My dear countrymen, brothers, sisters, and dear children My greetings to all of you on this day, the anniversary of our Independence. Today is an auspicious day for our country. Today we enter the 60th year of our Independence. Today we re-dedicate ourselves to the progress and prosperity of our nation. To the welfare of all our people. To the unity and integrity of our country. Today we salute our beloved tricolor.
We pay tribute to Mahatma Gandhi and all those freedom fighters because of whose efforts and sacrifices we secured our Independence. We remember all those whose hard work and efforts keep our flag flying high and keep our country on the road to progress. We pay tribute to the brave members of our armed forces, farmers, teachers, scientists, workers and the millions of our countrymen who are toiling tirelessly for the progress and prosperity of our nation.
In the early hours of the 15th of August, 1947, when our nation had just become Independent, our first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru spoke to the nation and asked us all one important question on the very first day we became a free country: “Are we brave enough and wise enough to grasp this opportunity and accept the challenge of the future? ” Today, my fellow citizens, I stand here once again and ask you that same question. Are we ready to face the challenge of the future? Are we brave enough, to do so, and wise enough, in doing so?
Can we rediscover the ideas and ideals that shaped our freedom struggle, and use them to take our country forward into the future? Are we willing to show the courage and the wisdom that Panditji wanted us to show in building a new India in a new world? The going has never been as good for India in the past as it is now. Our economy has been growing at an impressive pace of over 8 per cent. Such rapid growth over three successive years is unprecedented in Indian history. Wherever I go, I see our nation on the move. Our industry and services sectors are showing impressive growth.
I see a reassuring confidence in our industry in being able to take on the challenge of the rest of the world. The growth of the manufacturing industry has touched 11 per cent in the last quarter, generating many jobs for our youth and workers. I see our service sector competing with the best and earning valuable foreign exchange. All around us, we see new roads being built. The railways are expanding their reach. New power plants are being built. New airports are being planned. Vast industrial estates and Special Economic Zones are coming up.
This dynamism is the result of the enterprise, creativity and hard work of millions of Indians. They are boldly taking our country into the future, treading on untrodden paths. I am sure this will result in far greater prosperity for our people. I sincerely believe that the most effective way to banish poverty is to generate growth which in turn will create new opportunities for gainful employment. Hence, economic growth is of primary importance for us. There is visible progress all around. However, when I see this, I have some worries. And I am aware, that every Indian has similar worries.
Even as we move forward rapidly, to claim our rightful place in the comity of nations, I see that there are vast segments of our people who are untouched by modernization; who continue to do backbreaking labour; who continue to suffer from iniquitous social orders. I see that our farmers in many parts are in a crisis, not managing to eke out a decent living from their land. In the past two years, it has been our endeavour to address these concerns. We have taken many steps to expand employment opportunities and improve the quality of life in rural and urban areas.
These programmes are our weapons in the “War on Poverty”. The most effective weapon against poverty is employment. And, higher economic growth is the best way to generate employment. We must create an environment that encourages business to grow and create more employment, especially in the manufacturing sector. We have created a conducive environment for our industrial enterprises to flourish and the results of this are visible. We are supporting not just large industries, but also the labour intensive small scale and handloom sectors through special programmes. Handlooms and textile industries employ over 3. crore people. We are giving cheaper loans to this sector and handloom cooperatives are being revitalised. I am hopeful that in the coming years, lakhs of jobs will be generated in these sectors. However, I admit that much still needs to be done to improve the prospects for farmers. Especially in rain-fed areas and for dry-land agriculture. We will need to work towards ensuring more remunerative prices for our farmers. I am aware of the acute distress of our farmers who bear the burden of heavy debt. We have recently constituted an expert group to look into the problem of agricultural indebtedness.
I am confident that in a few months, we will take concrete measures to help our farmers overcome the burden of crushing debt. Most importantly, we must ensure that more people get employment in manufacturing and services so that the disproportionate burden on agriculture in providing a livelihood to two-thirds of our population gets reduced. The results of our efforts to improve agriculture are clearly visible in some places. Farmers are getting better prices for many crops. This helps them earn a better livelihood. This, on the other hand hurts the common man when the prices of essential food commodities go up.
We need to understand that if we want better prices for farmers so that they earn a better livelihood, the prices of what they produce and sell will have to go up! We certainly cannot grudge our farmers better incomes when incomes of other sections of society are rising! In order to ensure that the needy and the poor do not get adversely affected, our government is committed to ensuring adequate availability of essential commodities at affordable prices to them. I know that each of our families is concerned about the prices of essential commodities. Let me assure you that we will do whatever is required to keep prices under check.
But I must remind you that two years ago the international price of oil was just over USD 30 per barrel. Today it is close to USD 75. Even though world oil prices have more than doubled, we have succeeded in insulating our consumers to a great extent. Prices of kerosene and LPG have not been raised. But there is a limit to which we can go on subsidizing the consumption of petroleum products in the face of rising import costs. How much more can the government treasury bear this burden? At some point, this will affect our ability to spend on other important development programmes.
