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MR. SPEAKER: Now, Shrimati Sonai Gandhi will speak. But before that I think the House will agree to extend the time of the House till the completition of today's business.

... (Interruptions)

MR. SPEAKER: Now Shrimati Sonia Gandhi will speak.

... (Interruptions)

ɽxn b (M): +vI ɽn, BE ɽi{h i Ex Sɽi * < nx {Uc Viɪ E ɮ SS xɽ < * ɹ]{i V E vxɴn |ɺiɴ <E SS xɽ *

... (ɴvx)

MR. SPEAKER: I have not allowed you. Please take your seat. There are other Members also who have not got the chance to speak.

... (Interruptions)

MR. SPEAKER: This will not go on record.

(Interruptions)*

MR. SPEAKER: Shri Mandal, please take your seat. This will not go on record.

(Interruptions)*

SHRI PRIYA RANJAN DASMUNSHI (RAIGANJ): Sir, what the Minister for Parliamentary Affairs is doing?

MR. SPEAKER: Shri Mandal, please take your seat. This will not go on record.

(Interruptions) *

... (Interruptions)

+vI ɽn : +{ ` V<B*

... (ɴvx)

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

* Not Recorded.

SHRI PRIYA RANJAN DASMUNSHI : Sir, I want to know whether he represents the NDA. ... (

ɴvx)

+vI ɽn : b V, +{ ` V<B*

SHRI RAJESH PILOT : Can we know which party he belongs to? Is he an Independent? Does he have a party?

SHRI PRIYA RANJAN DASMUNSHI : Which party does he belong to?

...(Interruptions)

MR. SPEAKER: Shri Mandal, please take your seat.

(Interruptions)

+vI ɽn : b V, ɽ +SU i xɽ * +{ E i E * +{ ` V<B*

(Interruptions)

SHRI K. FRANCIS GEORGE (IDUKKI): Hon. Speaker Sir, I express my thanks to the President, but at the same time I oppose this Motion of Thanks obviously because the President's Address is the policy statement of this Government. I just want to mention two-three points only.

As far as the agricultural sector is concerned, I would like to refer to the policies being followed by this Government, by the previous Government and also the policies started in 1991 by the Congress Government. The then Prime Minister, Shri P.V. Narasimha Rao initiated the policy of liberalisation. I would like to say that as far as Kerala is concerned, my State is reeling under the fall in price of rubber. The economy of the State is totally shattered. The small, medium and tiny cultivators, especially the rubber cultivators, are facing a very grave crisis.

This Government came on the plank of Swadeshi. But what we see today is this that this Government led by the BJP and by Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee is trying to outsmart the Congress Party as far as the economic policies are concerned. It has directly affected the State of Kerala and also the small farmers of Kerala.

Shri P.C. Thomas spoke about the rubber farmers of Kerala. The pre-1991 position was that the Costs and Accounts section of the Finance Department used to study the expenditure regarding rubber cultivation and fix the floor price every year. But now there is no floor price any more. That has been abolished from 1991 onwards.

That position has to be restored. Every year, the Finance Department should study the expenditure and the cost involved in the rubber cultivation. The floor price should be fixed. When the price falls below the floor price in the market, the State Trading Corporation should intervene and procure rubber at the floor price. Now, there is only minimum support price. That is not mandatory. There is no mandate for the Central Government to buy within the minimum support price. But if floor price is fixed, the Central Government is bound to procure rubber within the floor price. Only then, this problem can be solved. So, it is very necessary and urgent that the Central Government reverts to pre-1991 position as far as rubber is concerned. The economy of the State has to be saved and the farmers have to be saved. I represent a constituency where almost all the cash crops are being cultivated. Those cash crops and the farmers of that area are facing a great crisis due to the policies of the Central Government. The export-import policy declared by the then Commerce Minister, Shri Hegde is going to directly affect all the cash crop cultivators because free import of cash crops is definitely going to reduce the price of the cash crops like cardamom, pepper, tea and so on. All these crops are going to be affected. So, my constituency and State are the worst hit so far as the economic policies of the previous Congress Government and the present Government are concerned. So, I am demanding that these policies should be reviewed.

