Honourable Members, It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to this first session of Parliament in 2002. My best wishes are with you for the successful completion of the heavy budgetary and legislative business ahead.
2. As we begin this session, most of the results of the elections to the Legislative Assemblies of four States - Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Manipur, and Uttaranchal - have come in. I join you in congratulating the newly elected legislators. Our special felicitations go to the people of Uttaranchal, who have elected their Vidhan Sabha for the first time after the formation of their State. I also welcome the newly elected Members of the Lok Sabha, consequent to the bye-elections in some constituencies.
3. This is the first session of Parliament after the unprecedented terrorist attack on this Temple of India's Democracy on December 13 last year. It was an audacious challenge to our sovereignty. It was an assault on our national honour. It was a diabolical plot to carry out large-scale annihilation of the leaders of different political parties and peoples' representatives. Had the plot succeeded, it would have resulted in a catastrophe of unthinkable proportions. Nine brave souls sacrificed their lives to defend our Parliament and its members. We pay our grateful homage to these martyrs.
4. What happened on December 13 was the nadir of a long list of reprehensible acts in a twenty-year long campaign of cross-border terrorism against India. It strengthened our resolve to deal decisively and conclusively with this challenge. The investigation into this conspiracy has clearly revealed the hand of terrorist organizations, which have for long operated from Pakistani soil with the support of the ruling establishment of that country. It is now also established that these terror outfits are closely aligned through ideology, inspiration, resources, and logistics to those who carried out the terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001.
5. My Government has made it absolutely clear that India is determined to end cross-border terrorism by all the means at our command. The brave jawans and officers of our armed forces have been fully mobilized on our western borders and have maintained vigil despite difficult conditions. The necessary level of military strength and preparedness will be maintained to deter any aggression. On a parallel track, we have taken several diplomatic and political measures against Pakistan. We have also intensified our efforts to increase awareness among the Governments and the peoples of the world on our just struggle against cross-border terrorism. We have emphasized that terrorism cannot be condemned somewhere and condoned elsewhere. The fight against terrorism has to be global and comprehensive. It should target not only the terrorist, but also those who sponsor, finance, support, or shelter them. Several Members of Parliament, belonging to different political parties, have travelled to various capitals of the world in recent weeks as a part of this exercise. There is far greater appreciation and support abroad for India's position than ever before. An illustration of this is our success in persuading the United Arab Emirates to hand over a key accused in the recent terrorist attack in Kolkata.
6. The entire nation is united in this decisive phase of the battle against terrorism. The complete consensus among political parties on this issue has once again demonstrated the maturity and greatness of our democracy.
7. We keep hearing calls of resumption of dialogue with Pakistan. Terrorism and dialogue cannot go together. Recent history is witness to the fact that, whereas India has always been ready for meaningful and fruitful talks with Pakistan, it is Pakistan that has ensured their failure with its acts of betrayal. India is prepared to resume the dialogue process with Pakistan, provided Islamabad satisfies us that it has indeed taken effective steps to end the training, equipping and financing of the terrorists and stop their infiltration into Jammu and Kashmir and other parts of India. We also demand that Islamabad hand over to us the twenty terrorists who have committed grave crimes in India and who continue to receive shelter in Pakistan. Positive action by Islamabad on these demands is the test of its sincerity to end its hostility against India and to pave the way for discussing all the outstanding issues, including that of Jammu and Kashmir, in a peaceful manner, through bilateral dialogue.
8. The Government has a clear strategy to deal with the internal situation in Jammu and Kashmir. First, to counter the terrorists with a firm hand. In this, our security forces have already recorded demonstrable successes. We shall triumph in our mission to root out terrorism from Jammu and Kashmir in the same way that we did in Punjab in the last decade. Let no one have any doubts about it. The second objective in our strategy is to support faster economic development of all the three regions of the State, especially to create employment for the youth. Thirdly, we are prepared to talk with any group of people within the State who eschew the path of violence and who may have legitimate grievances.
9. The people of Jammu and Kashmir will elect a new Legislative Assembly later this year, through free and fair elections. No doubt, we have to be vigilant against those who have no faith in democracy and have shown their willingness to go to any length to subvert the manifestation of people's aspirations. I am confident that the forthcoming elections will help the return of peace and normalcy, and accelerate the process of all-round development of Jammu and Kashmir.
10. The Government attaches the highest priority to national security. Based on the recommendations of the Group of Ministers, which comprehensively reviewed our National Security systems, far-reaching reforms are being carried out in the higher defence management, leading to closer coordination between the three services of the Armed Forces and integration of military and civilian defence structures. A separate Defence Procurement Board has been set up to speed up defence purchases, make them more responsive to needs of the Armed Forces, and to bring greater transparency in procurement.
