New Delhi, Jan 29 (PTI) President Ram Nath Kovind on Thursday strongly defended the three contentious agri laws that have sparked intense protests from a section of farmers, and condemned as ''very unfortunate' the Republic Day violence and the 'insult' to the tricolour during the farmers' tractor parade here on January 26.
In his customary address to the joint sitting of Parliament that marks the start of the Budget session, Kovind also referred to the Chinese aggression on the border, and asserted that his government is vigilant and fully committed to protecting the country's interests.
Additional forces have been deployed to safeguard India's sovereignty, he said while paying tributes to the 20 soldiers who made supreme sacrifices in a clash with the Chinese army at the Galwan valley in eastern Ladakh in June last year. India and China are locked in a tense military standoff in eastern Ladakh since May 5 last.
He also noted that the new farm reform laws enacted in September last year have immediately benefited 10 crore small farmers, and said various parties in the past had supported these measures.
Criticising the violence which marred the farmers' protest on the Republic Day, he said if the Constitution gives us the right to freedom of expression, it also teaches us to take laws and rules seriously.
The President's hour-long address was boycotted by over 20 opposition parties in support of the demand of the protesting farmers for the repeal of the three farm laws.
Congress MP Ravneet Singh Bittu raised slogans like 'Jai Jawan Jai Kisan' during the address and demanded repeal of the three laws. Some opposition MPs were heard raising slogans in the Central Hall's gallery.
Noting that the Supreme Court has put the implementation of the three laws on hold, Kovind said the government will respect whatever is the decision of the apex court.
'My Government has always respected freedom of expression and holding of peaceful agitations in a democratic set up. However, the recent acts of dishonouring the National Flag and showing disrespect to the auspicious occasion of the Republic Day are unfortunate,' he said.
The President also said the rights and facilities available under the system prevailing before the enactment of the three new laws are not affected in any way.
'Rather, through these agricultural reforms, the Government has provided new facilities to the farmers and has empowered them'.
Acknowledging that the Budget session is being held at a challenging time of COVID-19, the President said no matter how big the challenge is, India will not stop.
Whenever India is united, it has achieved impossible goals, he added.
The President expressed sadness that in the fight against the pandemic, India has lost many countrymen and paid homage to his predecessor Pranab Mukherjee and six MPs who passed away during the period last year.
Kovind expressed his satisfaction over the government's measures to fight the pandemic and asserted that its timely decisions saved lives of millions of people while also helping the economy.
Over 80 crore poor people were provided free ration for eight months, he said.
In his speech, the President highlighted the views of the government approved by the Union Cabinet.
Lauding the 'Aatmanirbhar Bharat' programme, the President said it is not just confined to manufacturing in India but is also a campaign aimed at elevating the standard of living of every Indian as well as boosting the self-confidence of the country.
Referring to the country's vaccination programme, he said, 'It is a matter of immense pride that India is conducting the world’s largest vaccination programme. Both the vaccines rolled out under this programme are produced indigenously.' PTI JTR KR ACB NAB GSN NAB GSN GSN