From creating jobs and curbing prices to building new cities and running bullet trains, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government will make welfare of the poor the centre-piece of his broad agenda of economic development, President Pranab Mukherjee told Parliament on Monday.
Outlining the government’s priorities in his inaugural address to both houses of Parliament, Mukherjee said India’s economy faced “extremely difficult” times and that there was a need to “urgently pursue” economic reforms to create an enabling environment for growth to take off.
“Putting the economy back on track is paramount for my government,” Mukherjee said, interspersing his speech with catchy alliterations such as “Three Ds of Democracy, Demography and Demand,” phrases Modi often used during his high-decibel election campaign.
Mukherjee said the government was ready with an action plan to deal with rising food prices if monsoon rains were subnormal this year, as was widely forecast.
The new government tried to reach out to the minorities pledging to fulfill “aspirations with the involvement of all the 1.2 billion people of this country.” But added that the poor should have the “first claim on development,” seen as a subtle deviation from the UPA government’s line when in 2006 then PM Manmohan Singh remarked that plans and schemes for minorities, particularly Muslims, must have the “first claim” over financial resources.
Even as Modi was reaching out to key regional leaders, the President’s speech spoke about a “cooperative federalism” for rapid progress of the states.
Amid outrage over a wave of violent attacks on women, the government pledged a “zero-tolerance” approach and to strengthen the criminal justice system regarded as inefficient and inept.
He unveiled the government’s broad plan to steer the economy out of its sticky slowdown by raising new China-style mega manufacturing hubs, opening up India’s lucrative defence sector to the private industry and overhauling the country’s tax structure.
Asia’s third-largest economy is now in its longest slump for a quarter century, and Modi’s landslide election victory has raised hopes that he will be able to engineer a quick turnaround. India needs to create some 100 million jobs over the next decade or so if it were to enter the league of developed nations, but risks economic and social disaster if it fails to provide employment to its burgeoning youth population.
From the government side, the attack on inflation will include public and private investments in agriculture, including irrigation and a clampdown on hoarding.
The government also vowed to ensure that every family had a good home with 24x7 power and water supplies by 2022, an ambitious goal in a country where nearly half the population is forced to defecate in the open and some 400 million live without electricity. Mukherjee’s speech contained promises to modernise government with technology and to take broadband connections to every village within five years, although many of the proposals have also been made by previous governments.
“Ultimately it (the agenda) is highly rhetorical, high in tone but low in content,” senior Congress leader Veerappa Moily said, slamming the President’s speech as failing to explain how the government would fulfill his promises.
Watch: Govt will work for upliftment of downtrodden, says President
Shares on the Bombay Stock Exchange, which have climbed over 20 per cent since Modi was declared the BJP’s PM candidate last September, rose by almost one percent to record a new closing high at 25,580.21 points after Modi’s reform agenda was announced.
The vision statement was also welcomed by industry. The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) said it was “delighted” with the government’s commitment to work for high economic growth.
The president said the government would introduce a Goods and Services Tax (GST), encourage foreign investment and speed up approvals for major business projects. He said the government will urgently seek to revamp the creaking railway system, focus on high speed trains, as well as road and airport building.
It vowed to build 100 smart cities. The government also made it clear that natural resources will be allocated through transparent procedures, a source of big-ticket corruption scandals during the UPA regime. The government will also likely unveil more steps to bring back illegal money stashed away in overseas tax havens, a pet poll agenda for the BJP during the Lok Sabha elections.