New Delhi: Pledging to address "frontally" the concern over "lack of probity and integrity" in public life, the government on Monday vowed to bring back black money stashed abroad.

It also promised to eliminate corruption in public life through a series of steps besides electoral reforms and ensuring accountability in judiciary. It committed itself to improving the quality of governance and enhancing transparency.

The government promises were made in the address by President Pratibha Patil to the joint sitting of Parliament, which marks the commencement of the Budget Session.

Black Money

Touching upon the raging controversy of black money stashed abroad in secret accounts, the President said the issue has attracted a lot of attention in the recent past.

"My government will spare no effort in bringing back to India what belongs to it and bring the guilty to book," she asserted.

Patil said the government "fully shares the concern about the ill-effects of black money whether generated by evasion of taxes on income earned legitimately or through illegal activities.

Besides, she said the government had taken many steps to strengthen the legal framework, build new institutions and improve capacity to tackle this problem.

The government is also working closely with the international community, especially through the G-20, to expedite the process of identification and recovery of such money, she said.

Pointing out that India is now a member of the Financial Action Task Force in recognition of its anti-money laundering and anti-tax evasion measures, she said India has also gained membership of the Eurasian group and the Task Force on Financial Integrity and Economic Development.

"My government has taken steps to facilitate exchange of information for tax purposes with such countries and entities where Indian citizens have parked their money.

"The early results have been encouraging. These steps have led to additional collection of taxes of Rs 34,601 crore and detection of additional income of Rs 48,784 crore," Patil said.

Inflation, rising food prices
 
In her 50-minute speech, President Patil also expressed serious concern over inflation and said the government's "foremost priorities" in the coming financial year would be to combat it and protect the common man from the impact of rising food prices.

The other priorities of the government would be to sustain the momentum of inclusive economic growth, maintain an "uncompromising vigil" on internal and external security fronts and to pursue a foreign policy which will protect India's interest in the global arena.

Good governance

Against the backdrop of a series of scams that have hit the UPA government, the President said, "Our citizens deserve good governance; it is their entitlement and our obligation.  "My government stands committed to improving the quality of governance and enhancing transparency, probity and integrity in public life."

She noted that a Group of Ministers (GoM) was considering all measures, including legislative and administrative, to tackle corruption and improve transparency.

National security

A multi-disciplinary study has been commissioned to go into various aspects of national security and recommend a suitable framework to tackle it.

Referring to the internal security situation, the President said the country has "gone through a difficult year" as certain parts of the country suffered from "unacceptably high levels of violence", especially areas affected by Left-wing extremism and Kashmir valley.

However, in the rest of the country, she said, except for two incidents of terror in Pune and Varanasi, the internal security scenario has been largely under control.

The increase in police forces, with emphasis on recruitment from areas affected by Left-wing extremism, has begun to show results, she said.

The government has recently approved an integrated action plan for 60 selected tribal and backward districts in nine states in order to address the needs of the local population, Patil said.

Electoral reforms, judiciary

On electoral reforms, the President said she was sure that all parties across the political spectrum supported the need for bringing about such reforms.

"I am happy to share with the honourable members that my government has constituted a committee on electoral reforms to fast-track the process," she said, adding that the committee has held regional conferences which will culminate in a national conference in April this year.

Regarding judiciary, Patil said the government attached high priority to improving the delivery of justice and reducing delays in the disposal of cases.

The details of the National Mission for Delivery of Justice and Legal Reforms are expected to be finalised soon, she said.

"The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, already introduced in Parliament, is intended to enhance the accountability of the judiciary, thereby improving its image and efficiency," she said.

Women's Bill

Patil sincerely hoped that Women’s Reservation in Parliament bill will be considered by the Lok Sabha at the earliest. The Bill has already been passed by the Rajya Sabha.

She said the government also proposes to introduce a bill regarding protection of children from sexual offences.

Foreign policy

Touching upon foreign policy, the President said India seeks a peaceful resolution of issues with Pakistan through a "meaningful dialogue" so long as it does not allow its soil to be used for terrorist activities against India.

Maintaining that India has an abiding interest in peace, stability and development of countries in its extended neighbourhood, she referred to the "momentous events" in Egypt and said that "as a democracy ourselves, we welcome the dawn of democracy elsewhere."