If the ‘aam aadmi’ is paying more for food, one of the reasons is that his income has risen, President Pratibha Patil said in her address to the joint sitting of Parliament on Monday at the start of the Budget session.

The speech listed out the United Progressive Alliance government’s achievements and priorities in the economic and social sphere, besides providing an account of the main foreign policy developments of the past year.

Despite the impact of the global economic slowdown, the President said India has continued to grow “at an impressive rate.” The goal for the next two years was to achieve a 9 per cent growth rate by 2011-12. But she acknowledged weaknesses on the agriculture and food fronts.

Taking note of the “unhappy pressure” on the price of food and food grains, Ms. Patil said higher prices were inevitable given the shortfall in domestic production and high global prices for rice, cereals and edible oils.

“They are also to some extent a reflection of the implementation of our schemes of inclusive growth involving paying higher procurement prices to our farmers and the impact of higher public spending on programmes of rural development, which have successfully raised incomes in rural areas.”

Highlighting the proposed food security legislation, the President said India needed sustained efforts at increasing agricultural productivity combined with a comprehensive reform of the public distribution system and open market intervention.

Detailing the government’s concern for minority rights, Ms. Patil noted that credit flow to the minority communities had risen to Rs. 82,000 crore last year. In addition, recruitment of minorities had gone up, taking their overall representation in Central government jobs from 7 per cent in 2006-07 to 9 per cent in 2008-09. Turning to foreign policy matters, the President reiterated that India “is ready to explore a meaningful relationship with Pakistan if Pakistan seriously addresses the threat of terrorism and takes effective steps to prevent terrorist activities against India.”

The government remains vigilant against all forms of challenges posed by terrorism, she said. “Zero tolerance of terrorist activities is our principled policy.”

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