Economy a concern, aspirational India demands opportunities: President (Roundup)

Last Updated: Thu, Feb 21, 2013 15:00 hrs

New Delhi, Feb 21 (IANS) President Pranab Mukherjee Thursday said the UPA government was "burdened" by anxieties about the economic slowdown, job insecurity and security for women and children while noting that an aspirational India demands more opportunities.

"I am aware that an aspirational India is emerging, an India that demands more opportunities, greater choices, better infrastructure and enhanced safety and security," Mukherjee said in his first address to a joint session of parliament.

"Amidst these aspirations, we are also burdened by gathering anxieties about economic slowdown, job security and employment prospects. People are concerned about the security of our women and children. They are also anxious about timely delivery of their entitlements and about persisting social and economic inequality," he said.

Acknowledging that the past year was difficult on the economic front, the president said the government responded by taking measures to revive the investment climate and will need to take "difficult decisions" to revive economic growth that slumped to a decade-low of 5.4 percent in the first half of the current financial year.

The Left MPs boycotted his address, which was marred by protests by a National Conference MP over the hanging of parliament attack convict Afzal Guru and the issue of war crimes in Sri Lanka raised by Tamil Nadu-based parties.

Sri Lanka must make efforts to provide its Tamil minority "a life of peace, dignity and equality" the president said.

While the Congress praised the speech, saying it reflected the socio-economic challenges facing the country, the BJP termed it a "glossary" of the government's plans.

"The president's speech cannot be a glossary list of government plans. It neither reflects the state of the country nor the mood of the nation," Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Ravi Shankar Prasad said.

The president said the government was deeply concerned about incidents of sexual offences against women and had promulgated an ordinance amending the criminal law to provide stringent punishment for such offences.

Noting the security situation in Jammu and Kashmir and the northeast has shown "a perceptible improvement, he said, India will build 509 additional outposts along the border with Bangladesh and Pakistan.

The president said the government is set to introduce the judicial standards and accountability bill during the budget session of parliament.

Stating that India is expected to produce more than 250 million tonnes of foodgrain this year, the president reaffirmed the government's commitment to enact the food security bill.

He said the country's health infrastructure has improved due to government's efforts.

Outlining the major steps taken to improve fuel availability for power generation, the president said the government is in the process of allocating 17 coal blocks to state-run companies.

On foreign policy, he said that Pakistan must abide by its commitments made to India and desist from actions that contribute to the trust deficit between the two countries.

India's strategic partnership with the US has deepened, the president said.

"The strategic partnership with the US has deepened, with progress across all areas of our relationship," the president told parliament. He said that India looked forward to intensifying the engagement.

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