President charts government’s five-year economic agenda

June 4th, 2009 - 2:06 pm ICT by IANS  

Pratibha Patil New Delhi, June 4 (IANS) President Pratibha Patil Thursday outlined the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s broad agenda for the next five years, with economic revival, infrastructure development, financial sector reforms and divestments in state-run enterprises being accorded high priority.
“Our immediate priority must be to focus on management of the economy that will counter the effect of the global slowdown by a combination of sectoral and macro-level policies,” Patil said during her address to a joint session of parliament.

“My government will focus attention on sectors that are adversely affected - especially small and medium enterprises, exports, textiles, commercial vehicles, infrastructure and housing,” she said.

This was the president’s first joint address after the national elections that gave a second term to the UPA government under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and constituted the 15th Lok Sabha. Her speech was earlier cleared by the cabinet.

The president also said the government will seek to remove bottlenecks and delays in implementing infrastructure projects, especially in the railways, power, highways, ports, airports and rural telecom sectors.

“Infrastructure is a fundamental enabler for a modern economy and infrastructure development will be a key focus area for the next five years. Public investment in infrastructure is of paramount importance,” Patil maintained.

She ruled out privatisation of state-run enterprises, but said a road map will be prepared for the public at large to hold stakes in them and to list them on stock exchanges.

“Our fellow citizens have every right to own part of the shares of public sector companies while the government retains majority shareholding and control,” she said, adding the state will continue to hold 51 percent or higher control.

The president also hinted at reforms in the financial sector, saying steps will be taken to pump more capital into banks and enact legislation to set up a pension regulator - a precursor to allowing foreign equity in this area.

“Our country has benefited from large foreign direct investment flows in recent years. These flows, especially foreign direct investment, need to be encouraged through an appropriate policy regime,” she said.

“There is also a need to augment resources in the banking and insurance sectors in order to permit them to serve the needs of the society better.”

The president said in no uncertain terms that subsidies needed to be reoriented as finding money for infrastructure and other developmental projects will be a daunting task, especially since the government was committed to fiscal responsibility.

“This will require that all subsidies reach only the truly needy and poor sections of our society. A national consensus will be created on this issue and necessary policy changes implemented,” Patil maintained.

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