Saturday, June 6, 2009

President Outlines New Road Map for UPA Government

More than six months after the Mumbai terror attacks, India has extended olive branch to Pakistan with President Pratibha Patil asserting that the new UPA Government would reshape the relationship with Islamabad provided the neighbouring country sincerely dealt with terrorist groups acting against India.

Emboldened by a reasonable participation by the people in the recent elections in Jammu and Kashmir, she also declared the UPA Government’s resolve to constructively engage with all groups that abjure violence in the state as also in North-East and other parts of the country.

Laying the road map for the new UPA Government in an address to the joint session of Parliament, Patil announced that the Government would maintain utmost vigil in the area of internal security by pursuing a policy of zero-tolerance towards terrorism, set up a national counter-terrorism centre to take anti-terrorism measures and seek an early approval of the bill for the prevention of communal violence.

In fact, President’s address was a worthy extension of the agenda the Manmohan Singh Government pursued during its first term in office and the promises it made to the people for his second term in office. Recognising that the mandate the UPA received was for an inclusive society, equitable development and a secular and plural India, the President pledged that her Government would pursue these with unrelenting commitment. The address sends a clear signal that women could expect a better deal from the UPA in the coming days.

New Pace of Programmes
It is clear from the President's address that the UPA Government wants to give a new look and new pace to all its programmes started by it in its first term. Earlier, it had presented the concept of an all-inclusive society and economy and had started several programmes to give it a concrete shape. The Government's emphasis was on encouraging a system that guarantees equal opportunities to progress, honor, and security to all classes of society.

In its policies, along with the downtrodden class, the Government had also taken special care of the minorities. President Pratibha Patil specially highlighted this aspect in her address to both Houses of the Parliament that because of these all-inclusive policies, people have given the UPA another opportunity to rule. Obviously, people have put a stamp of their approval on the UPA Government's policies. Encouraged by this, the Government has now decided to implement those programmes on a wider scale.

Target for Next Five Years
The points highlighted by the UPA Government as its target for the next five years give a glimpse of the Government's basic thinking. The Government has laid most emphasis on internal security and social harmony. It has made it clear that it would adopt a zero tolerance policy toward terrorism. This is the need of the hour. Looking at the kind of conditions created in Pakistan and the way extremist elements have become powerful there, it is very essential to adopt a tough stand. Even a small mistake on the security front could cost us dearly. The president has said that defense and security forces would be armed with latest weapons and technique. The Government has also decided to deal sternly with the Naxal violence.

The address promises that “a national counter-terrorism centre will be established to take pro-active anti-terrorism measures and Special Forces and Quick Response Teams will be raised and deployed in vulnerable areas will be watched for their implementation and effectiveness.

Other Major Issues
The Government is alert with regard to challenges on the economic front. It wants to provide special relief to sectors affected by global recession. It is also taking measures to improve the lot of weaker section of society. The Government would enact a new law so that Below Poverty Line (BPL) families could be offered 25 kg rice or wheat every month at a subsidized rate of Rs.3 per kg. Flaws in the Public Distribution System (PDS) would be removed, and programmes to provide cheap housing to the poor would be taken forward. The Government has decided on certain special targets within the first 100 days to bring its basic resolves visible on the ground.

The Government says it would make efforts to get the Women's Reservation Bill passed and bring about necessary constitutional amendment to provide 50 percent reservation to women in the Panchayat (local self-Government) and city council elections. The Government wants to perform a social audit of programmes like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA). It would also make arrangements to make the Right to Information Act more effective. It has several other programmes. Since its intentions are clear, we could hope that it would make efforts to achieve its objective.

However, the President’s address could have been more forthcoming on the means it proposes to devise to cut the bloated bureaucracy, increase its productivity, and make procedures more contemporary, less cumbersome and more leak-proof.

The Expectations
The promise to “vigorously” pursue steps against illegal money of Indians in secret bank accounts abroad would not be easy to honour due to pressure from vested interests. All in all, the President’s address is along expected lines. What is important will essentially be how much the new Government can accomplish in on year for which it is seeking money from Parliament, being reconvened for the Budget session next month.

The ideas presented by the President Patil point to the zeal for building a nation that is more modern, more equitable, more democratic, more productive, better nourished, better educated, and healthier, in order to be competitive in an age when the "knowledge society" is the buzzword. But the means of delivery for much of this remains the Government employee sector — known only too well for its inefficiency, greed and lack of transparency. Unless the Government can change their ways and cut their numbers, it is difficult to see how the proposed laudable objective can achieved.

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