President's priorities: Electoral reforms, eliminate corruption
Committing itself to improving the quality of governance and enhancing transparency, it promised to eliminate corruption in public life through a series of steps, besides electoral reforms and ensuring accountability in judiciary.
The government promises were contained in the address by President Pratibha Patil to the joint sitting of Parliament, which marks the commencement of the budget session.
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Image: President Pratibha Patil, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Speaker Meira Kumar, Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari, Union Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal being led in a ceremonial procession to Parliament for the budget session
'Government committed to improve quality of governance'
The other priorities of the government would be to sustain the momentum of inclusive economic growth, maintain an "uncompromising vigil" on internal and external security fronts and to pursue a foreign policy, which will protect India's interest in the global fora.
Against the backdrop of a series of scams that has hit the government, the President said, "Our citizens deserve good governance; it is their entitlement and our obligation. My government stands committed to improving the quality of governance and enhancing transparency, probity and integrity in public life."
Image: President Pratibha Patil
Fast-tracking of cases against corrupt officials on the agenda
She noted that a Group of Ministers was considering all measures, including legislative and administrative, to tackle corruption and improve transparency.
The group will consider issues relating to the formulation of a public procurement policy and enunciation of public procurement standards, review and abolition of discretionary powers enjoyed by ministers.
Introduction of open and competitive system of exploiting the natural resources, fast-tracking of cases against public servants charged with corruption and amendments to laws for quicker action against them is also part of terms of reference of the GoM.
Image: Former Maharashtra CM Ashok Chavan and former telecom minister A Raja had to step down for their alleged involvement in the Adarsh and 2G scams respectively
'Will bring back black money stashed abroad'
Touching upon the raging controversy of black money stashed abroad in secret accounts, the President said the issue has attracted a lot of attention in the recent past.
"My government will spare no effort in bringing back to India what belongs to it and bring the guilty to book," she asserted.
Patil said the government "fully shares the concern about the ill-effects of black money, whether generated by evasion of taxes on income earned legitimately or through illegal activities.
"My government stands committed to tackling the menace frontally. It requires diligent, sustained effort by all law enforcement agencies, including those of state governments," she said.
The President said the government has taken many steps to strengthen the legal framework, build new institutions and improve capacity to tackle this problem.
A multi-disciplinary study has been commissioned to go into its ramifications for national security and recommend a suitable framework to tackle it.
The government is also working closely with the international community, especially through the G-20, to expedite the process of identification and recovery of such money, she said.
'Rs 34,601 cr more tax collected'
"My government has taken steps to facilitate exchange of information for tax purposes with such countries and entities where Indian citizens have parked their money.
"The early results have been encouraging. These steps have led to additional collection of taxes of Rs 34,601 crore and detection of additional income of Rs 48,784 crore," Patil said.
'Internal security scenario under control'
Referring to the internal security situation, the President said the country has "gone through a difficult year" as certain parts of the country suffered from "unacceptably high levels of violence", especially areas affected by Left-wing extremism and Kashmir valley.
However, in the rest of the country, she said, except one or two incidents of terror, in Pune and Varanasi, the internal security scenario has been largely under control.
The increase in police personnel, with emphasis on recruitment from areas affected by Left-wing extremism, has begun to show results, she said. The government has recently approved an integrated action plan for 60 selected tribal and backward districts in nine states in order to address the felt needs of the local population, Patil said.
She said the situation in Jammu and Kashmir has improved with a number of proactive measures taken by the central and state governments and interlocutors have been engaged fruitfully in their endeavours.With regard to the North East, she said intensive engagement with various groups has largely reduced violence in those states.
Electoral reforms on the cards
On electoral reforms, the President said she was sure that all parties across the political spectrum supported the need for bringing about such reforms.
"I am happy to share with the honourable members that my government has constituted a committee on electoral reforms to fast-track the process," she said, adding that the committee has held regional conferences which will culminate in a national conference in April this year.
"It is expected that this process of consultation would lead to an acceptable agenda of reforms," she said.
About the judiciary, Patil said the government attached high priority to improving the delivery of justice and reducing delays in the disposal of cases.
The details of the National Mission for Delivery of Justice and Legal Reforms are expected to be finalised soon, she said, adding that this should result "re-engineering" of procedures, improving of human resources and leveraging of information technology.
"The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, already introduced in Parliament, is intended to enhance the accountability of the judiciary, thereby improving its image and efficiency," she said.
Women's Reservation Bill on top of mind
She said the government also proposes to introduce a bill regarding protection of children from sexual offences.
Touching upon foreign policy, the President said India seeks a peaceful resolution of issues with Pakistan through a "meaningful dialogue" so long as it does not allow its soil to be used for terrorist activities against India.
Maintaining that India has an abiding interest in peace, stability and development of countries in its extended neighbourhood, she referred to the "momentous events" in Egypt and said that "as a democracy ourselves, we welcome the dawn of democracy elsewhere."
Image: Women Opposition leaders celebrate the passage of the Bill in Rajya Sabha