Dr. Karan Singhji
I must begin by expressing my sense of deep anguish at the recent ferry tragedy in Assam. Our hearts go out to the hundreds of bereaved families and I extend my deep-felt condolences to them on our behalf.
It has been some time since I had the privilege of addressing you. Since our last meeting, we have faced challenges that have tested our resolve. But we have remained steadfast in our commitment to the aam admi and the weaker sections of society.
The recent Budget renews our priority for faster and inclusive growth. Pranabji has already responded to the debate of the Budget and the Finance Bill. Despite the tough fiscal situation, the Budget has increased allocations for key social programmes such as rural drinking water, sanitation and rural roads. It has increased the outlay for the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana substantially and has provided vastly enhanced resources for boosting paddy production in eastern India. Pensions for widows and the disabled have also been increased. Assistance to poor families who lose their primary bread winner has been doubled. The outlay for women and child development schemes have been increased significantly.
However, I do want to stress here that we must now have a sharper focus on improving the effectiveness of public expenditures, and not just remain content with increases in outlays. For instance, Aadhar now has the potential to offer a much better way to deliver pensions, scholarships, subsidies and Mahatma Gandhi NREGA wages directly to beneficiaries and eliminate inefficiencies, waste and corruption.
The Bill to ensure transparency in public procurement is expected to be introduced over the next few days. This legislation marks yet another milestone in our Party's and our Government's determination to enhance probity and accountability in public life. We are awaiting the Standing Committee Reports on a number of important legislations including those on Food Security and Land Acquisition, Resettlement & Rehabilitation. On our part we must do all we can to ensure that the legislative process is not unduly delayed. Whatever motives may guide the opposition, we have but one singular duty and that is to the people who have elected us, and expect Parliament to function constructively.
It seems to have become almost fashionable these days to criticize the government. We must not allow this deflect us. We must speak forcefully and with confidence on what we have achieved — and there is much we have to show despite difficult economic times. We must project our government's many accomplishments and our ambitious legislative agenda. And we must expose the opposition's double speak and its obstructive behaviour in blocking parliamentary proceedings.
There has been a lot of discussion in recent months on Centre-State relations. I would like to reiterate here that we are fully committed to strengthening federalism, which is a key tenet of our Party's and the UPA's agenda. What better evidence of this can there be than the unprecedented transfers of financial assistance from the Centre to the States these past eight years. But there are centre-state issues of major national importance - such as fighting terrorism or dealing with left-wing extremism - where the Centre cannot shirk its responsibility. In such cases, it has been our government's endeavour to work closely with the State governments so that our national interest is protected. Trust and cooperation must be the anchor of Centre-State relations.
Although there is still time for the Monsoon to break across the country, drought like situations have arisen in some states like Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. The Central government will, I am sure, extend the necessary assistance to the affected areas. Meanwhile our Party organization too must be active in relief and rehabilitation activities.
The results of the recently-concluded state assembly elections are before us. While we can take satisfaction in the fact that we returned to power in Manipur for the third time and formed the government in Uttarakhand, the results in Punjab and Goa were very disappointing. In Uttar Pradesh, even though we did not perform as well as we had hoped to, we increased our vote share quite considerably and were seen as a serious player for the first time in 22 years. Of course there is much work to be done there, as in other states.
As we approach a series of state elections in the coming months, we must draw upon the lessons of the previous polls. We must project our work as a central government, and expose the hollow claims of opposition-ruled state governments. Mis-governance and corruption have been widespread in some of these states as revealed by CAG and Lokayukta reports. It is for us all, particularly for our Party at the state level, to highlight these failures. Most importantly, we must shed all manner of factional behaviour, and fight as one disciplined team at all levels. That will be the single most important factor to decide whether we win or lose. People look to us -- but we need to show them our commitment and our unity if we are to convert this sentiment into electoral victories.
Friends, in four days time, we will be celebrating the 60th anniversary of the inaugural session of the very first Lok Sabha. The establishment of representative parliamentary democracy in India, anchored in secular, liberal and progressive values, is undoubtedly amongst the finest achievements of our Party. We gratefully acknowledge the wisdom and farsightedness of Jawaharlal Nehru and his colleagues who had the vision and confidence to set us on this path. We are proud of this legacy.
It obliges us to remain ever vigilant in our duty. We are, at the end of the day, the voice of those who cannot be heard and the strength of those who need it. We are a party whose history is tied inseparably with that of this nation. Let us never forget the responsibility that comes from this legacy.