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'Inclined To Vote In Favour...'

'Inclined To Vote In Favour...'

'...of a Resolution that, we hope, will advance our objective, namely, the achievement of the future for the Tamil community in Sri Lanka that is marked by equality, dignity, justice and self-respect'

PM's reply in the Rajya Sabha debate on the President's address

Honorable Chairman sir, I rise to join all honourable members of this august house in conveying our sincere thanks to the Honourable President for her enlightened address. The debate on the President’s address has been very wide-ranging. I thank all the honourable members from all sides who have contributed to this debate.

Shri Venkaiah Naidu, speaking on behalf of the NDA, mentioned that the President’s address does not lay out a roadmap. I do not agree with this finding of Shri Venkaiah Naidu, and I will draw his attention to Paragraph 10 of the President’s address, and I quote:

My Government will work on five important challenges that our country faces today:

1. to strive for livelihood security for the vast majority of our population and continue to work for removal of poverty, hunger and illiteracy from our land;
2. to achieve economic security through rapid and broad based development and creation of productive jobs for our people;
3. to ensure energy security for our rapid growth;
4. to realize our developmental goals without jeopardizing our ecological and environmental security; and
5. to guarantee our internal and external security within the framework of a just, plural, secular and inclusive democracy

Since the presentation of the budget 2012-13, the finance minister has elaborated in his budget speech on further challenges that our economy faces. The Economic Survey that has been presented to both houses of Parliament also deals with these issues, and therefore I will be very brief when it comes to dealing with the State of the Economy.

The President, in paragraph 9, mentions that the year 2012-13 will mark the first year of the 12th 5-year plan that sets the goal of faster, sustainable and more inclusive growth. The approach paper sets a target growth rate of 9% for the 12th Five year plan, with four percent for the agricultural sector. The President’s address highlights the working of the existing programme as well as some new initiatives that the government proposes to take to bring about faster, sustainable and more inclusive growth.

At the outset I would like to mention that honourable members will recognize that all the economies of the world are in the midst of very uncertain times. The industrialized countries in the wake of the crisis of 2008-09 have registered mainly a fragile recovery. In the year 2011, the growth rate of the industrialized countries was half the level that was achieved in 2010-11. We are all affected by this disturbing economic environment that faces us. There has been too much liquidity in the global economy. This has put pressure on commodity prices. Commodity prices of foodgrains, of petroleum products, of fertilizers in particular, have gone up. Therefore, there has been pressure on our Balance of Payments. There has also been pressure on prices. These are circumstances in which our economy has to chart out a path. I would be the last one to say that we do not face difficulties. We do face difficulties. It is my honest assessment that the difficulties that we face – a balance of payments deficit on the current account which is now as high as 3.6%, a deficit on the fiscal balance account of 5.9%, is something that we cannot tolerate, year after year. Therefore, I appeal to all the members of this august house to recognize the pitfalls, the dangers that lie ahead if we do not rise to the occasion, and help the government to undertake remedial measures in time.

Amidst uncertain environment, our own economic performance of about 7% growth, though slower than what we had hoped, must be regarded as commendable. Of course, we cannot view this as an acceptable outcome. We must strive to improve upon this next year, and return as quickly as possible to a higher growth path. And we must do this while also ensuring that we make progress in achieving our objectives of inclusive growth with reasonable price stability.

For this we need a broad-based national consensus covering all sections of political opinion represented in our Parliament. This is an occasion when we must eschew narrow partisan ends and stand united as a cohesive nation. We grew at 9% for the five years before 2008, and I do believe that we can get back to that kind of growth rate provided we can agree on a number of difficult decisions. If we succeed in that objective, we will ensure that India continues its rise as an economic power with the economic capability of reducing the age-old poverty from which we have suffered and filling the gaps, which are all too evident in critical areas such as health, education, skill-development, and provision of clean drinking water and sanitation.

We need to focus, in particular, on the developmental gaps affecting the weaker sections of our population such as Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, the Other Backward Classes, the Minorities and other disadvantaged groups. I would like to assure the Hon. Members that we will rise to the occasion.

The Twelfth Five-Year Plan, which will be presented to the National Development Council (NDC) sometime in the middle of the year, will lay out a credible plan of action for faster, sustainable and more inclusive growth. I do not propose to deal with the economic scene in greater detail. The Finance Minister has discussed that in his budget speech. There will be a debate on the General Budget. That will be an occasion for the Hon. Members to express their views and for the Government to reply to their concerns.

I wish to deal only with one or two issues. Once is the charge that the government is destroying the federal structure of our country. Sir, Nothing could be further from the truth. Let me assure the House that our government is committed as ever before, to uphold the constitutional imperatives in letter and spirit.

Terrorism and Left-wing extremism are two issues, which I believe would unite the nation to work out comprehensive coordinated strategy to work out the menace of terrorism and left-wing extremism. What happened in Orissa earlier this week, where two Italians were abducted by Left-wing extremists, is a grim reminder to all of us that our nation’s security can be in danger if we are not careful or alert to tackle the anger of left-wing extremism or terrorism.

