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February 22, 1999


Lahore Declaration is a landmark, says President

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Sheikh Manzoor Ahmed in New Delhi

President K R Narayanan today said the Lahore Declaration, signed by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharief last evening, is a landmark event for the peace and security of the two countries and it opens a 'new chapter in our bilateral ties'.

Addressing the joint session of Parliament on the opening day of the Budget session, the President said India and Pakistan ''will now work to enter into an agreement to put in place far-reaching confidence-building measures''.

The two countries have identified new and significant areas of cooperation such as information technology and decided to address 'humantarian issues at the ministerial level on a priority basis', Narayanan said.

He said Vajpayee's historic initiative for the welfare of the people of the two countries and his reiteration that a ''secure, stable and prosperous Pakistan is in India's interest'' will mark a new chapter in the bilateral ties.

In his 16-page address, covering national and international matters, the President said India's relationship with its neighbours has been considerably strengthened.

Referring to the imposition of President's rule in Bihar, the President said Bihar has witnessed a series of massacres of innocent people, many of them dalits, in recent times.

''These mass killings have brought immense pain and anguish to all of us,'' he said and added that the first duty of any government is to protect the life and property of its citizens, especially those who are poor and socially oppressed.

In this situation, the state government could not have continued in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. He expressed the government's firm commitment to fully protect the minorities.

Referring to the recent incidents in Gujarat, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh, he said these have been seen as an aberration, which do not reflect the national ethos.

The state governments have been advised to quickly apprehend the culprits in all the cases. The government's record in maintaining peace and communal harmony is shown by the fact that 1998 had fewest deaths due to communal violence as compared to the last 10 years, he said.

The President expressed satisfaction over the effective efforts to control terrorism and subversive activities in various parts of the country. There has been a conspicuous turnaround in the law and order situation in Jammu and Kashmir. This is reflected in the recovery of the tourist traffic, which had virtually dried up in the preceding decade. The government will continue its efforts to strengthen peace in the state and revive the normal economic, social and cultural activity. The government is committed to ensure the early return of many Kashmiris to their homes and hearths, he added.

Referring to the situation in the North-East, the President said the government proposes to repeal the Illegal Migrants (determination by tribunal) Act, 1983.

Similarly, holding of the national games in Imphal is an indication of many possibilities that exist for accelerating the process of emotional integration and bringing the people of the region into the national mainstream.

On the nuclear tests at Pokhran last year, the President said the government took the step after a careful appraisal of the national security needs.

India's nuclear doctrine is based on minimum deterrence and it is firmly opposed to an arms race in the region, he said. ''We shall redouble our efforts to champion a cause that has always been sacred to us -- namely securing world peace through speedy, universal and comprehensive dismantling of all weapons of mass destruction.''

He criticised some countries for imposing technology restrictions on India. The nation is meeting this unwarranted action with determination and will emerge stronger and self-reliant, he added.

He lauded nuclear scientists, the DRDO and defence production units for their concerted efforts in developing indigenous capabilities to meet the requirements of advanced technology and equipment for the country's defence and developmental needs.

The President painted a grim picture of the economic situation of the country. The finances of both the central and the state governments are under severe strain. The aggregate deficit has increased in recent years, besides having inflationary potential. This is causing severe consequences on interest rates, investment and growth.

It is therefore imperative for the central and the state governments to reduce the revenue and fiscal deficits by cutting wasteful and low-priority expenditure. Determined efforts should also be made to mobilise resources, including appropriate cost-recovery policies.

The government has decided to accede to the Paris Convention for the protection of industrial property and the Patent Cooperation Treaty. This will improve the industrial climate by increasing the information flow, provide better protection for Indian inventors, and encourage technological development.

The Insurance Regulatory Authority bill is similarly intended to strengthen the insurance sector and enable it to seize the opportunities that globalisation offers.

He said the government is formulating a new national policy on agriculture to strengthen cropping and agro-based industries. The policy seeks to boost irrigation, especially through small and medium projects, increase the viability of small and marginal farmers, and enhance farm productivity through better management of natural resources and introduction of technological and institutional changes.

Efforts will also be made to expand and revitalise agricultural cooperatives and other rural credit institutions to enable them to seize the opportunities offered by liberalisation.


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