India is planning its first mission to Mars this year, says Pranab

Even as the strike by labour unions against government policies rocked the nation, President Pranab Mukherjee on Thursday said the economic slowdown was due to a combination of global and domestic factors. The Centre, he said, was taking steps to revive investor confidence and one significant measure was the rollout of the Direct Benefits Transfer Scheme.

“In due course, the scheme will also cover wages and subsidies on food and LPG, help cut down leakages, bring millions of people in the financial system and lead to better targeting of beneficiaries,” he told the joint sitting of Parliament heralding the budget session.

The speech was marked by protests from several MPs — while the Left parties stayed away in solidarity with trade unions, MPs seeking Telangana state raised slogans.

Describing last year as “a difficult one for the global economy with Europe in recession,” Mr. Mukherjee said there was moderation in core inflation and recovery in growth was likely. Real Gross Domestic Product grew by 5.4 per cent in the first half of this fiscal as against an average of 8 per cent in the last decade.

Amid concerns of downturn in the economy, he said India planned several space missions in 2013, including its first mission to Mars, and launch of India’s first navigational satellite. India had been polio-free for two years and was registering a decline in HIV prevalence, maternal mortality, infant mortality and total fertility rates.

In his hour-long address listing the achievements of the UPA government, his only reference to inflation — which has brought the country to a halt in the last two days — was: “inflation is easing gradually but is still a problem.”

On corruption, Mr. Mukherjee said the government would soon introduce the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, the Whistleblowers’ Protection Bill and the Citizens’ Rights to Grievance Redress Bill. Amendments to the Prevention of Corruption Act “to punish the guilty and protect the honest public servants more effectively” were under consideration.

Expressing “deep concern” over incidents of sexual offences against women, the President said the government considered the recommendations of the Justice J.S. Verma Committee and promulgated an Ordinance amending the criminal law to provide for stringent punishment for heinous sexual offences against women. The government had begun to implement a series of administrative measures to improve the security of women.

Left-wing extremism

Reiterating the UPA’s commitment to deal with left-wing extremism through a two-pronged approach of conducting proactive and sustained operations against extremists and focussing on development issues, he said incidents of violence had shown a declining trend in 2012.

Ties with Pakistan

Mr. Mukherjee said India was committed to normalising relations with Pakistan but it was important that Islamabad abided by its commitments and desisted from “trust deficit” acts.

He said: “We are making progress in our engagement with Sri Lanka, including our efforts to resettle and rehabilitate the internally displaced persons there and to ensure a life of peace, dignity and equality for the Tamil people.”

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