in de-congestion of urban areas.
7. National security is a matter of highest priority for my Government. After the December 13 attack on our Parliament by Pakistan-based terrorists, we were constrained to deploy our troops along the international border. This decision achieved its purpose by showing both our firmness and our self-restraint in dealing with our hostile neighbour. In October last year, the Government, after careful deliberation, decided to strategically redeploy the Armed Forces from their positions. This was done without compromising on their capacity to respond decisively to any emergency, and without lowering their vigil in Jammu & Kashmir.
8. A comprehensive Nuclear Doctrine has now been put in place. This places the ultimate control of our strategic assets in the hands of the civilian political executive. The country is truly proud of the scientists, engineers, and staff of DRDO for the successful test firing of the Agni-1 missile. DRDO's other accomplishments include Pinaka, the indigenously developed Area Weapon System, and the supersonic missile BrahMos, jointly developed with Russia, which has been successfully flight tested.
9. Continued incidents of cross-border terrorism in 2002 again underscored that the chief threat to our internal security is external. The killings of innocent men, women, and children; the choice of members of the families of security personnel as special targets; the attack on pilgrims-all this showed that there was a method in the madness of Pakistan-supported terrorist violence. However, the method did not succeed. Our people maintained calm even in the face of provocative attacks on the Akshardham Temple in Gandhinagar and the Raghunath Temple in Jammu. However, we must continue to be vigilant against an adversary which is unwilling to give up its anti-India stand. The assurances given by Pakistan on the issue of cross-border terrorism have remained unfulfilled; the infrastructure of terrorist groups remains intact in Pakistan; the funding of terrorist groups continues.
10. The Centre is fully committed to working closely with the newly elected Government in Jammu & Kashmir in its efforts to bring peace, normalcy, and economic development of the State. The Prime Minister has announced projects and schemes worth over Rs. 6,000 crore covering various aspects of development and security with a thrust on generation of new employment opportunities for the youth and relief for migrants affected by militancy and cross-border shelling.
11. The Government's concerted efforts to rebuild peace in the Northeast are bearing fruit. I send my special felicitations to the people of Nagaland, whose yearning for peace has imparted strong momentum to the Centre's efforts in this direction. I also heartily congratulate the Bodo community for the successful conclusion of the peace talks. Development work in the Northeastern Region has gathered further momentum. A number of infrastructure projects have been set up through the Non-Lapsable Central Pool, through which more than Rs. 1,500 crore have so far been released. The people's long-standing demand for better facilities for air travel in the Northeast has been addressed with the introduction of four 50-seater aircraft.
12. During the past three decades, about Rs. 550 crore were given to the States to modernize their police forces. In contrast, the Police Modernization Scheme launched two years ago has made a fund of Rs. 1,000 crore a year for the next ten years. I urge those State Governments with poor utilization of this fund to take urgent corrective measures. It has been decided to launch the Multipurpose National Identity Card Project on a pilot basis in thirteen States from April.
13. The problem of illegal migration from Bangladesh has assumed serious proportions and affects many States. There have been reports of Bangladesh territory being used by insurgent groups operating in the Northeast. The ISI is also active in Bangladesh. This makes the issue of infiltration even more ominous. The Government is determined to take all necessary steps to check this problem.
14. The Assembly elections in Gujarat have strengthened democracy and ended a sad chapter in the State's history. We must resolve to ensure that communal violence is never repeated in any part of our country. The Government remains committed to secularism.
15. My Government has repeatedly made it clear that the Ayodhya dispute can be resolved either through negotiations between the two communities or through a verdict of the judiciary, which has to be accepted by all concerned. While the judiciary should expedite its work and give an early verdict, it is also necessary for political parties, religious leaders, and eminent social personalities to promote an atmosphere of mutual understanding, goodwill, and accommodation.
16. The Government has a coherent and well-integrated strategy for boosting economic growth. Despite the global slowdown, the past year has been a fairly good year as India continues to be rated amongst the fast growing economies. In the first nine months of this financial year, India's exports grew by over 20 percent to reach US $ 38 billion (Rs. 181,300 crore). Despite a relative slowdown in the economy, the total revenues from excise and customs rose by over 15 percent in the first nine months of the year. Inflation remained at a moderate level. Our forex reserves have crossed US $ 73 billion (Rs. 348,429 crore). Food stocks are comfortable, and prices of essential commodities are stable, despite a severe drought in fourteen States. The recent dip in the estimates of the GDP growth has been almost entirely due to the shortfall in agricultural production. This has once again highlighted the need to rescue our agriculture from its excessive dependence on the monsoon by increasing public investments in irrigation and in all other inputs that increase farm productivity.
17. A Task Force on Drought under the chairmanship of the Deputy Prime Minister has been constituted. So far more than Rs. 1,000 crore have been released to the States under the National Calamity Contingency Fund, in addition to over Rs. 1,400 crore as the share of the Central Government to the Calamity Relief Fund of the States. Nearly 50 lakh tonnes of foodgrains worth nearly Rs. 5,000 crore have been allocated to the drought-affected States to generate relief employment through the Food for Work programme under the Sampoorna Grameen Rozgar Yojana.
