New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday expressed anguish over the loss of Navy's frontline submarine INS Sindhurakshak in an accident in Mumbai in which 18 soldiers are feared to have lost their lives.
“We are deeply pained that we lost the submarine, INS Sindurakshak in an accident yesterday. Eighteen brave sailors are feared to have lost their lives,” the Prime Minister said in his speech on the 67th Independence Day.
“The accident is all the more painful because the Navy had recently achieved two major successes in the form of its first nuclear submarine, INS Arihant and the aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant,” he said.
In one of the worst disasters to have struck the Navy, a series of explosions rocked its submarine INS Sindhurakshak at the dockyard in Mumbai on Tuesday night, sinking it partially in the shallow sea, in which 18 personnel including three officers are feared killed.
The diesel-electric submarine was commissioned into the Indian Navy 1997 at a cost of around Rs 400 crore and had recently gone through an over Rs 450-crore extensive upgrade in Russia.
A board of inquiry has been constituted by the Navy to probe the reasons behind the accident and it is expected to submit its report within four weeks.
Hopeful of early passage of landmark food bill
Dr. Singh expressed confidence that Parliament will soon pass the UPA government's landmark food security legislation aimed at providing cheaper foodgrains to 81 crore poor Indians.
The government has recently issued an Ordinance towards the food security law.
“The Food Security Bill is now before Parliament and we hope it will be passed shortly,” Dr. Singh said in his Independence Day address.
Government's attempts to take up the much-hyped legislation in Lok Sabha yesterday failed for the second consecutive day due to disruptions caused over the Telangana issue.
Congress had issued a whip to its members to be present in the Lower House during discussion on the bill, which the party has termed as a “game-changer“.
The law, he said, will benefit 75 per cent of India's rural population and half of the urban population.
Under the law, about 81 crore people would be entitled to receive rice at Rs 3 per kg, wheat at Rs 2 a kg and coarse grains at Rs 1 a kilo.
“This is the largest effort of its kind in the whole world. We have been able to implement this law only because of the hard work of our farmers. Our food grain production reached a record level of 25.9 crore tonne in 2011-12,” Dr. Singh said.
The Prime Minister further said that after the enactment of the food security legislation, its implementation will be one of the priorities.
“We have already started working in this direction in partnership with States. Computerisation of the Public Distribution System will be speeded up,” he added.
The subsidy burden would be Rs 1.30 lakh crore and foodgrains requirement would be 62 million tonnes annually.
Ties with Pak can't improve if terror acts continue
In a strong message to Pakistan, Dr. Singh said anti-India activities emanating from there will have to stop for relations to improve and asserted that all steps will be taken to prevent “dastardly” acts like the recent killing of jawans on the LoC.
He said terrorist and naxal violence in the country have reduced but the area of national security calls for constant vigil.
India, he said, has strived for friendship with its neighbouring countries. “However, for relations with Pakistan to improve it is essential they prevent the use of their territory and territory under their control for any anti-India activity,” he said.
Referring to the August 6 killing of five Indian soldiers by Pakistan Army in a cross-LoC attack in Poonch sector of Jammu and Kashmir, he termed it as a “dastardly” act and said “we will take all possible steps to prevent such incidents in the future.”
In his 30-minute speech, Dr. Singh also appeared to target the BJP and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, saying there was no place for “narrow and sectarian ideologies” in modern, progressive and secular India.
He warned such ideologies will “divide” society and “weaken our democracy“.
“We should prevent them from growing,” he said.
Dr. Singh, in his 10th consecutive Independence Day address and his last before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, stressed that there was a need to strengthen secular traditions to promote tolerance.
“I would appeal to all political parties, all sections of our society and public at large to work in this direction,” he said.
Slow economic growth phase not to last long
With economic growth at the lowest level in a decade, Dr. Singh hoped the slow pace will not last long as the government is working hard to remedy the situation.
“I believe that this phase of slow growth in India will not last long... The average rate of economic growth that we have attained in the last nine years shows what we are capable of. However, economic growth has slowed down at present and we are working hard to remedy the situation,” Dr. Singh said.
