We also want strong Lokpal, no hunger strikes please: PM (Roundup)

August 15th, 2011 - 1:14 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, Aug 15 (IANS) In a speech dominated by concerns on corruption, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told the nation on its 65th Independence Day Monday that the government was taking action on many fronts to fight graft and believed in a strong Lokpal while also sending a message to activist Anna Hazare that he should not go on a hunger strike.

Addressing the nation from the Red Fort on a rain-soaked Independence Day, Manmohan Singh said the government had no “magic wand” and called for a multi-pronged crackdown on corrupt practices that hamper India’s economic growth.

Corruption was the leitmotif of the 35-minute speech, Manmohan Singh’s eighth consecutive Independence Day address and the second of his UPA II government, with Pakistan, Kashmir and the northeast conspicuous by their absence.

Instead, he dwelt on domestic concerns like terrorism, health, education and infrastructure.

Speaking in the backdrop of scandals such as alleged irregularities in the allocation of 2G spectrum and questionable contracts in the run-up to the Commonwealth Games and the growing rift between the government and civil society activists on an anti-corruption Lokpal (ombudsman) Bill, Manmohan Singh admitted that government contracts worth thousands of crores every year were often awarded to the wrong people.

The prime minister said the government would introduce in parliament a public procurement bill to monitor such official purchases.

“There are also cases where government contracts are wrongfully awarded to the wrong people. We cannot let such activities continue unchecked.

“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.”

A government-appointed committee, he said, had recommended that a public procurement legislation to monitor official purchases. “We will introduce a bill in parliament by the end of this year to enact such a law.”

“I believe that there is no single big step which we can take to eradicate corruption. We will have to act simultaneously on many fronts,” Manmohan Singh said.

As the showdown with Team Anna over the hunger strike for a more stringent Lokpal Bill becomes imminent, he said the government wanted a bill that created and gave statutory powers to an anti-graft watchdog - Lokpal - to prevent corruption in high places.

“We have recently introduced a bill in parliament to achieve this.

“Now only parliament can decide what type of Lokpal legislation should be enacted.”

Without taking names, Manmohan Singh referred to Hazare’s indefinite hunger strike from Tuesday over the government’s version of the Lokpal Bill that keeps prime minister and judiciary out of its ambit, and said: “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 that they should not resort to hunger strikes and fasts unto death.”

He said bringing the judiciary under the ambit of Lokpal would undermine its independence but hoped that a bill which makes the judiciary “more accountable” would be passed soon. The Judicial Accountability Bill is in parliament

He also warned against any complacency in the fight against terrorism. Referring to the July 13 bombings in Mumbai, he said the fight against terrorism “is a long battle to be fought jointly by the central government, the state governments and the common man”.

About Maoist insurgency in parts of east and central India, Manmohan Singh said: “”We want to eradicate the very reasons, which give rise to this problem.

“We have started a new scheme for the accelerated development of 60 backward and tribal dominated districts. An amount of Rs.3,300 crore will be spent on this scheme in a period of two years.”

Saluting farmers for achieving a high output this year, he also called for another Green Revolution to address the twin issues of checking prices and food security.

Top priority, he added, would be given to infrastructure in the next plan.
“In the 12th Plan (2012-13 to 2016-2017), we will further accelerate investment in infrastructure.”

He pressed for a slum free India and said the government was considering universalisation of secondary education.

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