Describing himself as an optimist rather than a pessimist, President Pranab Mukherjee on Tuesday said that the country's economy has achieved "critical mass", and must now become the "launching pad" of the next great leap.
Delievering his first address to the nation as president on the eve of India's 66th Independence Day, Mukherjee said: "If our economy has achieved critical mass, then it must become a launching pad for the next leap. We need a second freedom struggle this time to ensure that India is free for ever from hunger, disease and poverty. As my pre-eminent predecessor, Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, speaking from this platform on the 18th anniversary of freedom, said, 'Economic progress is one of the tests of democracy.'"
"I am not a pessimist for me, the glass is always half full, rather than half empty. I would go to the extent of saying that the glass of modern India is more than half full," said Mukherjee," adding "Our productive working class our inspiring farmers, who have lifted a famine-wrecked land to food-surplus status, our imaginative industrialist entrepreneurs, whether in the private or public sector our intellectuals, our academics and our political class have knit together a modern nation that has leapt, within mere decades, across many centuries in economic growth and progressive social legislation."
He further said that Indians could only appreciate how far the country has travelled, only by understanding from where we started in 1947.
"Statistics published by contemporary international scholars are proof for sceptics. In 1750, seven years before the fateful battle of Plassey, India had 24.5% of the world's manufacturing output, while the United Kingdom had only 1.9%. In other words, one in every four goods on the world market was manufactured in India. By 1900, India had been left with only 1.7% of world manufacturing output and Britain had risen to 18.5%," said Mukherjee.
"The western industrial revolution was in its incipient stages in the 18th century, but even in this regard, India slipped from 7 to 1 in per capita industrialisation in that period, while Britain vaulted from 10 to 100. Between 1900 and 1947, India's economic growth was an annual average of 1%. From such depths we climbed, first, to 3% growth, and then took a quantum leap forward: today, despite two great international crises that rocked the world and some domestic dips, we have posted an average growth rate of more than eight percent over the last seven years," he added.
"Notwithstanding the tremendous pressure of an adverse external environment, our economy today is more resilient and confident. Two decades of steady economic reforms have contributed to improvement in average income and consumption levels in both rural and urban areas, said Mukherjee, adding that "there is new found dynamism in some of the most backward areas bringing them into national economic mainstream."
He, however, acknowledged that there were still several gaps that needed to be bridged.
"The Green Revolution has to be extended to the eastern region of our country. Creation of high quality infrastructure has to be fast tracked. Education and health services have to reach the last man at the earliest. Much has been done, a lot more remains to be done," said the president.
He also acknowledged in his speech that the monsoon has played truant this year, and that large areas of the were in the grip of drought, while some others had been devastated by floods.
He also admitted that inflation, particularly food inflation, remained a cause of worry.
"While our food availability remains healthy, we cannot forget the plight of those who made this possible even in a lean year our farmers. They have stood by the nation in its need the nation must stand by them in their distress," Mukherjee said.
"I do not believe that there is any inherent contradiction in protecting our environment and economic development. As long as we heed Gandhiji's great lesson: there is sufficient in the world for man's need, but not for man?s greed, we are safe. We must learn to live in harmony with nature. Nature cannot be consistent we must be able to conserve her bounty during the many seasons of plenty so that we are not bereft during the occasional bout of scarcity," the president said.
"We are a nation that is becoming younger both in age and spirit this is an opportunity as well as a challenge. The young thirst for knowledge that will lift their skills and for opportunity that will put India on the fast track to the first world. They have the character they need the chance. Education is the seed and economy is the fruit. Provide good education disease, hunger and poverty will recede. As I said in my acceptance speech, our motto must be: All for knowledge and knowledge for all. Vision cannot be an open-ended vista it must be focused on our youth," Mukherjee said in his speech.