In the last nine years, the economy has grown at an annual average rate of 7.9 per cent. “This pace of development is the highest in any decade so far,” he said.
After growing at over 8 per cent for two consecutive years, the economic growth slowed to 6.2 per cent in 2011-12 and further to decade's low rate of 5 per cent last year on account of poor performance of farm, manufacturing and mining sectors.
India is not the only country facing economic slowdown, Dr. Singh said, adding world over there has been a slump in export markets and growth in developing countries have been affected.
“It is not only our country that is facing economic difficulties. The last year has been difficult for the world economy as a whole. Major European nations are experiencing a slowdown these days,” he added.
The government expects the economy to grow around 6 per cent in the current fiscal. It has been taking measures to increase investments, especially attracting foreign funds, to push growth.
“The average rate of economic growth that we have attained in the last 9 years shows what we are capable of,” Dr. Singh said.
The average rate of growth of India was 8.4 per cent between 2004-09 fiscal and 7.3 per cent in the next four years.
The Prime Minister said rapid economic growth is an imperative as without it the country cannot possibly achieve targets of removal of poverty, provision of good quality education and health services and creation of new employment opportunities.
“In the coming months, we will see visible results of these efforts to increase investment. Our growth will accelerate, new employment opportunities will be generated and there will be improvements in the infrastructure sector,” Dr. Singh said.
In order to accord fast track clearances to large infrastructure projects, the government had in January set up a Cabinet Committee on Investment (CCI), headed by the Prime Minister.
“We will start work on a number of new infrastructure projects in the coming months. This includes 2 new airports, 8 new airports, new industrial corridors and rail projects,” he said.
He further said inadequate supply of coal had become a major problem affecting our efforts for increasing electricity generation. “This has been resolved to a large extent“.
Dr. Singh said without rapid agriculture growth it would not be possible to make the villages prosperous.
“We have constantly endeavoured to increase production and ensure that farmers get remunerative prices for their produce,” the Prime Minister added.
In the last 9 years, support prices for various crops have been enhanced as never before, Dr. Singh said adding that many states which faced shortages of food grains earlier are now producing more than what they require.
Warns narrow, sectarian ideologies will weaken democracy
In an apparent attack on BJP leader and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, Dr. Singh warned that “narrow and sectarian ideologies” would “weaken” the democracy and the country and they should be prevented from growing.
“There can be no place for narrow and sectarian ideologies in a modern, progressive and secular country. Such ideologies divide our society and weaken our democracy. We should prevent them from growing,” he said in his 10th consecutive speech.
In his 30-minute speech, Dr, Singh did not make any direct reference to Mr. Modi but apparently was referring to him only.
The Prime Minister said there was a “need to strengthen those traditions of our country which teach us to promote tolerance and respect for thought processes different from ours.”
“I would appeal to all political parties, all sections of our society and the public at large to work in this direction,” he said.
Dr. Singh said despite some worrisome communal incidents in 2012 and this year, “the last 9 years have been good for communal harmony”.
BIMARU states are progressing
Dr. Singh said rural per capita consumption has increased four times faster than earlier due to enhanced economic prosperity in rural areas and BIMARU states have witnessed progress.
“Many states which had been considered backward for a long time, with some of them being called BIMARU are now progressing,” Singh said in his Independence Day address to the nation.
The BIMARU states are four northern Indian states -- Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh. The term BIMARU was used to describe the state of economy in these states.
Several studies, including those by the UN, showed that the performance of the BIMARU states affected the GDP growth rate of India. Some of these states are also being affected by the Naxal menace and also a part of the Red Corridor.
However, since some of these states have now started to advance faster, the concept of BIMARU is starting to become outdated.
“We now see clear indications of enhanced economic prosperity in our rural areas. In the period 2004-11, rural per capita consumption has increased four times faster than earlier,” the Prime Minister said
Referring to MNREGA, the UPA's flagship programme, Dr. Singh said, “Rural wages have also increased much faster in this period (2004-11). MNREGA provides employment to crores of people in rural areas,”
In his speech, the Prime Minister invoked the legacy of Nehru and the Gandhis and the contribution of the Congress party to the country.