New Delhi: With government facing attack over multiple scams, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday 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 called corruption a problem deeply concerning all and 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.

"I believe there is no single big step which we can take to eradicate corruption. We will have to act simultaneously on many fronts," he said.

The prime minister dedicated a major portion of his 35-minute speech to corruption. Corruption and scandals related to the spectrum allocation and the Commonwealth Games have rocked his government.

Manmohan Singh faces critcism for failing to intervene to stop the 2G scam, which is said to have caused huge financial losses to the nation and which has seen former Communications Minister A Raja getting jailed.

Another Cabinet Minister, Dayanidhi Maran, was forced to step down after coming under the scanner for his suspected involvement in the scandal.

He appealed to "all political parties to stand shoulder to shoulder with us in this fight" and said the government would introduce more bills in the Parliament to fight corruption.

"I hope that all political parties will cooperate in the process of converting these bills into statutes. We can win the fight against corruption only when each and every citizen of India cooperates in it." He said corruption had many faces.

"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."

He said the country needed to improve its justice delivery system.

"Everyone should know that quick action will be taken against the corrupt and punishment meted out to them. 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."

He said the government wanted a bill that creates and gives statutory powers to an anti-graft watchdog - Lokpal - to prevent corruption in high places.

"We have recently introduced a bill in the Parliament to achieve this," he said, referring to the Lokpal Bill.

Without taking names, Manmohan Singh referred to social activist Anna Hazare and his indefinite hunger strike from Tuesday to press the government for a stronger Lokpal bill.

"Those who don't agree with this bill can put forward their views to the 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 already in the Parliament.

Manmohan Singh said his government had received "frequent complaints of corruption" in awarding government contracts worth thousands of crores of rupees every year.

A government-appointed committee, he said, has recommended that a public procurement legislation that lays down the principles and practice with regard to official purchases.

"We will introduce a bill in the Parliament by the end of this year to enact such a law."

No laxity in vigilance against terrorism

The Prime Minister 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 terrorism.

"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," Singh said.

25 people were killed in the serial blasts in Mumbai on July 13 at Dadar, Zaveri Bazar and Opera House areas.

Singh said the government has been steadily strengthening intelligence and security agencies and will continue to do so in future.

Speaking from the ramparts of the Red Fort, the Prime Minister 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," Singh said.

He 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.

Education Commission to be set up

Keen on enhancing the quality of education in the country, the Prime Minister announced the government's decision to appoint a commission to make recommendations in this regard and talked about moves to universalise secondary education.

He said vocational education and skill development have acquired new importance and considering the "major changes", the government has decided to appoint the commission.

"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.

Expressing satisfaction over achievements in the education sector, Singh said government was considering universalisation of secondary education as it did in case of elementary education through the Right to Education Act.

As per RTE, education is free and compulsory upto eighth standard and universalisation of secondary education will make it free and compulsory upto Class X.

"Today every citizen has a right to elementary education. We are now considering universalisation of secondary education.”
Noting that government had emphasised on education in the 11th Five Year Plan, Singh said similar priority will be given to the health sector in the 12th Five Year Plan.

Holding that health insurance for workers in the unorganised sector is a priority, he said government will endeavour to cover as many workers as possible under the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana which was introduced in 2008.

"In the last year we have covered those getting employment under Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Act and also domestic workers, street vendors and beedi workers under this scheme," he said.

About 2.5 crore workers have already been covered under the scheme, he said and added, "Our government will endeavour to cover as many unorganized sector workers as possible under this scheme."

(JPN/ Agencies)