In order to keep food prices within the reach of the common man, we have even allowed the import of some products to meet the shortage in our markets. While employment and agriculture are of immediate concern to all, our long term concern is for the future of our children. They need to be healthy, well educated, with hope for the future. We launched the National Rural Health Mission to provide better health care in rural areas. Under this programme, almost two lakh women have been kept as health assistants (ASHAs) at the village level; four lakh more women will be in place soon.
Through them, we will wage a war against malnutrition of children, against malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and other diseases. These diseases put a heavy financial burden on our people. In Vidarbha, I was pained to meet families of farmers who had committed suicide because they could not repay the loans they had taken to meet the cost of health care of their loved ones. We will take every possible step to help people overcome the burden of poverty and disease. All the initiatives that we have taken to push forward rural development and ensure farmers’ welfare can be implemented only with the active participation of our panchayats.
For this to happen, our State Governments have to empower our panchayats. We have to pay more attention to the quality of local administration – in our villages and districts, in our towns and cities. We need to rid our municipalities of the cancer of corruption. State governments have a major role to play in this. Cities and towns are centers of growth and generators of employment opportunities. Our cities need to have a new look for which they need massive investment and renewal. They need basic amenities like sanitation, drinking water and proper housing for the poor. They need public transport, arks and playgrounds. We need cities in which the working poor can live with self-respect and dignity; cities in which children and women feel safe and secure. In order to ensure that our cities have better infrastructure and that they have better living conditions, we launched the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission. This programme and other similar ones have started showing results. Work has begun on Metro systems in Bangalore and Mumbai. I see a glorious decade of city development ahead of us. The challenge before Government is to implement these programmes.
We have to improve the way governments function and deliver public services. How do we do this? How do we ensure that higher financial outlays translate into better outcomes? I sincerely hope that the Right to Information Act enacted by our Government will empower our people who will be able to use their rights to make government more accountable. We have to work hard to eliminate corruption in the delivery of public services, in fact eliminate it from all walks of life. We will work to put in place a system that rewards honesty, probity and efficiency. India has contributed extensively to human knowledge.
Today, we are at the dawn of a new millennium which many call the knowledge economy. In this world, knowledge will determine our progress and the place we occupy in the world. We must continue to be at the forefront of new research and new thinking, especially in science and technology. As we expand educational opportunities, we must ensure that these opportunities are accessible to all marginalized and weaker sections of our society. Our government is committed to providing reservation in educational institutions for students from socially backward sections of society.
We will do so, while at the same time expanding educational opportunities for all youth. This is our solemn commitment. In this manner, we will recognize and reward individual merit and hard work while working for an inclusive society. Our other concern is national security. India is facing two major threats to its internal security. Terrorism and Naxalism. Just over a month ago, Mumbai witnessed the most inhuman terrorist attack in the recent past, killing and injuring hundreds of innocent citizens. The entire nation was pained by this suffering.
Mumbai demonstrated its courage and patience and showed its resolve not to be cowed down by these incidents. I give my assurance to every citizen that we will do our utmost to preserve our unity and integrity, to make our country safe and secure for every citizen. We will modernize, strengthen and properly equip our security forces and our intelligence agencies. We will leave no stone unturned in ensuring that terrorist elements in India are neutralized and smashed. Let those who want to hurt us by inflicting a thousand cuts remember – no one can break our will, or unity. No one can make India kneel.
Every Indian wants to live in a neighbourhood of peace, stability and prosperity. People in our neighbouring countries share the same aspirations. South Asia is a common cultural and economic unit. Our past and destinies are inter-linked. India, as the largest country in the region, is ready to give our neighbours a stake in our own prosperity and share the fruits of our growth with them. We are prepared to work together with all our neighbours to usher in an era of peace and prosperity for our peoples. We have taken several initiatives in this regard, in particular with Pakistan.
To be successful, these initiatives need an atmosphere of peace. In the past two years, we have succeeded in creating an international environment which supports our development aspirations. Our relations with the United States of America, China, Japan, and the European Union, have never been better and with Russia, we have further strengthened our time-tested partnership. Even today, the youth of our country are in search of a bright future. They seek new opportunities and are in search of new possibilities. They are willing to think in new ways. They have no time for old ideas and ideologies.
They want to build a new India. We must build a new India of their dreams. I want every one of our youth to walk shoulder to shoulder, and walk forward with us in building a new India. Every young person must have faith in our future. To know that this country will create opportunities for all for the full expression of their talent and skill. We have a dream of an India in which every woman can feel safe, secure and empowered. Where our mothers, sisters and daughters are assured a life of dignity and personal security. We must end the crime of female foeticide.
We must eliminate gender disparities. We must see that every young woman is educated and skilled and capable of guiding a new generation. The laws of our land are meant to protect every law abiding citizen. The rule of law can become a reality only if justice is seen to be delivered. Only if the rights of law- abiding citizens are protected. We need a more efficient, humane and responsive police force. We also need a more efficient and effective judiciary. Our government will work to make this possible. Let us all join together, hand in hand, to build a new India. Jai Hind!