Breaking away from past practices and traditions, President Pranab Mukherjee’s first address to the joint session of parliament was a chronology of the UPA government’s achievements rather a peep into the future plans. Every year, the governments in the past have used the President’s address at the beginning of the Budget session to unveil their policies and programmes.
Mukherjee, who wound up an hour-long lacklustre address with optimistic endeavour to march ahead as a "proud nation," was punctured by the Tamil Nadu and ruling National Conference (NC) MPs from Kashmir Valley. While the DMK and AIADMK MPs. were angry at the government's silence over the killing of the 12-year-old son of slain LTTE chief Prabhakaran by the Sri Lankan soldiers, the NC MP GN Ratanpuri was holding placards against the hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru. Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) MP Shafiqur Rehman Barg also raised slogans for granting the minority status to Aligarh Muslim University.
The only promises in the address were setting up the National Museum of Indian Cinema to be dedicated to the nation at Gulshan Mahal, Mumbai, to commemorate 100 years of the Indian cinema, plan to set up Wakf Development Corporation, passage of the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill in this session as a significant initiative towards judicial reforms. Other promises included expanding the mid-day meals that already covers 11 crore children in over 12 lakh schools to the pre-primary schools in a progressive manner, and amendments in the Prevention of Corruption Act to punish the guilty and protect the honest public servants.
While talking of an emerging "aspirational India," the President noted the gathering anxieties on economic slowdown, job security and employment prospects and noted the government's promise to create 100 million jobs within a decade by raising the manufacturing share to 25 per cent of GDP (Gross Domestic Product).
He also referred to the recent rollout of the Direct Benefits Transfer (DBT) system for flowing the government benefits such as scholarships, pensions and maternity benefits directly into the Aadhaar-based accounts of the beneficiaries, pointing out that in due course it will also cover wages and subsidies on food and LPG to cut down leakages.
While talking about the highest priority to relations with the immediate neighbours, he referred to take forward the process of normalisation of relations with Pakistan and asked it that it "abides by its commitments and desists from acts that contribute to a trust deficit." He, however, skipped any mention of terrorism from across the border and Pakistan's non-cooperation in bringing the 26/11 handlers to justice.
He also announced that a constitution amendment bill will be introduce to give effect to the land boundary agreement and 2011 protocol with Bangladesh much to the opposition of Trinamul Congress and the opposition BJP.
He said the government is "deeply concerned about incidents of sexual offences against women" and referred to an ordinance promulgated on the recommendations of the Justice JS Verma Committee to prescribe stringent punishment for heinous sexual offences against women and a series of administrative measures initiated to improve the safety and security of women in the country.