New Delhi: Cautioning that lack of political consensus on many issues was impeding rapid economic growth, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said time has come to view development processes as matters of national security.
Addressing the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort on the occasion of 66th Independence Day, he said he hoped that all political parties will help the government in passing the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill in Parliament.
"We will continue our efforts to bring more transparency and accountability in the work of public servants and to reduce corruption," Singh said.While doing so, steps will be taken to see that the morale of public functionaries taking decisions in public interest is not affected because of baseless allegations and unnecessary litigation, he said.
On economic growth, the Prime Minister said that lack of political consensus was coming in its way.
"As far as creating an environment within the country for rapid economic growth is concerned, I believe that we are not being able to achieve this because of a lack of political consensus on many issues," Singh said.
He said time has now come to view the issues which affect the development processes as matters of national security.
Observing that India has been affected by "adverse" external conditions, he said, "Also there have been domestic developments which are hindering our economic growth. Last year, our GDP grew by 6.5 per cent. This year, we hope to do a little better."
Singh said his government would make every possible effort to secure the livelihood of "our poor brothers and sisters, our workers and our farmers."
He said the government will leave no stone unturned to encourage investment in the country so that entrepreneurs can make a substantial contribution to the economy.
"I believe that this period of difficulties will not last long. Even as we face these problems, we should be encouraged by the fact that we have achieved extraordinary successes in many areas in the last 8 years. We now need to replicate these successes in newer areas," Singh said.
During his 35-minute speech in Hindi, the Prime Minister spoke about the government's efforts to deal with corruption, inflation and a number of developmental programmes.
"Our commitment to make the work of the government and administration transparent and accountable stands. On the last Independence Day, I promised you that we would take many steps for this purpose," he said.
Singh said in the last one year, the government had achieved good progress in this area.
"The Lok Sabha has cleared the Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill. We hope that all political parties will help us in passing this Bill in the Rajya Sabha," he said.
Singh said a number of other Bills have also been presented before Parliament and the Cabinet has cleared a Public Procurement Bill.
"We will continue our efforts to bring more transparency and accountability in the work of public servants and to reduce corruption. But we will also take care that these measures do not result in a situation in which the morale of public functionaries taking decisions in public interest gets affected because of baseless allegations and unnecessary litigation," he said.
Describing the recent incidents of violence in Assam as unfortunate, Singh said the government would do everything possible to provide relief to those affected.
"I also promise to you that our government will make every effort to understand the reasons behind the violence and work hard with the state governments to ensure that such incidents are not repeated in any part of the country," he said.
The Prime Minister said success has been achieved in many areas of internal security.
"In Jammu and Kashmir, people participated in large numbers in the Panchayat elections. There has been a reduction in violence in the North Eastern States and we are engaged in dialogue with many groups there so that they can join the mainstream of development," he said.
Singh said the government had initiated new schemes of development in areas affected by Naxal violence to ensure that the grievances of the people residing there, especially those belonging to Scheduled Tribes, can be removed.
"However, we need to be constantly vigilant as far as internal security is concerned. Communal harmony has to be maintained at all costs. Naxalism is still a serious problem," Singh said.
He said the incidents which occurred in Pune in the beginning of this month point to the need for much more work to be done in the area of national security.
"We will continue to do this work with sincerity in the future also," he said.
On the preparedness of the armed forces, the Prime Minister said that the soldiers have made biggest sacrifices whenever needed and defended the security of the country during war and peace with valour and honour.
"Today I would like to reassure our countrymen that our armed forces and paramilitary forces are prepared to face any challenge," Singh said, adding that the government will continue to work for modernising these forces.
He said the government had also set up a committee to examine issues related to pay and pensions of the armed forces personnel and promised prompt action on its recommendations.
Singh announced that a new housing loan scheme will be launched for the poor residing in urban areas.
Under the Rajiv Housing Loan Scheme, people belonging to economically weaker sections would be given relief on interest on housing loans of less than Rs five lakh, he said.
Singh said a scheme was being formulated for distribution of free medicines through government hospitals and health centres.
He said after the success of the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), the government wanted to expand the scope of health services in towns also.
The NRHM will now be converted into National Health Mission which would cover all villages and towns in the country, he said.
The Prime Minister said when the UPA government came to power in 2004, it had promised to provide electricity to all villages.
He said under the Rajiv Gandhi Rural Electrification Scheme, more than one lakh villages have been provided with electricity connections.
"Our next target is to provide electricity to each and every household in our country in the next five years and to also improve the supply of electricity," Singh said.
He said the the establishment of a National Skill Development Authority was under consideration to train the youth for new job opportunities in the coming years.
Singh said the government was formulating a scheme to ensure that people belonging to Scheduled Tribes can get fair and remunerative prices for the forest produce they collect.