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Monday, October 25, 1999 Published at 14:18 GMT 15:18 UK

World: South Asia

India pledges 'bold' reforms

A ceremonial procession led the president into parliament

India's newly re-elected government has outlined a new phase of economic reforms to boost the country's growth rate.

Indian Elections 99
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President K R Narayanan presented the plans of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government in an address to the new parliament, and said the serious inadequacies in India's development had to be addressed.

The five-year programme places emphasis on wide-ranging economic, social and political reform.

Economic reforms

Addressing members of the upper and lower house in parliament, the president said the scourge of poverty could only be overcome with a bold reform programme that would raise the country's economic growth rate 7-8%.

[ image:  ]
"This strategy demands a new pro-development mindset in every section of society, polity and administration, creating a strong national consensus for a bold departure from the past," he said.

President Narayanan said the government would work to create 10 million additional jobs, mainly in agriculture, housing and small industry.

Mike Wooldridge reports from Delhi: "Growth should be pushed up to eight per cent"
The country's poor infrastructure would also be targeted with private sector investment in power, transport, telecommunications and information technology.

A new ministry of information technology has been created to make India an "IT superpower", targeting software exports of $50bn by 2008.

The government also pledged to increase foreign investment from its current level of $4bn to $10bn per year through greater transparency and cuts in bureaucratic delays.

Foreign and defence policy

The president said the recent military takeover in Pakistan was "a matter of grave concern".

[ image: Defence spending is to increase]
Defence spending is to increase
He said the recent conflict with Pakistan in Kashmir had led to a greater commitment to increased defence spending and modernisation of India's armed forces.

"Government will ensure that our defence forces are fully equipped to meet and challenge to our national security," he said.

He also said that India would look to "deepen and broaden" relations with the United States. Improved relations with China and continued strong ties to Russia were other foreign policy objectives.

New bills

In its first few weeks in office, the government of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has several key legislative bills pending.

These include deregulation of the state-run insurance sector, allowing trading in derivatives, and new laws on foreign exchange regulations money laundering.

The moves have been welcomed by business in a year that has seen India's share markets rise by 60%.

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