Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today affirmed his commitment to root out corruption but said there is no magic wand to do so and decried hunger strikes as a means to achieve the objective, in an apparent reference to Anna Hazare who is scheduled to begin fast tomorrow. Addressing the nation from historic Red Fort for the eighth consecutive year on the occasion of 65th Independence Day, Singh acknowledged that corruption is a big obstacle in national transformation but said it should be discussed in a manner that should not create an atmosphere in which country’s progress comes into question.
Devoting a major portion of his 40-minute speech to corruption over which his government is under all-round attack, he said the problem manifests itself in many forms and admitted that many times funds meant for people lands up in the “pockets of government officials”.
He maintained that the government wants a strong Lokpal to prevent corruption in high places and said a bill in this regard has been introduced in Parliament.
Without naming Hazare and his agitation beginning here tomorrow, Singh said he was aware that some people had different opinion on some aspects of the Lokpal bill. “Those who don’t agree with this bill can put forward their views to Parliament, political parties and even the press. However, I also believe they should not resort to hunger strikes and fasts-unto-death,” Singh said. He asserted that only Parliament can decide what type of Lokpal legislation can be enacted. Insisting that no government has a “magic wand” to deal with corruption, he said, “We are taking the strictest possible action in cases of corruption that have surfaced.” Speaking from a bullet-proof enclosure amid rains, he touched on a variety of subjects including the sensitive land acquisition issue, naxalism, terrorism, economy and inflation.
Singh insisted that there is “no single big step” to eradicate corruption which needs to be fought simultaneously on many fronts and asked all political parties to “stand shoulder to shoulder” in this fight. Apparently referring to 2G, Commonwealth Games and Adarsh scams, he said “many instances of corruption” have come to light in the last few months with “functionaries” of central and various state governments facing allegations. He refrained from going into specifics as these cases are sub-judice but said “any debate” on corruption should “reflect the confidence that we can overcome these challenges”. There are instances where government discretion is used to favour a select few and government contracts “wrongfully awarded to the wrong people”, Singh said and asserted that the government cannot let such activities continue unchecked.
Sending out a strong message to those indulging in scams, he said, “everyone should know that quick action will be taken against the corrupt and punishment meted out to them.” At the same time, he said, “if our system delivers justice in an effective manner, government officials would think twice before committing a wrong act out of greed or under political pressure.” On Team Anna’s demand for bringing higher judiciary in the purview of Lokpal, he said it was “not appropriate” as “we believe that any such provision would go against the independence of the judiciary”. He, however, said there was a need for a “framework in which the judiciary becomes more accountable. It is with this aim that we have introduced the Judicial Accountability Bill in Parliament.” He expressed confidence that this Bill will be passed soon. But he did not touch upon the question of whether the Prime Minister should come under Lokpal, a consistent demand by Team Anna and some political parties.
Admitting that government discretion was “misused in allocation of scarce resources and in the grant of clearances”, Singh said such discretionary powers would be done away with wherever possible and hoped to enact a public procurement legislation by the end of this year. “Any government awards contracts worth thousands of crores every year. There are frequent complaints of corruption in these decisions,” the Prime Minister said. He noted that the a committee set up by the government had recommended that there should be a public procurement legislation which lays down the principles and practice with regard to government purchases.
A Bill in this regard will be introduced in Parliament by the end of this year, he said. He said the government was also planning to enact a law which enables the monitoring of the work of regulatory authorities and make them more accountable without compromising their independence. Talking about his seven-year rule, Singh said during this period the country has moved “rapidly on the path of development” and seen success in many areas. “However, I am also well aware that a lot remains to be done. The road ahead is long and arduous,” he said. Singh observed that the “prevailing situation both inside and outside the country is such that if we do not act with understanding and restraint, our security and prosperity can get adversely affected.” There are “some people who want to create disturbances in the country so that our progress gets stalled”, he said, adding “All this can have a negative impact on us. But we will not let this happen.”
Delving on the issue of terrorism, Singh said recent serial blasts in Mumbai have come as a warning that there cannot be any “slip-up” in the vigil against the scourge.
“This is a long battle to be fought jointly by the central government, state governments and the common man,” he said, adding intelligence and security agencies have been steadily strengthened which will continue. On naxalism, the Prime Minister said all possible steps are being taken to overcome the challenge, including through eradication of the very reasons which give rise to this problem. Singh stated that a new scheme has been started for the accelerated development of 60 backward and tribal-dominated districts and an amount of Rs 3,300 crore will be spent on the scheme in a period of two years. The Prime Minister also spoke about sensitive issue of land acquisition and promised enactment of a “forward looking and balanced” law soon to prevent tensions over it.
Mentioning this issue in the backdrop of agitations in various places, he said land acquisition is necessary for projects of public interest but it should be done in a “transparent and fair manner” and the government will ensure that “no injustice is done to anyone”. Noting that farmers have been especially affected by such acquisition, Singh said, the interests of those whose livelihoods are dependent on the land being acquired should be fully protected. Noting that vocational education and skill development have acquired new importance, Singh also announced that the government will appoint an Education Commission to make recommendations for improvements at all levels of education in the country. Unlike the past, he made no mention of any foreign policy issue but made a passing reference that India’s relations with various countries have strengthened in seven years because of his government’s hard work.
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