Our Government is committed to providing fully secured living conditions to its citizens and it will take every possible step to deal with the menace of terrorism. In fact, setting up the NCTC is an important step in that direction. Concern has been raised that the Central Government is trying to encroach upon the jurisdiction of the State Government and it has been suggested that they should be taken into confidence before the National Counter Terrorism Centre becomes operational. The question of setting up of National Counter Terrorism Centre has been discussed at various fora since the report of the Group of Ministers appointed by the previous Government and the recommendations of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission were submitted. Multi-agency Centre that was established in 2001 was a pre-cursor to the NCTC and the need for a single and effective point of coordination for counter terrorism has been discussed in meetings on internal security of Chief Ministers in the last couple of years. As has been pointed out by some Members that a number of Chief Ministers have expressed their concern after the order was issued and I have replied to them that there will be consultations before the next steps are taken. The consultation was held on 12th March, 2012 with the Chief Secretaries and DGPs from different State Governments. The meeting of the Chief Ministers on Internal Security has been called which was originally scheduled for 15th February, 2012 but because of elections, it had to be postponed. It is now scheduled on 16th April, 2012. Therefore, adequate and full consultations will take place before the next steps are taken to operationalize the National Counter-Terrorism Centre. I think that the idea of NCTC and the manner in which the NCTC will function are two separate issues. The idea of NCTC, you have all agreed is unexceptionable. And the manner in which the NCTC will function, there may be differences of opinion but I am confident that through discussions and dialogues, these differences could be narrowed down and a broad-based consensus can be arrived. That will be our sincere effort and this House has the assurance that nothing will be done which will in any way impinge on the federal imperative of our Constitution.

Some other members brought up the question of the problems of Sri Lankan Tamils, and I will therefore devote a few minutes in describing our job of dealing with the problem of the Sri Lankan Tamil community. Some Members have raised concern regarding the situation in Sri Lanka. The Central Government fully shares the concerns and sentiments raised by hon. Members regarding the welfare of Sri Lankan Tamils. Since the end of conflict in Sri Lanka, our focus has been on the welfare and well being of the Tamil citizens of Sri Lanka. Their resettlement and rehabilitation have been of the highest and most important priority for our Government. The steps taken by the Central Government in this regard has been outlined in the suo-motu statement made by the External Affairs Minister on 14th March, 2012. As a result of our constructive engagement with the Government of Sri Lanka and our considerable assistance programme, a modicum of normalcy is beginning to return to the Tamil areas in Sri Lanka. There has also been progress, given the withdrawal of emergency regulations by the Government of Sri Lanka and the conduct of elections to local bodies in the Northern provinces of Sri Lanka.

Members have also raised the issue of human rights violations during the protracted conflict in Sri Lanka and on the US initiated draft resolution on promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka at the on-going 19th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. The Government of India has emphasized to the Government of Sri Lanka the importance of a genuine process of reconciliation to address the grievances of the Tamil community. In this connection, we have called for implementation of the recommendations contained in the report of the Commission appointed by Sri Lankan Government that has been tabled before the Sri Lankan Parliament. These include various constructive measures of healing the wounds of the conflict and fostering the process of lasting peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka.

We have asked the Government of Sri Lanka to stand by its commitment towards pursuit of a political process through a broader dialogue with all parties including the Tamil National Alliance leading to the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution so as to achieve meaningful devolution of power and genuine national reconciliation. We hope that the Government of Sri Lanka recognises the critical importance of this issue, act decisively and with vision in this regard. We will remain engaged with them through this process and encourage them to take forward the dialogue with the elected representatives of Sri Lankan Tamils.

As regards the issue of a draft resolution initiated by the United States at the on-going 19th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, we do not yet have the final text of the Resolution. However, I may assure the House that we are inclined to vote in favour of a Resolution that, we hope, will advance our objective, namely, the achievement of the future for the Tamil community in Sri Lanka that is marked by equality, dignity, justice and self-respect.

There are a number of other issues which have been raised. Several members have expressed concern about the state of our education. Concerns have been expressed about the suicide of farmers. Let me say that I share these concerns. It has been the effort of our government to revitalize, to put more vigour into the development processes for agriculture in the last seven and a half years that we have been in office. Already there are indications that the growth in our agriculture production has gone up to about 3 to 3 and a half percent in the eleventh five-year plan, as against less than 2 percent in the preceding five years. But I am not saying that we are satisfied. We will work with all the vigour that we are capable of, in imparting a new momentum of dynamism to our agriculture, and that is a commitment that we have undertaken, we will discharge our responsibilities in that direction.

Concerns have been addressed about various other matters, like black money. The finance minister, in his budget speech, has explained the government’s approach, how we propose to deal with the menace of black money. He has also promised the House that the government will come forward with a white paper. I therefore hope that there will be ample opportunity in the rest of the session to deal with these issues. Therefore I will not take more time of the House. I join all the members in conveying our grateful regards and thanks to the Hon President and I sincerely hope that we will pass the motion of thanks with acclamation.

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