Address To The Parliament


Honourable Members,

1. It gives me great pleasure to address this first session of both Houses of Parliament in 1999. An important session is ahead of you. I wish you the very best for the successful completion of the budgetary and the legislative tasks before Parliament.

2. As we approach a new century and a new millennium, our hopes, aspirations, and expectations for the coming era should be matched by sound and determined efforts now. The people have bestowed on this Parliament a unique opportunity to make the transition from this century to the next. With pride in India's many achievements since Independence, we should together accomplish the unfulfilled tasks and face the challenges of the future with self-confidence and determination. Parliament, as the country's apex elected body and beacon of the world's largest democracy, has the greatest responsibility to channel the national energies toward these efforts. As the Golden Jubilee of our Republic draws near, I am confident that the Honourable Members would discharge this responsibility with a unity of vision and direction.

3. I am happy to note that the National Agenda for Governance, which is the common policy covenant of the coalition Government, is being implemented faithfully. In the past eleven months, my Government has acted decisively on many fronts to promote people's welfare, accelerate economic development, strengthen internal and external security, and develop deeper bonds of friendship and cooperation with India's neighbours and other countries. Taken together, these initiatives have instilled a new sense of self-confidence among Indians, increasing our ability to effectively face the challenges of the present and the future.

4. A historic initiative of the Government has been the successful nuclear tests at Pokhran on May 11 and 13 last year making India a nuclear weapons state. The Government took this step after a careful appraisal of our national security needs. India's nuclear doctrine is based on minimum deterrence and it is firmly opposed to an arms race in the region. India has declared that she will never use her nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear nation and will never resort to a first strike against any nuclear weapons nation. We shall redouble our efforts to champion a cause that has always been sacred to us - namely, securing world peace through speedy, universal, and comprehensive dismantling of all weapons of mass destruction. Continuing the national consensus on foreign policy matters, the Government has been working vigorously for global nuclear disarmament on a comprehensive and non-discriminatory basis.

5. Some countries have imposed technology restrictions on us. The nation is meeting this unwarranted action with determination and I am confident that we shall emerge stronger and more self-reliant. I would like to felicitate the Armed Forces, our nuclear scientists, the Defence Research and Development Organization and the Defence Production units for their concerted efforts in developing indigenous capabilities to meet the requirements of advanced technologies and equipment for our defence and developmental needs.

6. The nation expresses its gratitude to the brave jawans and officers of the Armed Forces and other paramilitary forces who have laid down their lives in fighting the proxy war unleashed by terrorists. The country recognizes the sacrifices of those posted in places like Siachen and other remote border areas in the service of the nation. The role of the defence forces in aiding the civilian authorities in handling exigencies like the cyclone in Kutch and in relief and rescue operations for victims of natural calamities has been exemplary.

7. The Government has set up the National Security Council. This will go a long way in providing a holistic and in-depth analysis of military, economic, and political threats to India and help in evolving an integrated approach to decisions impinging on national security.

8. The Government is firmly committed to uphold secularism, which has deep roots in our society and polity. The recent incidents in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Orissa have caused us anguish and concern. However, these have to be seen as an aberration, which do not reflect the national ethos. The Government is fully committed to the protection of minorities. State Governments have been advised to quickly apprehend culprits in all such cases. The Government's record in maintaining peace and communal harmony is shown by the fact that 1998 had the fewest deaths due to communal violence in the last ten years.

9. Ensuring internal security is the primary duty of any Government. I note with considerable satisfaction that terrorism and subversive activities in various parts of the country are being effectively contained. Owing to the sustained pressure, vigil, and concerted actions of the security forces and the State Administration and active cooperation of the people, there has been a conspicuous turnaround in the law and order situation in Jammu and Kashmir during 1998. This is reflected, among other things, in the recovery of tourist traffic, which had virtually dried up in the preceding decade. The Government will continue its efforts to strengthen peace in the State and revive the normal economic, social, cultural and educational activity. It is committed to ensure the early return of the many Kashmiris to their homes and hearths, in the wake of the restoration of normalcy.