11. I congratulate our defence scientists and engineers for the successful test of the Agni missile last month. Coupled with other missiles, which we have already tested, this will strengthen India's defence against any military adventures aimed at us.
12. In our continuing quest for self-reliance, the manufacture of many types of defence equipment has been opened up to the private sector, so that our national security can benefit from the impressive capabilities developed in recent decades by private Indian companies. They may now apply for licenses to set up defence industries, and to establish collaborations with public-sector defence undertakings. Such companies can also have foreign direct investment of up to 26 percent of the equity. This will impart a new vigour to indigenous defence production and exports.
13. Internal security has now become an integral part of national security. The Union Government, in close cooperation with State Governments, has been taking necessary steps to strengthen internal security throughout the country. Today terrorism and organized crime pose the most serious threat to internal security. They also endanger our external security and our national unity because of their well-known links to the network of anti-India forces in our neighbourhood. The Government therefore thought it necessary to put in place a federal law to deal effectively and expeditiously with terrorist offences. In this exercise, it was also guided by similar laws already in place in some States or being considered in others. Accordingly, the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance 2001 was promulgated on October 24, 2001. Since Parliament could not pass the Bill to replace it, this ordinance had to be re-promulgated. While doing so, the Government took care to seek suggestions from various political parties and made suitable modifications.
14. Maintenance of communal harmony and adherence to the secular ideals of our Constitution are the bedrock of our national ethos. I wish to record with much satisfaction that, in keeping with the trend in recent years, there have been relatively fewer incidents of communal violence in 2001. However, the Government will continue to maintain vigil against those who try to foment communal trouble. Towards this end, it has banned some fundamentalist organizations for their anti-national activities. I appeal to the people and to all political and non-political organizations to do everything they can to fortify peace and amity in our multi-religious society and, thereby, further strengthen the bonds of national unity.
15. The Ayodhya dispute is one of the contentious issues before the Nation. Its amicable and speedy resolution is crucial for communal harmony and national integration. The Government is firmly of the view that this dispute can be resolved, either through mutual agreement among all the parties concerned, or through a verdict of the judiciary. To facilitate a resolution of this dispute, an Ayodhya Cell has been recently created in the Cabinet Secretariat. The Government of India, being the statutory receiver, is duty bound to maintain the status quo at the disputed site in Ayodhya. It will also ensure that all necessary measures will be taken to ensure the preservation of law and order.
16. Peace, security, and development in the North East continue to receive my Government's focussed attention. Militancy and extremism are the chief obstacles to tranquility, prosperity, and welfare in the region. The mischievous hand of anti-India forces in the neighbourhood is clearly at work behind many of these extremist groups. The Government will deal firmly with those who have taken to the path of violence. However, it is ready to hold talks with all those who reject the culture of the gun. Simultaneously, it will continue to respond sensitively to the grievances of the people in this multi-ethnic region. For the first time, a special Ministry for the Development of the North Eastern Region has been set up. The North Eastern Council has been strengthened. Tardy implementation of various developmental projects, for which large sums have been set aside, has long been the bane of the North East. The new Ministry has begun to reverse this state of affairs. I urge all the State Governments in the region to fully cooperate in this endeavour.
17. The peace process in Nagaland has been strengthened with the satisfactory progress of talks with various militant groups. What is especially heartening in the last one year is that the people of Nagaland have come out strongly in favour of peace, dialogue, and development, often by staging spontaneous mass activities. Mizoram has already been reaping the benefits of peace. The Government will fully support the efforts of all the other North-Eastern States to emulate their example.
18. A healthy economy is vital to secure our twin objectives of national security and all-round development. The slowdown in the global economy has also affected India. There was a decline in the rate of growth in 2000-2001. However, the advance estimates for the current year show a pick-up in growth to 5.4 percent, restoring India to the group of the five fastest growing large economies in the world. However, this rate of growth is neither sufficient nor satisfactory. We need to accelerate a host of reforms to enable our economy to reach a trajectory of growth of 8 percent and above. This alone can ensure success in our objective of doubling per capita income in the next ten years and reducing the number of people living below the poverty line by half. Realizing the urgency of this task, the Government has constituted a Cabinet Committee on Economic Reforms, with the mandate of drawing up, facilitating, and monitoring the implementation of the reform agenda.
