India’s Modi announces space mission, health scheme

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the nation during Independence Day celebrations at the historic Red Fort in New Delhi, India on August 15, 2018. Reuters

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India will launch its first manned space mission by 2022 and roll out a health insurance scheme from September, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said yesterday in his last Independence Day speech ahead of next year’s general election.

Mr Modi, a powerful speaker who will seek re-election in the world’s biggest democracy early next year, used the speech to announce his government’s

achievements, amid concerns about lack of jobs and rising violence against the Muslim minority.

Wearing a flowing saffron turban, the Hindu nationalist leader also announced the plan to take the “Indian tricolour to space” in a manned mission that would make India the fourth nation to launch one, after the United States, Russia and China.

“India is proud of our scientists, who are excelling in their research and are at the forefront of

innovation,” Mr Modi said from the ramparts of the Mughal-era Red Fort in Delhi to a crowd numbering in the tens of thousands.

“In the year 2022 or, if possible, before, India will unfurl the tricolor in space.”

Months after Mr Modi’s election in 2014, India became the first Asian nation to reach Mars when its first mission to the red planet entered orbit, at a cost of $74 million, or less than the budget of the Hollywood space blockbuster “Gravity”.

Mr Modi said his government Nwould launch from September 25 a previously announced medical insurance scheme, dubbed ‘Modicare’, to give about 500 million poor people annual health cover of 500,000 rupees ($7,200) to treat serious illness.

In his 80-minute speech, Mr Modi said the pace of building highways, electrifying villages and building toilets has increased since his landslide 2014 election win that devastated the main opposition Congress party.

He also said businesses have embraced the unified Goods and Services Tax after initial hiccups.

“We want to progress more. There is no question of stopping or getting tired on the way,” Mr Modi said.

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