10. In the North-East, public security is being constantly improved and upgraded. The modernization of State police forces emphasizing the supply of vehicles, equipment, arms, and ammunition, has been taken up to improve the law and order situation. This is being accompanied by increased assistance for economic development. The Government of India is considering repeal of the Illegal Migrant (Determination by Tribunals) Act, 1983. The decision to hold the National Games in Imphal is an indication of the many possibilities that exist for accelerating the process of emotional integration and bringing the people of the North-East into the national mainstream.

11. Non-Resident Indians are a part of the great global Indian family. Their emotional, cultural, social and economic links with India are a source of great strength to us. The Government has approved the Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) Card Scheme. This will permit visa-free entry and offer other facilities to persons of Indian origin who are citizens of other countries.

12. The National Agenda for Governance calls for an accelerated and well-balanced economic development as a precondition for fulfilling the goal of Berozgari Hatao (eradication of unemployment). The Government has set the target of an annual GDP growth rate of 6.5 percent. The Indian economy, however, has had to face a very adverse situation owing to the general slowdown in the global economy, as illustrated by the sharp decline in global trade and market crises in many countries around the world, including those in South-East Asia. This led to a fall in capital flows to emerging markets. Many inherited bottlenecks in the domestic economy compounded these external challenges.

13. In spite of these external and internal odds, the economy has fared reasonably well and our GDP growth rate should be one of the highest among the developing countries. Despite considerable volatility in the currency markets elsewhere, the Indian rupee has remained stable within a manageable exchange range. Our foreign currency reserves have grown to US $ 27.9 billion as on February 17, 1999. The excellent response to the Resurgent India Bonds, which mobilized US $ 4.2 billion, is a clear manifestation of the Non-Resident Indians' continuing commitment to India.

14. Presently, the finances of both the Central and the State Governments are under severe strain. The aggregate general Government deficit has increased in recent years. Besides having inflationary potential, this is causing severe consequences for interest rates, investment and growth. It is, therefore, critically important for both Central and State Governments to restore health to their finances by reducing the revenue and fiscal deficits. This calls for tight control over wasteful and low-priority expenditure and determined efforts to mobilize resources, including appropriate cost recovery policies.

15. The Government has acceded to the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property and the Patent Cooperation Treaty. This will improve industrial climate by increasing information flow, provide better protection for Indian inventors, and encourage technological development. The Insurance Regulatory Authority Bill, 1998 is similarly intended to strengthen the insurance sector and enable it to seize the opportunities that globalization offers.

16. Our Space programme continues to grow from strength to strength. The IRS-P4 Satellite for remote sensing is being launched this year along with the INSAT-2E. The next launch of the PSLV will also carry the Korean KITSAT and the German TUBSAT satellites. This will be another milestone in the development of our Space programme. Success in this area holds great promise for better telecommunications and broadcasting services, as well as for distance learning, mapping of land and water resources, and crop forecasting.

17. Agriculture is the mainstay of our economy and the lifeline of a majority of our population. I extend my hearty felicitations to our hardworking kisans who, in spite of many odds, have continued to increase farm production and feed the nation. I am happy to inform the members that the expected milk production of 720 lakh tonnes in 1998-99 will make India the world's largest milk producer. Increased growth in production of foodgrains, pulses, and other crops will play an important role in the revival of the economy. It is a matter of pride that India now ranks among the top three countries in wheat production.

18. The Government is formulating a new National Policy on Agriculture to strengthen our agriculture and agro-based industries. The policy seeks to boost irrigation, especially through small and medium projects, increase the viability of small and marginal farmers, and enhance farm productivity through better management of natural resources and introduction of technological and institutional changes. The focus will specifically be on raising food production in the country's vast rain-fed areas and in the Eastern and North-Eastern regions. Efforts will be made to expand and revitalize agricultural cooperatives and other rural credit institutions, to enable them to seize the opportunities of economic liberalization. The policy also aims at maximizing production in horticulture, floriculture, medicinal plants, and afforestation, especially to increase our exports in these areas.

19. Management of prices of agricultural commodities is a critical need, since it concerns both farmers and consumers. One of the major impediments in this area has been the lack of accurate and timely information. A National Crop Forecasting Centre has been set up to provide advance warning of critical commodities about their supplies and prices. A special cell has been created in the Ministry of Food and Consumer Affairs to closely monitor prices of essential commodities. The cell is servicing a high-powered Price Monitoring Board, which is meeting every week to review the price situation. A Bill to amend the Essential Commodities Act to check hoarding and black-marketing more effectively is being introduced in this session of Parliament.

