New Delhi, Jan 29: The Modi government on Monday called for a sustained debate for a political consensus on simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and state assemblies, which it said was needed to avoid frequent polls that put a burden on economy and governance, and hamper development.
The call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's pet theme came in the speech of President Ram Nath Kovind to members of both the Houses of Parliament in his customary address at the start of the Budget Session, his first after assuming office in July last year.
Outlining the government's plans for the coming financial year, Kovind also expressed the hope that Parliament will soon pass a Bill criminalizing triple talaq, stalled in the Rajya Sabha, which once enacted will "enable Muslim sisters and daughters to live a life of self-respect with courage".
In a 45 minute-long speech, the President also touched on the subject of internal security, claiming significant improvement in the situation with security forces doing a good job in the northeast, Jammu and Kashmir and in handling Maoist insurgency.
"Citizens alive to the state of governance in the country are concerned about the frequent elections in one part of the country or another, which adversely impact the economy and development.
"Frequent elections not only impose a huge burden on human resources but also impede the development process due to the promulgation of the model code of conduct. Therefore, a sustained debate is required on the subject of simultaneous elections and all political parties need to arrive at a consensus on this issue."
Referring to the triple talaq bill, the President said for decades, the dignity of Muslim women had remained captive to political cost-benefit.
"Now the nation has an opportunity to emancipate them. My government has tabled a Bill on triple talaq in Parliament. I hope that Parliament will soon pass it into a law."
On internal security in the country, the President said terrorist violence in the interiors of Jammu and Kashmir was directly related to cross-border infiltration.
"With better coordination, the Army, paramilitary forces and Jammu and Kashmir Police are giving a befitting response to the perpetrators.
"There has been a reduction in incidents of Naxal-Maoist violence. For this, the enlightened citizens of the region, our military, paramilitary and police forces deserve to be congratulated. We commend all our security personnel and pay heartfelt tribute to the martyrs."
He said the government had kept open the path of dialogue with those who wish to shun violence and join the mainstream while reposing faith in the Constitution.
Kovind said the government had also sanctioned over Rs 18,000 crore for the modernization of police forces.
The President also touched on Modi's New India initiative and said each citizen of the country had a role to play in "nation building".
"It is our responsibility to exhibit exemplary conduct before the nation. The completion of time bound goals towards nation building is our collective responsibility. Attaining these goals by 2022, when the nation celebrates the 75th year of Independence, would not only fulfil the dream of our freedom fighters and founding fathers but also strengthen the foundation of New India.
He said dream of a New India did not belong to one political party or organization but was an embodiment of the aspirations and expectations of 130 crore countrymen.
The President called on all citizens to work towards achieving the ideals of "equality and fraternity enshrined in our Constitution.
"Let us move ahead together in one direction with full commitment and energy towards creating a glorious India."
Committing the government to the welfare of weaker sections, he said the government was working towards strengthening social justice and economic democracy and to usher ease of living for the common man.
He said the government had taken up the strengthening of financial institutions on priority that resulted in India's growth rate remaining impressive despite global economic slowdown.
"During the first quarter of 2016-17, the economy witnessed a temporary slowdown in GDP growth. The second quarter of 2017-18, however, has seen a reversal of this trend. In the last three and a half years, the rate of inflation as well as government's fiscal and current account deficits have, on an average, shown a decline."
He also said the government was committed to doubling income of farmers by 2022, and agriculture mandis were being connected online to ensure remunerative price to the farmers for their produce.
"So far, agricultural commodities valued at about Rs 36,000 crore have been traded on e-NAM portal." he said.
By way of further strengthening economic democracy, the President said, under the Jan Dhan scheme so far about 31 crore bank accounts have been opened for the poor while under the Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojna about 10 crore loans have been sanctioned with over Rs 4 lakh crore worth of loans disbursed.
Declaring that the government was working actively and with sensitivity to remove the feeling of economic insecurity among the poor, farmers and senior citizens, he said under the Prime Minister's crop insurance scheme 5.71 crore farmers were provided protective coverage in 2017,
"More than 18 crore poor have been covered under the ‘Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana' and ‘Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana' and about Rs 2,000 crore has been paid out as claims."
As regards senior citizens, 80 lakh people benefited under the Atal Pension scheme.
The President said the government was sensitive towards the aspirations of every section of the society and has introduced a Constitution amendment Bill to provide constitutional status to the National Commission for Backward Classes.
He said the government was committed to empowerment and not appeasement and was making "intensive efforts for economic, social and educational empowerment of the minorities.
"Keeping in mind the objective of women empowerment, for the first time since independence, the restriction on women above 45 years of age to perform Haj pilgrimage unaccompanied by their male relatives has been removed. This year, more than 1,300 women are going on Haj pilgrimage without mehram (male guardian)."