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October - November 2008
The First Year in Office of the First Woman President of India : Smt. Pratibha Devisingh PatilAs the first woman President of India, Smt. Pratibha Devisingh Patil, came to the office of the President as a powerful symbol of women empowerment and also brought with her into Rashtrapati Bhavan, the qualities of compassion and humaneness - the very essence of India.
The first year in office of the First Woman President of India has been one of hectic activity. President traveled across the country and interacted with people from all sections of society and various walks of life. She observed in them the confidence and resilience to meet the challenges of building a new India that will offer ample opportunities for inclusive growth and social justice. It was a year when the President performed her various constitutional duties and also used her good offices to promote important issues on the national agenda like eradication of extreme poverty, gender equality and empowerment of women, protection of children's rights, particularly of the girl child, expansion of education, promote maternal and child health, agriculture and rural development, national security and above all, spreading a sense of compassion towards the under-privileged. All through, the Gandhian philosophy of wiping every tear from every eye has been the guiding principle for the President.
President Patil took initiative in several public policy issues which were carried forward by the Government. The President has been incessantly drawing the attention of the Government, and the general public, through her speeches about the grave problems of gender inequality, women's empowerment, female foeticide and infanticide, maternal and child malnutrition and social evils, which according to the President, have economic costs attached to them. The President felt that there was tremendous scope for convergence in the implementation of various welfare and developmental schemes of the Government by the different agencies under different Ministries, by coordinating their efforts. The President believes that the Government schemes together with the efforts of the NGOs and private sector can bring about the required synergy to produce better results within the ongoing schemes itself, even without enhancement in budgetary allocation. The President exhorted the Ministries of Women & Child Development, Health & Family Welfare, Social Justice & Empowerment, Human Resource Development and Information & Broadcasting to work out a strategy and an action plan for bringing about the much desired convergence. The Government took up the suggestion of the President and the concerned Ministries had been advised to work out an action plan to achieve the desired objectives within a period of next 3 years. The Cabinet Secretary is coordinating its implementation.
Gender equality and women's empowerment has been a subject closest to the President's heart and she has made it a top priority while sharing her vision on every possible occasion. President Patil has actively voiced her views regarding the need for greater action for women's welfare and empowerment to make them equal partners in every sphere of national activity. She has interacted with several organizations - just to mention a few like the Zilla Mahila Associations Congress of International Alliance of Women, and addressed national and international conferences like National Conclave for North-Eastern States for Access to Justice for Women and the South Asian Regional Ministerial Conference for Commemorating Beijing.
The President took special care in matters relating to farmers and agriculture. A variety of problems were brought to the attention of the President involving social, economic and political issues. One of the major problems was that of the farmers' issue especially of the rain-fed areas.
The burden of farmers and the alleged farmers' suicide on account of crop failure and their inability to pay back loans evoked deep sympathies of the President. It was not only an economic issue but also one of social and political dimensions. The issue was taken up effectively with the Prime Minister and the Ministries concerned. The Government took a favourable and bold decision to write off the bad debts of the farmers.
The President connected well both the youth and elderly. She stressed the need for special attention to children especially the girl child and while highlighting this point in various fora, emphasized the need for urgent action. It was the first of its kind when on Raksha Bandhan day, the President invited about 100 children from those areas in J & K and North-East affected by militancy, children who lost their parents in communal riots, hildren who lost their parents when serving in the Armed Forces and the police, HIV positive children, differently-abled children and those suffering from Thalassaemia. The President said that financial support, is of course needed, but more than that it is the emotional support these children need most from society as this can encourage them to succeed against all odds. President Patil is of the view that education is a tool through which a person gets self-respect and confidence. On 14 November, 2007, on the Children's Day, the President met 400 odd children from Delhi when she spoke about the need to persuade the families of the weaker sections to educate their children for a brighter future. The President touched on the subject of corruption and urged upon the youth to discuss among themselves the need to create awareness against this social malady. She said that the message should come through the children to parents that the new generation is against corruption. Speaking on the girl child, the President said that a girl child is a boon and not a curse and she has as much rights as a male child. With a keen eye on events around the country which affect children, especially the girl child, the President greeted little Vandana, the 3 year old girl child on her rescue after she fell into the open well in Tehra village of Uttar Pradesh. The President has also been interacting with senior citizens on different occasions. When one such group called on the President, at Rashtrapati Bhavan on the occasion of the International Day of Older Persons, Smt. Patil acknowledged the contributions that the elderly had made to society and felt that in turn the society should recognize their needs, particularly the emotional needs of the older citizens. Organisations that bring together the elderly must be commended as by bringing persons of the same age together, such people can give each other mutual support. The President met over 18,000 persons at Rashtrapati Bhavan and another 4,000 during her visits to various States.