20. Optimal usage of water is critical to our economic progress. Improper use of water, besides causing economic loss, can lead to degradation of lands and the environment, and cause increased social tension. A National Commission is currently preparing an integrated plan for the development of water resources for multiple use. Its report, which is expected this year, will recommend short-term and long-term measures to achieve integrated and efficient management of the nation's diverse water resources. The progress in developing a consensus in respect of the long-running Cauvery water dispute last year was a triumph of the co-operative and national spirit. The importance of this breakthrough lies in the possibility of following a similar approach to help resolve other long-standing inter-State river disputes that are holding up many big development projects.

21. The Government accords high priority to the rapid development of infrastructure, which is the key to accelerated growth in all sectors of the economy. The Task Force on Infrastructure, set up under the aegis of the Planning Commission, has finalized the blueprint for the construction of a six-lane National Integrated Highway Project with an East-West corridor linking Silchar to Saurashtra and a North-South corridor linking Kashmir to Kanyakumari. It incorporates and further extends the earlier Golden Quadrangle project linking the four metros of Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, and Calcutta. Expressways of international standards will be built at suitable stretches. Work has already begun on this most ambitious infrastructure project since Independence. Sufficient resources will be mobilized for implementing it from multiple points in the country. Private sector participation is being enabled through build-own-transfer schemes.

22. The Task Force on Infrastructure has prepared a draft of the National Integrated Transport Policy that seeks to maximize the synergy between railways, roads, ports, airports, and inland waterways. Based on the recommendations of the Task Force, the Government has decided to undertake a major exercise to modernize and expand the airports in the country. As a first step, five airports - Mumbai, Delhi, Calcutta, Chennai, and Bangalore - will be corporatized.

23. Information Technology presents the greatest single developmental opportunity for India in the 21st century. The entire edifice of tomorrow's knowledge-based economy and society will rest on its foundation. India's natural advantage in establishing global dominance in IT is today widely recognized. This recognition is based on the shining success already achieved by our IT professionals and entrepreneurs both in India and Indians working abroad.

24. Consequent to the recommendations of the Task Force on Information Technology, the Government has taken a number of decisions to give a big boost to software development with the goal of achieving exports of US $ 50 billion by 2008. An Action Plan to make India a major centre for hardware design, manufacture, and exports is also on the anvil. For the first time, an Internet Service Provider policy has been announced to accelerate the spread of Internet services in the country. In addition, the Government plans to unveil major initiatives to promote computer training and IT-based education; creation of Indian content on the Internet, especially in Indian languages; universal use of IT in administration, banking, the commercial sector, and in utilities; and IT for rural development through "Wired Villages" projects in many states.

25. The Government recognizes the crucial role that telecommunications will play in making India's dreams in information technology come true. Accordingly, it has set up a Group on Telecommunications that is finalizing a New Telecom Policy. The policy will, inter alia, take into account the revolutionary phenomenon of the convergence of computers, telecom, television, multimedia, and consumer electronics. It will aim at vastly increasing teledensity in India, especially in rural areas; bringing high-speed connectivity to critical sectors of the economy; and ensuring affordable telecom services. These objectives will be achieved in a better competitive environment by creating a stronger regulatory framework.

26. Major advances are being made in the power sector due to a proactive approach of the Government to remove the bottlenecks in clearing a large number of pending power projects. Very soon, many independent power projects will attain financial closure, leading to their expeditious construction. The Government recently held a conference of Chief Ministers and Power Ministers of States specifically to discuss faster progress in this critical infrastructure sector. I am happy to note that, more and more State Governments are setting up Regulatory Commissions, restructuring their electricity boards to cut down transmission and distribution losses; and facilitating the inflow of expected investments. There has to be a national consensus that electricity generation, transmission, and distribution being commercial activities, user charges should be recovered fully. If there is any conscious decision to charge less, subsidies have to be provided for by the concerned State Government in a transparent manner.

