President Ram Nath Kovind Monday strongly pitched for simultaneous elections to Parliament and the state assemblies, saying frequent polls posed a “huge burden” on resources and impeded the development process. Delivering his maiden address to the joint sitting of the two Houses of Parliament, he referred to several initiatives taken by the government for the benefit of the people, including projects to provide housing, uninterrupted power supply and LPG connections to the poor.
He also expressed hope that the bill to ban instant triple talaq will soon become a law and the Muslim women can lead a life of dignity and a life of self-respect with courage. Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, union ministers, BJP President Amit Shah, Congress President Rahul Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi were among those present in the Central Hall when Kovind delivered his first speech as the President.
Observing that the people were concerned about frequent elections in one part of the country or another, Kovind said regular polls “adversely impact the economy and development”.
“Frequent elections not only impose a huge burden on human resources but also impede the development process due to the promulgation of the model code of conduct,” he said.
The President said “a sustained debate is required on the subject of simultaneous elections and all political parties need to arrive at a consensus on this issue.” His remarks came days after the Prime Minister made a strong pitch for holding the polls together.
“Dream of a New India does not belong to one political party or organisation. … To fulfil this dream, we all have to work together with complete dedication,” he said.
On triple talaq, he said the government has tabled a bill on the issue in Parliament. “I hope that the Parliament will soon pass it into a law.”
“For decades, the dignity of Muslim women has remained captive to political cost-benefit. Now the Nation has an opportunity to emancipate them from this situation. … once enacted, (it) will enable Muslim sisters and daughters to live a life of self-respect with courage,” Kovind said.
He said the government was “committed to ‘Empowerment and not Appeasement'” of the minorities by making intensive efforts for their economic, social and educational empowerment.
Employment opportunities have been provided to the youth belonging to Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, Parsi and Jain communities through programmes ‘Seekho Aur Kamao’, ‘Usttad’, ‘Garib Nawaz Kaushal Vikas Yojana’ and ‘Nai Roshni’, he said.
Referring to the terrorist violence in some parts of Jammu and Kashmir, he said these incidents were “directly related to cross-border infiltration. With better coordination, our Army, paramilitary Forces and Jammu Kashmir Police are giving a befitting response to the perpetrators”.
Regarding the situation in the Northeast as well as in the Maoist-violence hit areas, the President said there has been a reduction in such incidents and the situation has witnessed some improvement. “My Government has kept open the path of dialogue with those who wish to shun violence and join the mainstream, while reposing faith in the Constitution.”
On the economic front, he said India’s growth rate remained “impressive despite global economic slow-down”. During the first quarter of 2016-17, the economy witnessed a temporary slowdown in GDP growth. The second quarter of 2017-18, however, has seen a reversal of this trend.
“In the last three and a half years, the rate of inflation as well as the government’s fiscal and current account deficits have, on an average, shown a decline,” he said, adding the Foreign Exchange Reserves have risen to a level of over USD 410 billion.
Maintaining that the government was seeking to achieve economic integration of the country, he said the government has introduced GST, “which is the biggest tax-reform since Independence”.
He said the banks were also being revitalised and the banking system made transparent, with the government deciding to “recapitalise the public sector banks by infusing more than Rs 2 lakh crore of capital into them”.
“Our fight against corruption continues. Towards this end, registration of about 3.5 lakh dubious companies has been cancelled in the last one year,” he said.
The President also referred to several schemes including those to prevent damage to agriculture produce, ensuring its safe storage, enhancing the income of farmers and increasing the production of urea. Kovind said his government was committed to connect all villages with roads and was making efforts to double farm income by 2022.
On the global front, he said “the intensity of our international engagements has helped us shape a diverse and purposeful agenda with our global partners. There has been a consolidation of relations with friendly countries and major powers”.
The common desire of the South Asian region for greater prosperity and development led most of its nations to make common cause in their opposition to terrorism, he said, adding the membership of the Missile Technology Control Regime and signing of the Memorandum of Obligations of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation were reflections of India’s growing role in global affairs.