18. The Nation has been searching for a lasting solution to the recurring problem of droughts and floods, which have been taking a huge human and economic toll. Networking of our river systems to transfer water from the surplus basins to the areas of deficit has engaged people's attention for many decades. The Government has set up a Task Force to prepare a practical blueprint for this project, without compromising environmental safety and the interest of displaced people. This initiative will bring significant benefits in drinking water, irrigation, power generation, inland navigation, and tourism. I must emphasize that this mega project does not negate the need for promoting small and micro programmes for water conservation at local levels. The two are mutually complementary.
19. The National Water Resources Council has adopted a new National Water Policy emphasizing integrated water resources development and management for optimal and sustainable utilization of available surface and ground water. The Centre has launched a Fast Track Programme for the completion of those major and medium irrigation schemes that can be completed in one year. Subsequent to the approval by the Narmada Control Authority, the dam height was raised, and this has mitigated the problem of drinking water and irrigation in arid areas of Saurashtra and North Gujarat.
20. The Swajaldhara programme, launched in December, has scaled up the rural drinking water supply initiative to cover the entire country. It is a community-led, participatory programme to be implemented by the community and the Gram Panchayats. The community contributes 10 percent upfront towards capital investment; and 90 percent is matched by the Centre. I am happy to inform you that the programme's message "Dus kadam aap chale, nabbe kadam hum chalenge" has evoked excellent response from all parts of the country. A new initiative called "Hariyali" has been launched to promote integrated development of watershed programmes through Panchayati Raj Institutions. Considering the acute and growing water scarcity, in rural and urban India, it is high time we launched water conservation and efficient water use as a people's movement.
21. The flow of institutional credit for agriculture and allied activities has increased from about Rs. 45,000 crore to nearly Rs. 75,000 crore in three years. The Kisan Credit Card Scheme has made rapid progress since its inception three years ago. Over 2.7 crore cards were issued till September 2002. All the eligible farmers will be covered under this scheme by March 2004. The National Agricultural Insurance Scheme is picking up well.
22. The policy of procurement at the Minimum Support Price, while ensuring remunerative prices for wheat and rice farmers in surplus States, has resulted in huge stocks of rice and wheat with the public agencies. As a response to this, the Government has been encouraging exports of food grains. The wide-ranging recommendations on long-term food management made by the High Level Committee are being examined. There is an urgent need to review the current policies, which have impeded crop diversification and led to unsustainable food subsidies, and to ensure crop neutral support to our farmers without excessive procurement.
23. Fertilizers are a critical component in our scheme of food security. The new pricing policy for urea to be implemented from April 2003 aims at greater transparency, efficiency, and fiscal discipline. While the Government is committed to deregulate the marketing and distribution of fertilizers, it would ensure that major fertilizers are available in the country both in adequate quantity and quality at affordable prices to farmers in all the States.
24. The sugar industry has lately faced serious difficulties, constraining the capacity of sugar factories to make timely payment to sugarcane farmers. Several steps have been initiated to protect the interests of sugarcane growers, while ensuring viability of sugar mills. Sustained efforts are being made to promote horticulture as a major area of diversification in agriculture. The cold storage scheme is working well and has created an additional capacity of 28 lakh tonnes. A new scheme of construction, renovation, and expansion of rural godowns called Grameen Bhandaran Yojana has been launched. This scheme will help prevent distress sales by small and marginal farmers. A new National Policy on Cooperatives has been announced. A National Seeds Policy has been finalized. Under the scheme of Agriclinics and Agribusiness Centres, launched last year, unemployed agriculture graduates provide extension services to the farmers on payment. Recognizing the need for value-addition in agricultural and horticultural produce, the Government has given high priority to the development of food processing industries. A Group of Ministers has been constituted to propose a single modern integrated food law and related regulations, to replace the existing myriad laws, which have affected the growth of this sector.
25. Ensuring food security for the poor through a strengthened Public Distribution System remains a major commitment of the Government. The Antyodaya Anna Yojana, under which one crore poorest of the poor households are entitled to wheat at Rs. 2 a kilo and rice at Rs. 3 a kilo, is a proof of this commitment. The Centre hopes that State Governments would speedily remove the remaining obstacles in the smooth functioning of the PDS.
26. The Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana is the most ambitious rural infrastructure project since Independence. During the last two years, it has sanctioned over Rs. 7,000 crore to the States, enabling construction of about 20,000 kilometres of roads. Efforts are being made to raise additional resources for this project and also devise innovative ways of speeding up its implementation. The Ministry of Rural Development organized an All-India Panchayat Adhyakshas' Conference in April. The Sammelan unanimously passed a Resolution urging the Central Government to ensure speedy and effective devolution of financial and administrative powers to Panchayati Raj Institutions through an amendment to the Constitution. I would like Honourable Members to discuss this important proposal from the grassroots.
27. The National Highways Development Project is one of India's proudest success stories since Independence. As against a total of 556 kilometres of four and six-lane highways constructed during the first 50 years of Independence, today we are constructing 5 kilometres of world-class highways every day! The Government is spending Rs.