President Ramnath Kovind on Monday lauded the health care professionals, the government’s massive vaccination drive against COVID–19 aided by the indigenous production of vaccines and the citizens “who displayed profound faith in the democratic values, discipline and sense of responsibility” during the pandemic entering its third year, in his address to the joint Houses of Parliament at the start of the Budget session .
The term of President Kovind will end mid year and this was possibly his last address to the joint Houses of Parliament. He chose to begin his address marking the country entering the third year of the pandemic and having gone through a horrific second wave last year. “The Covid pandemic affected the entire world and in India too many of our loved were snatched away from us. In these circumstances, the Central government, State governments, local governments and administration, our doctors, nurses and health workers, our scientists and entrepreneurs have worked as a team,” he said. He did however express hope, based on figures, that the economy was back on track to becoming one of the fastest growing economies in the world.
Steers clear of three farm laws
Unlike his address last year to the joint Houses of Parliament, however, President Kovind steered clear of any mention of the three contentious farm laws that were withdrawn by the government late last year. In the address in 2021, President Kovind spoke at length about the intent behind the three farm bills and criticised the incident that occurred last August at the Red Fort terming it as “dishonouring the national flag”. This year, however, he referred to policy interventions by the Central government to increase farm incomes, the income support scheme for small farmers (Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi), record production and government procurement of produce, agricultural imports crossing the ₹3–lakh crore mark and crop insurance schemes.
Free grain programme
A major part of the speech was on the spread of the vaccination drive undertaken by the government, with more than 70% of the adult population having had both doses and the free grain programme, the largest such programme in the world, which he said was an act of a “sensitive government” towards the most marginalised.
He mentioned the Pradhan Mantri Ayushman Bharat Yojana and the ₹64,000 crore outlay for it. The pharma sector came in for special praise by President Kovind who said, “So far eight vaccines have been approved for emergency use in the country. Three vaccines being manufactures in India have also got approval from the World Health Organisation (WHO) for emergency use. These vaccines manufactured in India are playing an important role in making the entire world free from the pandemic and saving crores of lives.”
Mentioning the provision for a Gender Inclusion Fund in the New Education Policy, he also noted that all 33 Sainik Schools had started admitting girl students. “Treating sons and daughters as equals, my government has also introduced a Bill to increase the minimum age of marriage for women from 18 years to 21 years at par with men.”
Prominent mention in the speech was the infrastructure push being given by the government and the digital payments boom being seen in recent years.
Marking climate change as one of the main challenges of the age, he lauded the government of India for “emerging as a responsible global voice” on the issue. “India has taken the initiative of ‘Green Grid Initiative: One Sun, One World, One Grid’ with the global community. It is the first international network of globally interconnected solar power grids,” he said.
Tamil Nadu MPs’ protest
At the start of President Kovind’s speech, the DMK and the Congress MPs raised slogans and displayed placards in the Central Hall protesting the delay by Tamil Nadu Governor R.N. Ravi in forwarding legislation related to NEET which was recently passed in the Assembly. No walkouts, however, took place.