Battling the charge of policy paralysis in the government, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today blamed lack of political consensus for slow growth and vowed to do everything to boost economy through investments while linking development processes to national security.
Addressing the nation from the ramparts of historic Red Fort on the occasion of 66th Independence Day, he promised to work for reducing corruption in public life and sought the help of all political parties in passing the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill in Parliament in this regard.
During his 35-minute speech in Hindi, Singh made a host of announcements in social sector like expanding the national health scheme and electrification, undertaking skill development and assessment of teachers.
The 79-year-old economist Prime Minister also sought to encourage foreign investors, who have been apprehensive after certain recent taxation decisions, that there would be "no barriers" to investment in India.
He referred to violence in Assam and promised that the causes would be looked into and steps taken to ensure that such incidents are not repeated anywhere else.
He highlighted that internal security in the country, including Jammu and Kashmir, had improved but said the recent blasts in Pune were a reminder that more needed to be done.
In his ninth consecutive Independence Day address, only the third Prime Minister to do so after Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, Singh said there was a need to "introspect what remains to be done" so that "we learn from our failures and build on our successes".
"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.
"Time has now come to view the issues which affect our development processes as matters of national security," he said.
The statement assumes significance as the government has been facing the charge of policy paralysis with key economic reforms decisions, like FDI in retail, being stuck due to opposition by allies.
In the backdrop of criticism from some foreign investors that the Indian policy environment was not conducive for business, Singh said "we have to create confidence at the international level that there are no barriers to investment in India".
On employment, Singh said his government will work hard for creation of new job opportunities for youth.
"Creation of new employment opportunities is possible only when we encourage industry and trade. For this we need to speedily improve our infrastructure," he said adding government will spare no effort to encourage investment.
On infrastructure sector, Singh said steps will be taken to increase investment with the help of the private sector.
The 12th Five Year Plan, which will be approved by the National Development Council this year, envisages $one trillion investment in the infrastructure sector.
"The Plan would determine the future course of action on all important matters relating to the country's development. It would lay down measures for increasing our present rate of economic growth from 6.5 to 9 per cent in the last year of the Plan," the Prime Minister added.
The Plan would focus special attention on areas important from the point of view of reaching the fruits of development to all and specially to the weaker sections of our society, he said.
"I have full confidence that the Centre and the States will act together to implement the 12th Plan in an effective manner," Singh added.
He also announced that to provide housing to urban poor, "we will soon launch the Rajiv Housing Loan Scheme". Under the scheme, people belonging to economically weaker sections would be given relief on interest for housing loans of less than Rs 5 lakh.
On power supply in rural areas, the Prime Minister said the target is to provide electricity to every rural household in the next five years.
The Prime Minister further said the government intends to create a system in which money from Government schemes - pension for old people, scholarship for students and wages for labourers - can be credited directly into beneficiaries' bank accounts.
"This would reduce inconvenience to the beneficiaries, make it easy for them to receive payment and increase transparency. For this work, we will take help from the Aadhar scheme under which about 20 crore people have been registered so far," Singh said.
He also said that it will be "our endeavour to ensure that all households benefit from bank accounts in the next 2 years". Presently only half of the rural households get the benefit of bank accounts.
About the state of economy, the Prime Minister said that the global factors are affecting India as well. "These days global economy is passing through a difficult phase. The pace of economic growth has come down in all countries of the world. Seen together, the European countries are estimated to grow 0 per cent this year. Our country has also been affected by these external conditions," he said.
The Prime Minister said India was being affected by the "difficult phase" encountered by the global economy.
"Also there have been domestic developments which are hindering our economic growth," he said, pointing out that last year, the GDP grew by 6.5 per cent.
Hoping to "do a little better" this year, Singh said, "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."
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.
"To attract foreign capital, we will have to create confidence at the international level that there are no barriers to investment in India," he said.
Foreign investors have been apprehensive after some recent decisions on tax matters like retrospective amendment and General Anti-Avoidance Rules (GAAR).
Talking about corruption over which his government has been facing an onslaught from civil society and opposition, Singh said, "We will continue our efforts to bring more transparency and accountability in the work of public servants and to reduce corruption."
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.
In this context, Singh referred to the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill which was passed by the Lok Sabha last year and is now pending with the Rajya Sabha.
"We hope that all political parties will help us in passing this Bill in the Rajya Sabha," he said.
"Our commitment to make the work of the government and administration transparent and accountable stands," he said.