‘Zero tolerance’ for attacks against women, vows India’s new government

The government's pledge to strengthen the criminal justice system comes amid outrage over a wave of sexual attacks against women.

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NEW DELHI // India’s new government pledged on Monday to fix the flagging economy and provide water, power and toilets to every home as it laid out its agenda following prime minister Narendra Modi’s landslide election victory.

In an address to both houses of parliament, president Pranab Mukherjee said India’s economy faced “extremely difficult” times and that inflation was “unacceptably” high, as he outlined the government’s legislative priorities.

The speech, which was drawn up by Mr Modi’s new cabinet, included ambitious plans to overhaul India’s dilapidated roads, and to build a high-speed train network and more airports.

The speech included goals that had been laid out in the election manifesto of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), including creating 100 new cities to assist the millions flocking from rural areas every year searching for work.

“The country is passing through an extremely difficult phase on the economic front,” Mr Mukherjee told lawmakers. “Putting the economy back on track is paramount for my government.

“We will work together to usher our economy into a high growth path, rein in inflation, reignite the investment cycle, accelerate job creation and restore the confidence of the domestic as well as international community.”

India’s economy has been growing at below five per cent for the past two years, way below the level needed to lift millions of people out of poverty, while inflation is currently running close to nine per cent.

Mr Modi’s right-wing BJP, which thrashed the centre-left Congress party in marathon polls in April and May, made reviving the economy the main platform of its campaign as well as promising to clean up government.

The government promised every family home would have basic amenities by the year 2022, an ambitious goal in a country where nearly half the population is forced to defecate in the open and millions live without electricity.

“Every family will have a pukka (solid) house with water connection, toilet facilities, 24X7 electricity supply and access,” Mr Mukherjee said.

Amid outrage over a wave of sexual attacks of women, the government pledged a “zero-tolerance” approach and to strengthen the criminal justice system regarded as inefficient and inept.

“In the recent past, the country has witnessed some gruesome incidents of violence against women. The government will have a policy of zero tolerance for violence against women,” the president said.

Focused on reviving the economy, the government would encourage foreign investment, speed up approvals for business projects and create jobs in the manufacturing and tourism sectors, he added.

And it would make “every effort” to fulfil its pre-election promise of a new general sales tax, Mr Mukherjee said, and streamline India’s tax regime to make it less “adversarial.”

The president acknowledged public anger over corruption that plagued the previous Congress government, pledging a “predictable, transparent and fair” administration as well as a crackdown on illegal money leaving the country.

“My government is determined to rid the country of the scourge of corruption and the menace of black money,” he said.

On defence, the Modi government committed to overhauling procurement procedures and policies and better equipping the military.

It also pledged to “engage energetically” with rival giant China, with Japan, and in areas including trade, investment, science and technology with the United States, the president said.

The pledge comes as the two countries look to rebuild strained ties with Mr Modi, who is expected to travel to the US later this year to meet president Barack Obama.

The election of the Hindu nationalist Mr Modi posed a headache for the US which refused him a visa in 2005 when he was chief minister of Gujarat.

The refusal stemmed from claims he turned a blind eye to anti-Muslim riots in the western state three years earlier that killed some 1,000 people. Modi denies the allegations.

* Agence France-Presse