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Modi's government says it will have a 'zero tolerance' policy for violence against women

The speech, drafted by Modi's cabinet, included ambitious plans to overhaul India's dilapidated roads, and to build a high-speed train network and more airports.

Modi zero tolerance violence against womenEnlarge
Activists shout slogans in front of Uttar Pradesh Bhawan in New Delhi on May 31, 2014, against the gang-rape and death of two teenage girls in Budaun district, in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. (RAVEENDRAN/AFP/Getty Images)

India's new government pledged Monday to curb violence against women and strengthen the criminal justice system, amid public outrage over the gang-rape and lynching of two girls.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government also promised to provide toilets and electricity in every home in a country where almost half of the population defecates in the open.

India's President Pranab Mukherjee made the pledges in a speech to parliament that laid out the right-wing government's agenda following Modi's landslide election victory last month.

"The government will have a policy of zero tolerance for violence against women, and will strengthen the criminal justice system for its effective implementation," Mukherjee told a joint sitting of parliament.

Mukherjee said India "must not tolerate the indignity of homes without toilets" as the government promised family residences would be connected to power and water by 2022.

The pledges come after the attacks last month on the two low-caste girls, aged 12 and 14, in a village in northern Uttar Pradesh state, which reignited anger over violence against women.

India brought in tougher laws last year after the fatal gang-rape of a student on a bus in New Delhi, but they have failed to stem the tide of sex attacks across the country, and implementation is patchy, according to experts.

The Modi government would ensure strict implementation of those laws, Mukherjee said.

Getting the economy back on track is "paramount"

Mukherjee said India's economy faced "extremely difficult" times and that inflation was "unacceptably" high, as he outlined the government's legislative priorities.

The speech included ambitious plans to overhaul India's dilapidated roads, and to build a high-speed train network and more airports.

"The country is passing through an extremely difficult phase on the economic front," Mukherjee told lawmakers. "Putting the economy back on track is paramount for my government.

"We will work together to usher our economy into a high growth path, rein in inflation, reignite the investment cycle, accelerate job creation and restore the confidence of the domestic as well as international community."

India's economy has been growing at below five percent for the past two years, way below the level needed to lift millions of people out of poverty, while inflation is currently running close to nine percent.

Focused on reviving the economy, the government would encourage foreign investment, speed up approvals for business projects and create jobs in the manufacturing and tourism sectors, he added.

And it would make "every effort" to fulfil its pre-election promise of a new general sales tax, Mukherjee said, and streamline India's tax regime to make it less "adversarial."

The president acknowledged public anger over corruption that plagued the previous Congress government, pledging a "predictable, transparent and fair" administration as well as a crackdown on illegal money leaving the country.

"My government is determined to rid the country of the scourge of corruption and the menace of black money," he said.