She visited 10 States and 2 Union Territories during her first year in the office. The President also visited the forward areas, inter-acted with soldiers and was able to see for herself the conditions in which the jawans work and live. Having seen the need for improving the infrastructure facilities, the President took up the need for speedier development of infrastructure which has a strategic importance. Welfare of ex-servicemen has been a matter close to the President's heart. This matter was taken up with the Governors for their personal attention, and is being monitored personally by the President.
President Patil visited 3 Latin American countries on her maiden visit abroad in April, 2008. Her visit to these countries was significant as this has led to a major boost to the ties between India and Latin America, a region with which India seeks to intensify its relations. The growing trajectory of bilateral interests between India and the 3 nations was manifested during the visit with the signing of 10 agreements/MOUs - 4 with Brazil, 2 with Mexico and 4 with Chile.
In keeping with President Patil's vision of greater economic engagement of India with the world, the Presidential team was accompanied by a business delegation, a first for a Presidential tour. It was not a practice in the past for any Indian President to take a business delegation on a foreign visit. Smt. Patil took an industry delegation with her on her first visit abroad to the Latin American countries. The business delegation was hugely benefited by the discussions with the leaders of Brazil, Mexico and Chile, where the President had undertaken visits. Governments of these countries have "opened up doors" for the Indian business community.
There was a growing inquisitiveness about the first lady President at the Rashtrapati Bhavan as evident from the popularity of President's website. The President of India's website www.presidentofindia.nic.in is the 2nd most frequently visited website in the Government, the first being that of Central Board of School Education. The average number of daily hits on the website is about 43,050. Maximum number of hits on a single day since the President assumed office was on 15 August, 2007 - 1.36 lakhs.
The Rashtrapati Bhavan is the symbol of Indian Statehood and every Indian should feel proud to visit the Rashtrapati Bhavan. The President has emphasized that every visit should be memorable and an opportunity to enhance one's knowledge and experience - whether it is an Indian citizen or a visiting tourist. The ceremonial Change of Guards over the years had been lost in public memory. The President opened up this ceremony to create a bridge between the people and the Rashtrapati Bhavan where, as the President said in her assumption address, the "First Servant of the People" resides.
The President was also keen to showcase the Rashtrapati Bhavan Estate as a model eco-friendly township. The visitors get an opportunity to experience it and learn for themselves how to make the living environment more livable and energy efficient.
The Mughal Gardens attracted a record number of 5,43,106 persons in February-March, 2008 when they were open for public viewing. Added to the number of gardens already existing in the Rashtrapati Bhavan premises, the Nakshatra Garden was developed.
Ensuring environmental sustainability was a subject President Patil took up on various occasions. When addressing the Indian Forest Service probationers, the President emphasized that the challenge is to preserve our forests as an invaluable natural resource while giving recognition to the needs of various dwellers, particularly the tribal communities. She said that forests play an important role in the social, cultural and economic development of any country while they are also a store-house of bio-diversity and a resource base for the sustenance of the population. The implementation of various forest legislations should be done in a fair and transparent manner.
To espouse the cause of Ayurvedic medicine, the President is of the view that the many advantages of this Indian system of medicine need to be brought out and made known to the people in a more convincing manner.
President Patil called on Ayurveda researchers, scholars and experts to further strengthen their efforts to work on patenting and standardization of Ayurveda products as well as to come out with a detailed pharmacopoeia of these medical products. She stated this while addressing a group of experts who have been awarded Pandit Ram Narain Vaidya Puraskar. The President also spoke about Ayurveda during her visit to the Latin American countries where the Heads of States of the visiting countries appreciated the suggestion to spread the message of Ayurveda as an alternate system of medicine in their respective countries.
A compassionate person that the President is, she extended a helping hand to 88 individuals by way of financial assistance to the tune of about Rs. 60 lakhs to the poor and the deserving individuals for the purpose of medical treatment, education, disaster and disasters caused by natural calamities.
The President visited orphanages and donated blankets and food packets and spent time with the children there.
The President has been enthusiastic about sports and various art forms. Being a sports enthusiast herself, Smt. Patil was an ardent Table Tennis player in the youth and believes that promoting sports in the country is a significant activity that should not be neglected. The first year of her Presidency coincided with the period of robust performances by various national sporting teams as well as individual sports persons. The President has always been prompt in congratulating the sports persons on their success, but has also received them at Rashtrapati Bhavan. She personally interacted with them in her attempt to encourage them for future successes.
For President Patil the pursuit to fulfill her vision of a stronger India, where the women are brought to the national mainstream as equal partners in shaping the destiny of this great country, is a relentless effort.