Tackling corruption, ushering reforms top priorities: President (Roundup)

Monday, February 21, 2011

NEW DELHI - Tackling corruption and inflation are high on the government’s agenda, President Pratibha Patil said inaugurating the important budget session of parliament Monday. She also underlined that sustainining economic growth while ensuring equity and ushering in reforms would be among the top priorities.

“My government’s foremost priority will be to address frontally the concern regarding lack of probity and integrity in public life,” Patil said in her 45-minute address to the joint sitting of both houses in the packed Central Hall of parliament.

The emphasis on anti-corruption measures by the president comes a day before the 21-month-old United Progressive Alliance (UPA) II government is likely to announce the formation of a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into the 2G spectrum allocation scam.

However, there was no mention in the presidential address of the impasse in parliament during the winter session caused by opposition protests over the spectrum scandal and other corruption issues like the Commonwealth Games and Adarsh housing society scams.

Contrary to the noisy scenes all through the winter session, the address of the president on the inaugural day of the two-month budget session passed off peacefully.

The government’s another priority will be to “combat inflation and, in particular, to protect the common man from the impact of rising food prices,” Patil said. The president’s speech customarily lists out the government priorities and is cleared by the cabinet.

She said the government will “sustain the momentum of economic growth, while ensuring that the poor, weak and the disadvantaged get a fair share in the fruits of growth.

Indicating the government is planning new economic reforms soon, the president said: “We have to maintain the momentum for reforms on a wide front.”

The government, as a priority, will “pursue a foreign policy which will ensure that our voice is heard and our interests are protected in the global fora,” she added.

Asserting that the government stands committed to “improving the quality of governance and enhancing transparency, probity and integrity in public life”, she said the group of ministers (GoM) looking into the issue is expected to submit its report soon.

The GoM will consider all measures, including “legislative and administrative, to tackle corruption and improve transparency”, she said.

The president gave an indication that the discretionary powers of ministers may be scrapped.

The GoM will review the “abolition of discretionary powers enjoyed by ministers, introduction of an open and competitive system of exploiting natural resources and fast tracking cases against public servants charged with corruption,” she said.

Regarding economic and welfare schemes, Patil said the issues that the government will specifically target include a new legislation to ensure food security, access to energy, rapid industrial development with social inclusion, a new minerals policy and safe and reliable transportation system.

“I had announced earlier my government’s commitment to bring a food security law that will entitle statutorily every family below poverty line to food grains at highly subsidized prices. The states are being consulted as success of the programme hinges on their commitment to reforms in the public distribution system.”

On foreign policy, the president made a significant reference to the popular uprisings in West Asia and said India would welcome democracy everywhere in the world. “As a democracy ourselves, we welcome the dawn of democracy elsewhere.”

Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, Rajya Sabha Chirman Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi, senior BJP leader L.K. Advani and other leaders were present during the presidential address.

Earlier, Prime Minister Manmohan said outside the house that he hoped the budget session will be peaceful. The budget will be presented Feb 28.

“This budget session of parliament is very crucial. The budget has to be debated and passed by two houses of parliament. We also hope to give some important pieces of legislation,” he told reporters.

“It is our sincere hope that this session will be peaceful and productive,” he said.

The budget session will continue till April 21, with an 18-day recess from March 17 to April 3. The first part of the session will have 17 sittings while the second part will have 12 sittings.

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