Flagging economic growth as the highest priority of the government, President Pranab Mukherjee on Thursday said the government would rely on the Budget (2013-14), the Direct Benefits Transfer scheme and the performance of the agriculture sector to steer the country out of its current trough.
The economic challenge facing India, he suggested, had bottomed out. Already, there were signs of this — core inflation had moderated and recovery in growth is likely. But he warned of the possibility of the global economic crisis slowing Indian recovery. In his first address as President to the joint session of Parliament (which is read out by him but is cleared by the Cabinet), Mukherjee said the Cabinet Committee on Infrastructure and the Infrastructure Debt Fund would address the infrastructure deficit.
Efforts were on to get manufacturing to contribute 25 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP), which would create 100 million jobs, he said, adding an E-Biz project would serve as a 24x7 online single window system for providing services to investors and businesses. Construction of over 1,000 km of the 3,300-km dedicated freight corridor was expected to begin shortly, the President said.
In 2012-13, 2,600 km of roads are to be constructed and contracts for 3,000 km of new roads are expected to be awarded.
A new system had been put in place to provide a new approach to road construction, he added.
The direct benefits transfer scheme that would run in parallel with the public distribution system would make entitlements easier to access and make growth inclusive, Mukherjee said. This scheme would help cut leakages, bring millions of people into the financial system and lead to better targeting of beneficiaries, he said, adding it will eventually be expanded to cover most services.
The economy had grown at 4.5 per cent in the first half of the current financial year.
To attract investment, the government was resolved to do more, Mukherjee said. Keeping the fiscal deficit at the targeted 5.3 per cent and reaching a consensus on the Goods and Services Tax (GST) with states were among the measures taken to strengthen investor faith.
Agriculture had performed spectacularly, the President said, and the National Food Security Bill, new initiatives in the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojna, a National Centre for Cold Chain and more godowns to store food had been visualised under the National Mission on Food Processing. Grain storage capacity of about 18.1 million tonnes would be created over the next two years, with additional storage space of 540,000 tonnes in the Northeast, Mukherjee announced.
Several measures to augment power generation and ensure the benefits of power are available to all Indians would be taken by the government. After resolving pending issues, 46 fuel supply agreements have been signed by Coal India Ltd with power utilities, he said. “Following the notification of the new auction by competitive bidding rules, my government is in the process of allocation of 17 coal blocks to government companies, as a first step.”
Mukherjee announced several measures to make the society more inclusive. Addressing “an aspirational India”, which “demands more opportunities, greater choices, better infrastructure, and enhanced safety and security”, he said the benefits of inclusion would extend from small and medium entrepreneurs to the need for habitat and infrastructure in small and medium towns.
The Rajiv Awas Yojana would be extended to all small and medium towns, and a separate fund of Rs 1,000 crore would be created for urban local bodies. Under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, more than 3.2 million claims had been filed and nearly 1.3 million titles distributed.
Over Rs 880 crore has been disbursed as scholarships to more than 5.5 million students from minority communities till December 31 in 2012-13. Priority sector credit to minorities during 2012-13 reached Rs 1.7 lakh crore till September 2012, more than 15 per cent of the total priority sector lending.
The mid-day meals scheme would be extended to pre-primary schools. A new programme called the Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan will address higher education in the states.
To create skill development, technical training institutions had doubled from 5,114 in 2006-07 to 10,344 by the end of 2012. Not only had infant and maternal mortality rates come down, life expectancy at birth has increased from 61.9 years in the period 1996-2000 to 66.1 years in the period 2006-2010.
The President took special note of development in Jammu and Kashmir--a railway line, more skill development institutions and more roads.
The speech was circumspect on controversial political issues. “Through suitable policy interventions, my government is targeting significant reduction of our dependence on imported oil and gas, which is presently more than 75 per cent of our requirement,” Mukherjee said about a move that has attracted widespread criticism.