Amid searing heat, a possibly deficient monsoon and serious financial challenges, including the problem of how to tackle the retrospective taxation issue, President Pranab Mukherjee’s address to a joint sitting of the two Houses of Parliament on Monday is likely to spell out the road map of the new Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government.
According to government sources, the thrust of his speech could be the government’s economic management. The priority is likely to be attending to the “imminent” challenges in checking price rise, encouraging economic revival, recovering from a decade of “jobless growth” through launching infrastructure projects, such as housing for the poor, while taking up policies to set the new government on a path of financial rectitude. Attacks or criticism of the previous government are unlikely.
The President’s address could devote adequate space to Modi’s big ideas of unbundling the Food Corporation of India (FCI), initiating a separate scheme to guarantee income insurance to farmers, boosting the tourism sector, a price stabilisation fund for crops and managing likelihood of scarce rainfall through supply-side measures like releasing foodgrain in the open market and reining in hoarders and blackmarketeers.Sources say some of the major programme rollouts could include commitments to implement a Jyotigram Yojana for providing uninterrupted electricity to rural areas and steps to revive the Ganga. Power Minister Piyush Goyal said: “The power, coal and new & renewable energy ministries have been brought under one umbrella because people want to see a small government but more delivery. It also recognises the synergy of various ministries in the government’s functioning. This will have a reflection in the President’s address.”
The government is likely to announce plans to push skill development for the youth, promote the manufacturing sector, bring a second ‘green revolution’ and a nationwide plan to harness solar energy.
The address is likely to reflect Modi’s speech at the Bharatiya Janata Party’s National Council on January 20, where he stressed on ‘suraaj’ or good governance and bringing Centre-state relations to an even keel, among other things.
Modi had also spoken about uplifting the eastern and northeastern parts of the country that had lagged behind the southern and western parts, modernising rail network and introducing a bullet train network, creating 100 smart cities, wasteland development and reviving projects that were stuck with a spirit of “passion for growth but also compassion for the environment”.
As recommended under Article 87 (1) of the Constitution, it will be the President’s first speech to a joint sitting of Parliament after the Lok Sabha elections. As is customary, the President will lay down a statement of policy the new government wishes to pursue, including indicating the main items of legislative business it proposes to be brought during the session to be held this year. There are nearly 60 Bills pending in the Rajya Sabha – some the government might push for enactment.
According to officials, the primary target of the new government, apart from bringing respite to the people by checking inflation, is providing succour to farmers by covering their price risks, instead of the current practice of covering just the production risk in insurance schemes. The subsidy on premium could be around 75 per cent for small and marginal farmers, while it could be around 50 per cent for big ones. The Centre is likely to bear the entire burden.
Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh has said his government’s priority will be launching such a scheme and ensuring farmers do not suffer when their crops fail due to uncertain weather eventuality. On unbundling of FCI, officials said the food ministry had been directed to prepare a note, which would also be shared with the prime minister.
The idea behind the plan to unbundle FCI will be splitting the corporation’s three main operations – procurement, storage and distribution – for completion and efficiency.
The President’s address will cover both the new government’s domestic and foreign policies, including its approach to India’s neighbours. Incidentally, Modi will be meeting the special envoy of Chinese President Xi Jinping, that country’s foreign minister Wang Yi, a few hours after the Presidential address. The address is likely to reiterate Modi’s vision of equality in bilateral relations.
This will be President Mukherjee’s second address to the joint Parliament session. The first was at the start of a new session on 21 February last year. Then, Mukherjee had spoken about the “emergence” of “an aspirational India” that “demands more opportunities, greater choices, better infrastructure, and enhanced safety and security”. He had said “amid these aspirations, we are burdened by gathering anxieties about an economic slowdown, job security and employment prospects”. He had also said people were “concerned about the security of women and children. They are anxious about persisting social and economic inequality”.
Half an hour after conclusion of the address, the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha will have separate sittings where the secretaries-general of the two Houses will table a copy of the speech. The two Houses will on Tuesday and Wednesday hold discussions on the motion of thanks for the President’s address.