27. India is committed to the peaceful use of nuclear power. The work on the Kaiga Atomic Power Unit 2 and the Rajasthan Atomic Power Project Unit 3 continued; these units are expected to become critical this year. The Kalpakkam Reprocessing Plant - the third, and the largest reprocessing plant built by us - was dedicated to the nation in September 1998.

28. The Government has continued its commitment to the promotion of non-conventional energy. India now ranks fourth in the world in its use. Besides, as India is the largest producer of cane sugar, we are implementing the world's largest bagasse-based co-generation programme in our sugar mills.

29. A home of their own is the dream of every Indian family. In pursuance of this, the Government has formulated a new Housing and Habitat Policy 1998 that will facilitate the building of an additional twenty lakh houses a year. This will also create employment opportunities for skilled and unskilled on a large scale, besides giving a boost to our steel, cement, and construction material industries. After wide consultations with the interests involved, major roadblocks in the path of the housing industry have been removed and others are on their way to removal.

30. The Government has decided to create a Technological Upgradation Fund for strengthening the competitive advantage of the Indian textile industry. The scheme will commence from April 1, 1999. Separately, the Ministry of Agriculture would soon launch a Cotton Technology Mission.

31. Small-scale, cottage, and village industries, as well as the handloom and handicrafts sectors, generate a lot of employment. To help the small-scale sector, the Interest on Delayed Payment to Small Scale and Ancillary Industrial Undertakings Act, 1993, has been amended. The Prime Minister's Rozgar Yojana has also been revised to give the programme an added impetus.

32. The National Agenda for Governance committed to free industry from bureaucratic control. The Government has delicensed industries like coal, lignite, petroleum products, sugar, and certain bulk drugs. It has also decided to liberalize technology imports by allowing automatic clearance for projects appraised by financial institutions, public-sector projects, and projects of private companies that have a good track record.

33. The Government is also reforming public-sector undertakings through restructuring, rehabilitation, disinvestment, and strategic sale. A separate Cabinet Committee will oversee and expedite decisions on disinvestment and restructuring plans.

34. The Second National Commission on Labour has been set up after three decades to suggest rationalization of existing labour laws in the organized sector and an umbrella legislation for ensuring minimum protection to the workers in the unorganized sector. The Commission will consider the emerging economic environment involving rapid technological changes that necessitate quick changes in methods, timing, and conditions of work. It will recommend changes in existing laws to bring them in tune with the future labour market requirements. It will also recommend improvements in the effectiveness of the measures relating to social security, occupational health and safety, minimum wages, and linkage between wages and productivity. It will suggest safeguards and facilities required for women and handicapped workers.

35. Ensuring the well-being of all our citizens is the first duty of any Government. Investment in literacy, education, particularly primary education, health, sanitation, and drinking water is a major priority for the Government, as these determine the quality of life of our citizens and improve India's standing in the Human Development Index. In the last Budget, the Government considerably increased the allocation for the Social Sector. This commitment will continue. In addition, the Government will take further measures to strengthen the social safety nets for the poorest sections of our society.

36. Pulse polio immunization is one of the greatest health-care success stories in recent years. Encouraged by the tremendous experience gained in this campaign, the country should now aim to achieve zero incidence of polio by the end of 2000, as per the goal set by the World Health Organization. NGOs are being involved in creating awareness about public health. To promote Indian systems of medicine, the Department of Family Welfare has incorporated Ayurveda in the Reproductive Child Health Programme.

37. The nation faces a particularly grave health challenge - namely, the rapid spread of AIDS. The Government has drawn up a draft National AIDS Policy and National Blood Policy. This will check the proliferation of this dreaded disease; improve services for the care of the people living with AIDS both in hospitals and at homes; and provide an enabling socio-economic environment so that all sections of population can protect themselves from HIV infection. Drug addiction has been an important factor in the spread of HIV. The Government is also committed to pursue the programmes for drug de-addiction and rehabilitation of persons who have been drug addicts.

38. The Ministry of Welfare was renamed as the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment on Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar's birthday last year. To promote self-employment among scheduled castes and scheduled tribes and backward classes, the Government has more than tripled the authorized capital of the National Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Finance and Development Corporation and the National Backward Classes Finance and Development Corporation. More steps will be taken for their speedy economic development.

