India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Wednesday said that the country was unable to create an environment for rapid economic growth due to lack of political consensus and promised to work hard to shield the country from the effects of global economic slowdown.
Addressing the nation from the historic Red Fort on the occasion of India's 66th Independence Day, Singh urged all political parties to support the Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the parliament.
The landmark bill for creation of anti-corruption agencies Lokpal and Lokayukta was passed in the lower house parliament in December.
"We will continue our efforts to bring more transparency and accountability in the work of public servants and to reduce corruption," Singh said, adding that these measures should 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."
Facing widespread criticism for policy paralysis and lack of economic growth, Singh said the "global economy is passing through a difficult phase."
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"Our country has also been affected by these adverse external conditions. Also, there have been domestic developments which are hindering our economic growth. Last year, our GDP grew by 6.5 percent. This year we hope to do a little better."
He said controlling inflation could be rendered difficult because of the poor monsoon this year.
"However, we have taken many measures to deal with the situation. In districts where there has been a deficit of 50 percent or more in the rainfall, diesel subsidy is being provided to farmers by the Government. Seed subsidy has been enhanced. Funds available under the Central scheme for fodder have been increased," he said.
Singh said the availability of food was not going to be problem due to "a big stock of food grains."
He lauded the farmers saying India had produced "a record output of crops successively in the last 2 years."
During his 35-minute speech in Hindi, Singh vowed to provide electricity to "each and every household" in the next five years and also to improve the power supply. Singh's promise came after two weeks of India witnessing the world's worst blackout in recent times.
He said the government wished to improve job prospects of the Indian youth by providing training courses to improve their skills. "We are considering the establishment of a National Skill Development Authority so that skill development programs all over the country can be implemented in a coordinated manner," he said. "We would also need contribution from the private sector and non-Governmental organizations in this work."
"The Government will take steps to increase investment for infrastructure development with the help of the private sector. To attract foreign capital, we will have to create confidence at the international level that there are no barriers to investment in India," Singh said.
Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in retail and aviation and recent decisions on tax matters like retrospective amendment and General Anti-Avoidance Rules (GAAR) have been raising concerns in various industry quarters.
Though the nation has achieved success in improving national security, "the incidents which occurred in Pune in the beginning of this month point to the need for much more work to be done," he said, referring to the four low-intensity bomb blasts in quick succession that shook Pune in Maharashtra state August 1.
He praised the armed forces and paramilitary forces for defending the country's security during times of war and peace.
"The Government will continue to work for modernizing these forces and providing them with the necessary technology and equipment," he said.
Addressing the issues of education and malnutrition among children, Singh said that "almost all children" in the age group of 6-14 years were enrolled in schools.
"We had launched the National Rural Health Mission in 2005 so that health services can be extended to each village in the country. Today this Mission is being implemented with the help of one million health personnel," he said.
Singh announced the plan to launch the Rajiv Housing Loan Scheme, which would provide relief on interest for housing loans of less than Rs 5 lakh (about $9000) for people belonging to economically weaker sections of the society.
He said the government would make the 15 points program for minorities more effective: "The Multi-Sectoral Development Program being implemented in districts with large minority populations will be expanded." The program aims to improve opportunities for education and living conditions of minorities, to bring about equitable share in economic activities and employment and to prevent and control communal riots.
Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) criticized the speech as "lackluster" and "uninspiring," saying the premier failed to address issues like corruption and price rise.
"The speech just mentioned but did not give any direction on the issues the nation and the people of the country are facing - price rise, inflation, corruption, the black money, slowing economy, monsoon deficit, and drought. It did not address any of these issues," BJP spokesperson Prakash Javedkar was quoted as saying by the Press Trust of India.