President Ram Nath Kovind on Friday strongly defended the three new agri laws saying their benefits have begun reaching 10 crore small farmers instantly, and condemned as 'very unfortunate' the Republic Day violence and 'dishonour' to the tricolour during the tractor parade by the protesting farm unions in New Delhi.
Kovind said this in his customary address to the joint sitting of Parliament that marks the start of the Budget session each year.
The speech, which is cleared by the Union Cabinet, outlines the government's work and agenda.
Without naming China, the President also slammed that country for its efforts to disrupt peace at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in 'utter disregard' of bilateral relations and agreements.
Hailing the security forces for foiling attempts to change the status quo at the border amid an 'unprecedented escalation' in tension, Kovind, who is also the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, said the government is 'vigilant' and that additional forces have been deployed to safeguard India's sovereignty.
The President's hour-long address was boycotted by over 20 opposition parties including the Congress in support of the demand of the protesting farmers for the repeal of the three farm laws.
Congress MP Ravneet Singh Bittu raised slogans like 'Jai Jawan Jai Kisan' during the address. Some opposition MPs were heard raising slogans in the Central Hall's gallery.
Terming the boycott as 'unfortunate', Bharatiya Janata Party leader and Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the opposition has violated parliamentary conventions.
Kovind also touched upon the government's efforts to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and the massive vaccination drive.
On the state of economy, he said the country has started emerging from the economic setback suffered due to the pandemic and that this is evident from several indicators.
With his speech coming at the time of a lengthy agitation by farmers at Delhi's border, Kovind highlighted the Modi government's efforts to give fillip to agriculture, especially small farmers, and also dwelt at length about its measures to boost economy, infrastructure, industry and helping the poor among others.
He also noted that the new farm reform laws enacted in September last year have immediately benefited 10 crore small farmers, and said various parties in the past had supported these measures.
Criticising the violence which marred the farmers' protest on the Republic Day on January 26, he said if the Constitution gives us the right to freedom of expression, it also teaches us to take laws and rules seriously.
Noting that the Supreme Court has put the implementation of the three laws on hold, Kovind said the government will respect whatever is the decision of the apex court.
"My Government has always respected freedom of expression and holding of peaceful agitations in a democratic set up. However, the recent acts of dishonouring the National Flag and showing disrespect to the auspicious occasion of the Republic Day are unfortunate," he said.
The President also said the rights and facilities available under the system prevailing before the enactment of the three new laws are not affected in any way.
"Rather, through these agricultural reforms, the government has provided new facilities to the farmers and has empowered them".
The need of the hour in the agricultural sector is to focus our attention on the small and marginal farmers who own only less than two hectares of land and comprise more than 80 per cent of the farmers in the country, he said, putting their numbers at over 10 crore.
"My government accords priority to these small and marginal farmers too. In order to provide expenditure support to these farmers, almost Rs 1,13,000 crore have been directly transferred to their bank accounts under Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi."
Against the backdrop of the Chinese aggression in eastern Ladakh, Kovind paid tributes to the 20 soldiers who made supreme sacrifices in a clash with the Chinese army at the Galwan valley in eastern Ladakh in June last year.
India and China are locked in a tense military standoff in eastern Ladakh since May 5 last.
When the country was grappling with COVID-19 pandemic, attempts were made to challenge its capability at the border, he said.
"Our security forces not only responded to these machinations with promptitude, force and courage, but also foiled all attempts to change the status quo at the border.
"The restraint, valour and courage displayed by our jawans, deserve utmost praise. My government is vigilant and fully committed to safeguarding the interests of the country."
Acknowledging that the Budget session is being held at a challenging time of COVID-19, he said no matter how big the challenge is, India will remain undeterred and asserted whenever the country has remained united, it has attained even seemingly unattainable goals.
The President expressed sadness that in the fight against the pandemic, India has lost many countrymen and paid homage to his predecessor Pranab Mukherjee and six MPs who passed away during the period last year.
On the the government's measures to fight the pandemic, he asserted that its timely decisions saved lives of lakhs of people while its record package helped the economy.
Over 80 crore poor people were provided free ration for eight months, he said.
Lauding the 'Aatmanirbhar Bharat' programme, the President said it is not just confined to manufacturing in India but is also a campaign aimed at elevating the standard of living of every Indian as well as boosting the self-confidence of the country.
He cited ancient philosopher Chanakya's assertion that a person who implores or begs is considered to be less valuable than even straw or cotton, to back India's self-reliance exercise.
This implies that in order to enhance our relevance or importance, the country must minimise its dependence on others and become self-reliant, he said.
The President in his address also referred to poetry of greats from Assam, Kerala and Bengal.
As he began his speech, he invoked 'Assam Kesari' Ambikagiri Raichaudhuri to highlight India's grandeur and give a call for unity, and later referred to Malayalam poet Vallathol, known for his patriotic poems. He ended his speech by invoking Jyotirindranath Tagore, elder brother of Rabindranath Tagore.
He also said it is a matter of immense pride that India is conducting the world's largest vaccination programme.
"Both the vaccines rolled out under this programme are produced indigenously."
Our country has faced every crisis with fortitude, be it the Coronavirus pandemic, floods, earthquakes or major cyclones in several States, locust attack or the bird flu, he said of the recent period.
"The recent past also saw an unprecedented escalation in tension along the border. The nation stood together, battled crises on multiple fronts and surmounted every challenge. During this period, we all have also witnessed the unparalleled courage, endurance, discipline and spirit of service of our countrymen," the President said.
He said the Centre is committed to countering all forces challenging India's sovereignty and unity and taking firm action against those inciting violence in the country.
After the abrogation of the provisions of Article 370 of the Constitution, the President said the people of Jammu and Kashmir have been empowered with new entitlements.
Noting that India is set to play a larger role in the future, he said his government is intent on strengthening the country's military preparedness with a range of modern armaments being procured to enhance the capabilities of the armed forces.
On issues relating to economy, he said that even during the difficult COVID-hit times India has emerged as an attractive destination for foreign investors.
Between April and August, 2020, a record foreign direct investment of 36 billion dollars has been made in India, he said.