Now, a Ministerial Conference of the WTO is round the corner and those clauses which we have agreed to and which are adversely affecting the farm sector of this country as a whole have to be reviewed. At the maximum, if it is in any way possible, we have to renegotiate with the WTO and those clauses have to be taken out of the agreement. There is no doubt about that.

Regarding minorities, I would like to say that they have been attacked. You know when the attack started. Now the Pope is being attacked, and even our patriotism has been questioned. Now, I would like to say that we are not in any way less patriotic than any other section of the society in this country. If there is a political conflict between Rome and New Delhi, whom do you think we will stand by? We will definitely stand by New Delhi and not Rome. There is no doubt about it because we are citizens of this country; we are born here; we live here; and we are going to die here. We are a part of this country. Let there be no doubt about that.

There is a section in the Christian community called Dalit Christians, the converted Christians. Lakhs and lakhs of converted Christians have been denied the benefit of reservation. Just because a person opts for a particular religion, is it fair to deny him the benefits of reservation as is being given to other socially and economically weaker sections of this country?

It is a negation of justice. It is against natural justice. The other day, we were discussing about reservation. These questions have to be addressed and due to paucity of time, I am winding up.

I hope the Prime Minister, the Finance Minister and the concerned Ministers will take all these issues into account...(Interruptions)

Everybody spoke about Kargil. The Defence Minister of this country said that the information came from a shepherd. It is a shame that in this great country, the information had to come from a shepherd in spite of having so many intelligence agencies like the IB, the RAW and different intelligence outfits of the armed forces. It is very unfortunate. I do not know what you have done for that shepherd. Some citation or a medal or something has to be given to him, because but for his presence of mind and patriotism, this country would have been in deeper trouble.

I express my thanks to you, Sir, for having given me an opportunity to speak.

SHRIMATI SONIA GANDHI (AMETHI): Mr. Speaker, Sir, I rise to support the Motion of Thanks to the President's Address moved by Shri Vijay Kumar Malhotra and seconded by Shri Vaiko.

The President's Address highlights a number of important economic, social and political issues. But, Sir, before I start talking about some of these issues, I want to state that the action taken by the Government on the Bofors Chargesheet is despicable. An innocent man lies condemned without a trace of evidence. The right accorded to each Indian, to defend himself from charges has been snatched away from Rajivji, my husband. This Government has acted solely for political reasons. This Government has acted maliciously. This Government has acted vindictively. I wish to reiterate that the Bofors inquiry must go on; the guilty must be identified and punished; the law must take its course. But what we will not tolerate is the framing of an innocent man, a man who is not here to defend himself today.

Sir, we will continue to fight for the honour of our departed leader. We will do it in all the fora available to us and we will do it with the people of our country. However, the interest of our country tops the list of our priorities. What we will not do is disrupt the governance. Where our cooperation is sought, we will, after deliberation on the issues, cooperate. But let me state clearly that creating, crafting and continuing a consensus is not the responsibility of the Opposition alone.

Sir, there are some issues on which I would like to elaborate. We would have liked a much stronger and comprehensive discussion on Anti-Poverty Programmes in the President's Address. The essence of economic reform is the rapid abolition of poverty and the accelerated generation of employment. Investments in Anti-Poverty and Rural Development Programmes need to be stepped up significantly. More importantly, we believe that all Central funds for Poverty Alleviation and Rural Development should be transferred directly to elected Panchayat bodies without any further delay.

Sir, the President's Address talks fleetingly about the population problem. A vigorous and determined effort is required at managing the growth of our population, particularly in North India. The spread of female literacy, the empowerment of women, the provision of nutrition and food security through the PDS, the expansion of primary health facilities and an innovative communication campaign will all contribute to success in fertility decline. These must be pursued in full earnest.

Sir, we believe that modern, secular, scientific and technical education is the key to building the India of our dreams. I stress "modern, secular and scientific." Education must not make us prisoners of the past. It must not inflame passions. It must not arouse antagonism. Education must open the mind. It must expand horizons. It must make the personality sensitive, broad-minded and unprejudiced.

This was the objective behind Rajiv Gandhi's New Education Policy of 1986. That Policy remains as relevant today. We are concerned that efforts to saffronise our educational institutions continue unabated in spite of the Prime Minister's assurances to the contrary.

