New Delhi: With government facing attack over multiple scams, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today promised a strong Lokpal to end corruption in high places and asserted that hunger strikes will not help address the problem, in an apparent reference to Anna Hazare’s agitation.
Addressing the nation for the eighth consecutive year on the occasion of Independence Day, Singh said no government has a “magic wand” to deal with the problem of corruption which needs to be tackled on many fronts and asked all political parties to “stand shoulder to shoulder” in this fight.
A day before Hazare was to embark on an indefinite fast demanding a strong Lokpal, he made it clear that only Parliament can decide what type of Lokpal legislation can be enacted.
“I am aware of the differences of opinion on some aspects of the 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.
Acknowledging that corruption is a big obstacle in national transformation, he said the menace should be discussed in a manner that should not create an atmosphere in which country’s progress comes into question.
He also admitted that funds meant for welfare of common man end up in the pockets of government officials.
Speaking from a bullet-proof enclosure amid rains, the Prime Minister touched on a variety of subjects including the sensitive land acquisition issue, naxalism, terrorism, economy and inflation.
Unlike in the past, foreign policy issues found no mention in his 40-minute speech on the 65th Independence Day from the historic 17th century Mughal monument of Red Fort.
Singh, who devoted a major part of the speech on corruption, admitted the scourge was a “big obstacle” in the way of transformation of the country as a major economic power globally.
“In the last few months many instances of corruption have come to light. In some cases, functionaries of the Central government face allegations of corruption. In other cases, it is the functionaries of various state governments,” he said.
With a number of corruption cases pending before different courts, the Prime Minister chose not to comment on specific scams like 2G, Commonwealth Games and Adarsh.
“We are taking the strictest possible action in cases of corruption that have surfaced. I will say nothing more on this subject as these cases are sub-judice,” he said.
Singh, whose government has been under all-round attack, cautioned against creating an atmosphere in which the country’s progress comes into question. “Any debate on these matters should reflect the confidence that we can overcome these challenges,” he said.
“Corruption manifests itself in many forms. In some instances, funds meant for schemes for the welfare of the common man end up in the pocket of government officials. In some other instances government discretion is used to favour a selected few.
“There are also cases where government contracts are wrongfully awarded to the wrong people,” he said asserting that the government cannot let such activities continue unchecked.
Noting that the government was keen on a “strong” Lokpal to prevent corruption in high places, Singh said, “we have recently introduced a Bill in Parliament to achieve this. Now only Parliament can decide what type of Lokpal legislation should be enacted.”
The Prime Minister said he believed that there was “no single big step” which we can take to eradicate corruption.
“In fact, we will have to act simultaneously on many fronts,” he said.
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, Singh 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.”
Singh 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 they will put an end to such discretionary powers wherever possible and he hopes 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. We had constituted a committee to suggest measures to reduce corruption in government purchases.
“The committee has recommended that, like many other countries, we should also have a public procurement legislation which lays down the principles and practice with regard to government purchases. We will introduce a Bill in Parliament by the end of this year to enact such a law,” he said.
The Prime Minister 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.
Highlighting the role of RTI in keeping a “strict watch” on the work of the government, he said, “today many government decisions, which in the absence of this Act would escape public scrutiny, are coming to light. I believe that this is a big step forward in eradicating corruption.”
Singh noted that an alert press and an aware citizenry can be very helpful in the fight against corruption.
The Indian press is known for its independence and activism throughout the world. The RTI legislation that we have enacted has enabled our press and people to keep a strict watch on the work of the government, he said.Noting that much has been achieved during his last seven years in office, Singh said, however, a lot remains to be done.
“The road ahead is long and arduous. Particularly, 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,” he said.
“There are some people who want to create disturbances in the country so that our progress gets stalled. All this can have a negative impact on us. But we will not let this happen,” he asserted.
The Prime Minister also spoke about problems surrounding the procurement of land and promised the enactment of a “forward looking and balanced” law to prevent tensions over the sensitive issue soon.
Emphasising that he was fully aware of the tensions caused in some parts of the country because of acquisition of land for industry, infrastructure and urbanization, he said that the government will ensure that “no injustice is done to anyone in the process of land acquisition.”
He said, “our farmers have been especially affected by such acquisition. Land acquisition is no doubt necessary for projects of public interest. But it should take place in a transparent and fair manner. The interests of those whose livelihoods are dependent on the land being acquired should be fully protected.”
Singh said that the government wants to replace the 117 year old land acquisition law by a new Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation law which is forward looking and balanced.
“We have already prepared a draft legislation and have initiated steps to build consensus on it. We will soon introduce a Bill in Parliament to this end,” he said. MORE
Touching upon the issue of terrorism, Singh said the recent serial blasts in Mumbai have come as a warning to the nation that there cannot be any laxity in the vigil against the scourge.
“Last month’s terrorist attacks in Mumbai warn us that there cannot be any slip-up in our vigilance as far as the fight against terrorism is concerned. This is a long battle to be fought jointly by the central government, state governments and the common man,” he said.
The Prime Minister said the government has been steadily strengthening intelligence and security agencies and will continue to do so in future.
He also expressed concern over the issue of naxalism which he had earlier described as the biggest threat to internal security. “We are also taking all possible steps to overcome the challenge of Naxalism. We want to eradicate the very reasons which give rise to this problem,” he said.
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.
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.
“In view of these major changes, it is necessary that we consider all aspects of education in a comprehensive manner. Therefore we have decided to appoint an education commission to make recommendations for improvements at all levels of education,” he said.