19. The Tenth Five-Year Plan begins this year. The Approach Paper to the Plan aims at the stepping up the growth rate of GDP to 8 percent a year over the Plan period 2002-2007. It also proposes to establish specific, monitorable targets covering economic, social, and environmental dimensions of human development. The attainment of Plan targets is contingent on our ability to significantly increase the investment rate in our economy; step up the productivity of existing capital assets; undertake second generation policy reforms to improve the efficiency of new investment; and facilitate and encourage a deepening and broadening of reforms in all the States.
20. I join all of you in extending hearty congratulations to our kisans who have once again produced a bumper crop. The output of foodgrains is projected to touch a new high of 210 million tonnes in 2001-2002, from 196 million tonnes last year. With production of 81 million tonnes of milk during 2000-2001, India continues to be the world's largest producer of dairy products. We have also made impressive strides in many other areas of agricultural production.
21. The Government proposes to respond to the new situation with several measures to free Indian agriculture from the shackles of the past. The Essential Commodities Act will be modified. Restrictions on inter-State movement of agricultural commodities will be removed to enable farmers to realize better prices. The sugar industry, which has already begun to benefit from de-licensing, will also be fully decontrolled soon. For the first time, sugar mills have been allowed to supply ethanol to be mixed with petrol and diesel, up to five percent. This will not only result in savings in our oil imports, but also add to the commercial viability of our sugar mills. Above all, the sugarcane farmer will be able to gain a higher price. The Government is committed to strengthening the cooperative sector by enabling it to reap the full benefits of economic reforms. Timely and adequate credit is almost as important as timely and adequate water supply in the development of agriculture. The Government will take steps to strengthen rural credit cooperatives, which provide this critical input to kisans at their doorsteps, for the sake of agricultural sustainability and farmers' well-being.
22. Food security of the poorest of the poor is the first priority of our agricultural policy. Accordingly, the allocation of foodgrains under Targetted Public Distribution System (TPDS) for BPL families, which was increased from 10 kilos per family per month to 20 kilos per family per month from April 2000, has been further increased to 25 kilos per family per month from July 2001. The Central Issue Price of foodgrains for APL families has also been reduced to about seventy percent of the economic cost. In addition, more than three million tonnes of foodgrains have been allotted to eleven States affected by drought or other natural calamities, free of cost, since January 2001 for undertaking the Food for Work programmes.
23. Wastage and losses in production, transportation, and distribution continue to be a major bane of the food economy in India. It is estimated that the harvest and post-harvest losses in agricultural commodities are over Rs. 70,000 crore each year. The Government proposes to formulate a comprehensive strategy to check these losses.
24. India's cattle wealth is one of the neglected areas of our rural economy. Last year the Government set up a "National Commission on Cattle" to review the relevant laws relating to protection, preservation, development, well being, and movement of cattle, and to ensure improved functioning of gaushalas, gausadans, and pinjarapoles. The recommendations of the Commission will be given serious consideration.
25. Industrial growth at 2.2 percent in April-November 2001 is lower than 6 percent achieved in April-November 2000. This decline in industrial growth is attributable to various factors including external slowdown, the business cycles, inherent adjustment lags of corporate restructuring, etc. and the consequent decline in both consumer and investment demand.
26. Despite the slowdown in certain sectors of our economy, its fundamentals continue to be robust. Inflation has touched a new low, the lowest in the last two decades. Our foreign exchange reserves are at a record level. Foreign direct investment has risen. Despite a hardening of international prices of petroleum products during the course of last year, the country's balance of payments situation has remained comfortable. India's exports continued to show positive growth. Indeed, the rate of growth in the last fiscal year was the highest in the past decade.
27. India successfully defended her national interests at the WTO Ministerial Conference in Doha last year. We coordinated with like-minded developing countries to highlight various implementation concerns arising from the Uruguay Round Agreements. We also ensured that the subsequent round of trade negotiations would address the key concerns of the developing world.
28. The various policy reforms unveiled by the Government in the past few years to improve the economic environment and remove infrastructure bottlenecks have begun to show results. This is clearly seen in the crucial sector of telecom services. I am happy to inform the Honourable Members that India now adds one thousand telephone lines every hour. The number of cellular phone subscribers has crossed 5.7 million from a mere 1.2 million in 1999. The number of fixed line connections has risen to more than 36 million from 21 million in 1999. Many more Indians today have access to telecom services, including in rural and remote areas. But, unbelievably, they are also paying far less than before. The STD rates have fallen by up to 62 percent. Today, a farmer can make calls to many places in his district almost at local call rates.