39. The Government has launched the Rural Women's Development and Empowerment Project in six states. A National Policy for Empowerment of Women is being finalized. A new initiative in child development would be the setting up of a National Commission for Children.

40. The Government has evolved a National Policy for Older Persons to address the emerging aspirations of the many older people in healthcare, shelter, welfare, life, property, and financial security.

41. The Rehabilitation Council of India has been reorganized to standardize and expand the training of rehabilitation professionals working with disability. A specially designed Prime Minister's Programme for the Mentally Challenged has been launched, covering fifteen thousand children. More will be covered later. A National Trust for the welfare of persons with autism, cerebral palsy, mental retardation, and multiple disability will be established soon after the Bill, being introduced in the Parliament in the current session, is passed.

42. Development of the social sector, however, is not dependent on increased financial resources alone. Investment of better and more committed administrative and managerial resources is equally critical. There is a great need to sensitize the Government machinery at both the Central and State levels. I must emphasize here that no tangible progress will be made unless the officers and employees concerned adopt a participative approach to involve the people in the implementation of these schemes.

43. The sustained investment in higher education and other facilities is beginning to pay off. Many young Indians are doing exceedingly well in India and abroad. As India's economy grows, more opportunities will be available for our youth to show their mettle. In sports too, the momentum is picking up. The medal tally at the Asian Games last year, including the gold medal in hockey, is the highest since 1982. There is immense sports talent in our society of nearly 100 crore people. We must intensify our efforts to discover and promote this talent to improve India's standing in international sports.

44. The Government has set up a Commission to review Administrative Laws. The Commission has presented its report, which is under consideration. The Government is also planning to bring forward a Freedom of Information Bill.

45. Both Houses of Parliament have frequently discussed electoral reforms. To impart much-needed momentum to them, the Government constituted a committee headed by Shri Indrajit Gupta, a senior and respected Member of Parliament, to suggest measures on State Funding of Elections and other connected matters. This committee submitted its report on January 14, 1999. It suggested partial funding of elections in kind by the Government to the candidates of recognized political parties. The Government will finalize its recommendations in consultation with all the parties.

46. Strengthening the Panchayat Raj system is at the heart of the challenge to revitalize the Indian democracy. India lives in her villages. The quality of governance has, therefore, to be judged by the quality of the Government-Citizen interface at the grassroots. Many schemes have been formulated to improve the functioning of these Panchayats, especially by educating its member to work better. I must note here that both the need and the scope for improvement in this area are immense.

47. The Ministry of Rural Affairs and Employment, in consultation with the State Governments is restructuring many of the schemes for the betterment of the lives of the rural poor. This restructuring must give Panchayats and Municipalities a greater role in the sanction and disbursement of benefits to avoid procedural delays.

48. Honourable Members, continuity and consensus are the hallmark of India's foreign policy. Our relationship with our neighbours was considerably strengthened this year. The visits by the Prime Minister of Bangladesh to Delhi in June 1998 and Calcutta in January 1999 contributed in better understanding with our eastern neighbor. My visit to Nepal in May 1998 and the visit of the King of Nepal to India, as our special guest for this year's Republic Day celebrations, consolidated the deep-rooted friendship and underlined the goodwill and warmth that characterize our ties with Nepal. The Transit Treaty with Nepal was also renewed. The King of Bhutan's visit to India in October 1998 provided new impetus to the close friendship and cooperation that India and Bhutan have traditionally enjoyed. Likewise, we were glad to receive a visit by the President of Maldives, with which country we have very close ties.

48a. The Prime Minister visited Pakistan on February 20-21, 1999 on the inaugural run of the Delhi-Lahore Bus Service. During his visit the Prime Minister conveyed to the Government and people of Pakistan India's deep desire for peace and friendship with them and to develop a comprehensive structure of cooperation for the benefit of the two peoples. The Prime Minister and the Pakistan Prime Minister signed the Lahore Declaration which is a landmark for the peace and security of the two countries.

India and Pakistan will now work to enter into agreements to put in place far-reaching Confidence Building Measures. The two countries also identified new and significant areas of cooperation such as Information Technology and decided to address humanitarian issues at a ministerial level on an urgent basis. It is our hope that the Prime Minister's historic initiative for the welfare of the peoples of the two countries and his re-iteration that a secure, stable and prosperous Pakistan is in India's interest will mark a new chapter in our bilateral ties.