SHRI V.P. SINGH BADNORE (BHILWARA): Mr. Speaker, Sir, is reading allowed? (Interruptions)

SHRIMATI SONIA GANDHI : Sir, the Congress Government launched an innovative national social assistance programme in 1995 which focussed on the aged, the disabled and those in the unorganised sector. We urge that these schemes and programmes initiated to provide social security are continued and funded adequately.

Sir, our youth needs a new vision. Our youth needs a new sense of purpose and I am quite happy to have noticed that there is an extensive programme outlined in the Address by the President on the youth of this country. But what I am most concerned about is the welfare of our children, particularly those children who are forced to work, particularly those children who are destitutes and particularly those children who are exploited.

SHRI V.P.SINGH BANDORE : Sir, she should be allowed to speak in Italian. (Interruptions)

MR. SPEAKER: Hon. Member, the Leader of Opposition is speaking. This is not correct. Please take your seat.

SHRIMATI SONIA GANDHI : Sir, investment in children is investment in the future. In our Manifesto, we have highlighted a number of programmes and schemes for their welfare. I would urge the Government to pay special attention to these.

Sir, we attach the highest importance to the welfare of Dalits, Adivasis, OBCs and minorities. Many Dalit organisations have met me and pointed out that the implementation of existing reservations for Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes is subject to administrative circulars and interpretations. This has caused unease and confusion. In our Manifesto, we have suggested a separate reservation act, which will codify all existing reservations and their implementation. In the past, the Congress Government had started a number of finance and development corporations for the weaker sections of society, but we find that, the funding for these corporations has been cut drastically.

Sir, we expected mention, in the President's Address, of some programmes for the minorities. Here again, we believe that education is the key to uplift them and empower them. The nation would like to be re-assured that the Government is committed to the Places of Worship Act of 1991. I would also urge all political parties to evolve a consensus on how to increase representation of minorities in all walks of public life.

The President's Address takes pride in the fact that the incidence of communal riots has declined.

One view is that this occurs because those who cause them in the first place are in power. But let us leave that aside.

We are concerned about the divisiveness and terror being spread by certain fanatical organisations which sustain the party in power. We condemn the lack of the Government action against them.

Sir, Diversity has defined us. Now, it is being used to divide us. ... (Interruptions)

SHRI RAJESH PILOT : This is not correct, Sir. Shri Advani must make a note of it. ... (Interruptions)

MR. SPEAKER: No, no, please.

SHRI RAJESH PILOT : He is a leader of the House at the moment. ... (Interruptions) This is not correct. ... (Interruptions)

SHRIMATI SONIA GANDHI : We in the Congress Party will resist this with all our might. We will not allow our secular heritage to be subverted and destroyed.

Sir,the President's Address talks about a Commission to review the Constitution. January 26, 2000 marks the 50th anniversary of the adoption of our Constitution. This is an occasion to celebrate the Constitution, not denigrate it. The Constitution has strengthened the foundations of representative democracy in our country. Let us not fritter away this precious legacy. Let not the review be a smoke-screen for yet another hidden agenda.

Sir, the President's Address makes some suggestions for ensuring the longevity of the Lok Sabha and the Vidhan Sabhas. By all means, let us debate these proposals. Let us discuss about these proposals. But let us not, in the name of stability, usurp the basic democratic right of the people of our country.

Sir, it gives me particular pleasure to note that the President's Address lays so much stress on information technology. I recall that when Shri Rajiv Gandhi first ushered India into the computer and information age, he was bitterly criticised. It seems yesterday's critics have become today's champions.

Sir, we congratulate our scientists and technologists for their outstanding achievements in the nuclear and missile field. Successive Congress Governments have been responsible for this, a fact that I wish the Government acknowledged once in a while.

Sir, we need a fuller debate on nuclear doctrine on confidence building measures to reduce the risks of nuclear and missile wars in our region. On India's approach to creating a nuclear-weapon-free world. It is important that a national consensus is reached before a decision is taken on the CTBT. I earnestly hope that the Government will keep us informed about the findings of the Kargil Review Committee. There are far too many unanswered questions on Kargil. The contry has a right to know.


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