Prez speech provides window to govt vision
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President Kovind’s speech to the joint session of Parliament at the start of the budget session gave the outline of the Modi government’s policy push. Last year’s speech by Pranab Mukherjee and the consequent developments on the policy front showed the government has been using the occasion to showcase its vision to the people.

The President’s address to the joint session of Parliament at the start of budget session outlines the government’s direction. In terms of direction, this speech has begun to provide an insight into the government’s vision and a status report on India. President Ram Nath Kovind presented his maiden address sketching the contours of government policy with facts and figures even overshadowing a key document like the Economic Survey that was tabled a day later, on Monday.

Jan Dhan accounts

President Kovind set the ball rolling by stating that the gap between the country’s banking system and the poor had been bridged and claimed that the number of accounts in Jan Dhan Yojana had reached 31 crore. Last year, then President Pranab Mukherjee, had stated in his address that 26 crore Jan Dhan accounts had been opened. A detailed analysis of the president’s speech by independent data analysis group, PRS Legislative Research, showed that Jan Dhan accounts had crossed 31 crore mark by January 2018 out of which 59 per,cent were in the rural areas. Kovind also claimed that women have been the main beneficiaries as savings bank accounts held by them went up to 40 per cent against 28 per cent earlier.

Talking about the agriculture sector, Kovind said that during 2017, five crore 71 lakh farmers were covered under Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana. The PRS analysis showed that last year, President Mukherjee had talked about expansion of risk coverage and doubling of the sum insured.  The analysis showed that during Kharif 2016 and Rabi 2016-17, 5.7 crore farmers were covered. Till December 2017, the total sum insured under the scheme was Rs 2 lakh crore.

Digital India

Communication is at the centre of Modi government’s efforts to digitalise India. Kovind said that the Bharat Net Project had provided broadband connectivity to 2.50 lakh gram panchayats. “In the first phase, more than one lakh panchayats have already been connected. This project will play a major role in taking –health, e-education, e-governance and e-commerce to reach village of the country,” said the president.

President Kovind also mentioned the government’s sensitivity towards uplifting the status of backward classes. He said that a commission has been constituted to examine the sub-categorisation of backward classes so that the benefits of higher education and jobs can be availed by the deserving sections.

He said that the minimum support price of forest produce by the tribals had been enhanced. In a special emphasis on bamboo industry, which is the mainstay of tribal livelihood in the north east, he said it had been included in “adversely affected” category. Bamboo has been removed from the tree category, freeing it from its cutting and transportation.

The government had also claimed that minimum wages were increased by 42 per cent in both agriculture and non-agriculture sectors. The data shows that wages were revised upwards by 40 per cent. Minimum wages for non-agriculture sector were increased from Rs 250 to 350 for unskilled workers. For semi-skilled workers, the rates went up to Rs 437 and Rs 523 for skilled workers.

The Modi government stressed on empowerment of minorities instead of appeasement. President Kovind claimed that more than 45 lakh students benefitted from scholarships, fellowships, skill development and coaching schemes in the last one year. The government is running various programmes like Kamao, Ustaad, Garib Nawaz Kaushal Vikas Yojana and Nai Roshini. He also said that more than 1,300 women will go on Haj pilgrimage with Mehram (male companion).

Last year, Mukherjee had talked about the highest-ever allocation of Rs 47,000 crore for Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. The PRS study found that MGNREGS amount released by the Centre went up from Rs 47,412 crore in 2016-17 to Rs 50,009 crore in 2017-18.

Columnist: 
Gautam Datt