49. India seeks to strengthen and deepen our historic and friendly relations with China in all spheres of mutual benefit and is looking forward to continuing the dialogue with that country.

50. In keeping with our policy of strengthening regional cooperation, the Prime Minister announced some bold initiatives at the SAARC Summit in Colombo in July 1998 to speed up trade liberalization in the region by lifting the Quantitative Restrictions for SAARC countries on August 1, 1998. This demonstrates our commitment to the creation of a South Asian Free Trade Area. During the visit of Sri Lanka's President in December 1998, a historic free-trade agreement was signed between the two countries. This will allow closer economic cooperation and can be a model for other SAARC countries.

51. The Prime Minister participated in the 12th NAM Summit in Durban highlighting the relevance and importance of non-alignment in international relations. The outcome of the Summit, vindicated India's stand on disarmament. It endorsed our proposal for an International Conference, preferably in 1999, to agree, before the end of the millenium, on a phased programme for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons within a specified time.

52. The Government considers the countries of West and Central Asia important partners. In keeping with the priority we attach to this region, the first bilateral visit abroad of Prime Minister was to Oman, with whom we are building close economic linkages. My visit to Turkey in September 1998 helped renew the long-standing ties between our two nations. The visit of the President of Tajikistan in January 1999 to India was a useful opportunity to renew our links and share perceptions on regional development in Central Asia.

53. Our ties with East and South-East Asian countries and with ASEAN as an entity are developing satisfactorily. The Prime Minister of Republic of Korea visited India for the inauguration of the IETF '99. This is another concrete step in strengthening our economic relations with East and South-East Asia. And we were happy to receive a visit from the Crown Prince of Thailand.

54. During the visit to India of the Prime Minister of Russia in December 1998, both sides reaffirmed their close partnership as well as their determination to improve our ties by covering many more areas. Our ties with Bulgaria receiving a further impetus through the visit to India by its President in October 1998. It gave us great pleasure to receive a visit by the Governor General of Canada in March 1998. The first ever Presidential visit from Estonia in February 1999 laid the foundation for a relationship full of promise.

55. I visited Germany, Luxembourg, and Portugal in September 1998 and had very useful discussions with the leadership of these countries. In September 1998, Prime Minister Vajpayee visited France, with whom our relations now are one of shared perceptions, deep understanding, and full of promise. The visits by the President of Switzerland, the Crown Prince of Belgium, and the Prime Minister of Luxembourg in January 1999 helped bring these important European nations closer to India.

56. The enduring foundation of India's relationship with Africa was strengthened by Prime Minister's visits to Namibia, South Africa, and Mauritius in August-September 1998 and to Morocco in February 1999. The Prime Minister of Mauritius visited India in October 1998.

57. We are now strengthening our relationship with Latin American and Caribbean countries. My own visit to Brazil and Peru in April-May 1998 and Prime Minister's visit to Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica in February 1999, reflect the growing importance that my Government attaches to reaching out to the Latin American countries.

58. The need for strengthened international cooperation through a revitalized United Nations cannot be over-emphasized. India has been working with other Member States for the reform of the United Nations to make the organization more effective and responsive to the requirements of the Member States.

59. President's Rule was imposed recently in Goa and Bihar under Article 356 of the Constitution. Goa was suffering from prolonged political instability, leading to paralysis of administration in the State. There was a near-unanimous recommendation from the MLAs for dissolution of the State Assembly to enable early elections. Bihar has witnessed a series of massacres of innocent people in recent times, many of them targeted at Dalits. These mass killings have brought immense pain and anguish to all of us. The first duty of any government is to protect the life and property of citizens, especially those who are poor and socially oppressed. In both cases, situations had arisen in which the government of these States could not be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. The Goa State Assembly has been dissolved, and the Bihar State Assembly has been kept under suspended animation.

60. Honourable Members, you have the rare privilege of contributing to the success of all these diverse initiatives and efforts aimed at strengthening India in all areas of our national life. I am confident that you will use the ensuing session of Parliament, as also the other sessions in the year, for constructive debate, leading to successful conclusion of all the scheduled business. I wish you well in your endeavour.

Thank you

Jai Hind