Against the backdrop of various scams hitting the government, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday said efforts are underway to make “systemic changes” to ensure more transparency and safeguards in the governing processes.
Addressing the 9th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas here, he said consensus would be needed to bring about far-reaching changes that may be required in governance and asserted that the government would “sincerely” work towards this end.
“We are examining seriously how to make systemic changes that ensure more transparent procedures and safeguards in our governing processes,” Dr. Singh told a gathering of around 1,500 NRIs and People of Indian Origin (PIOs) who have assembled here from across the world for the three-day event.
He said the Indian “democracy and our systems are sturdy, vibrant and have their own in-built mechanisms for redressal and course correction.”
Noting that “We need to build consensus on far-reaching changes that may be required in governance and in our legal or electoral systems,” Dr. Singh said, “We are determined to work sincerely towards this end.”
The comments assume significance as the government has been hit by a number of scams like those related to the 2G spectrum allocation and Commonwealth Games.
Talking about the country’s progress, the Prime Minister told the Indian diaspora that the economic recovery was progressing well despite “uncertain” global scenario and the growth is expected to be 9-10 per cent from next year.
“In the last two quarters, our growth rate has been 8.9 per cent and we expect that for the entire year it will be around 8.5 per cent,” he said.
Dr. Singh underlined that high growth rate is vital to fund India’s ambitious social development programmes and create employment for its young population.
Inviting the Indian diaspora for deeper engagement in the country’s development process, Singh asked them to share their expertise and experience in improving educational infrastructure here.
“We hope to use the wisdom, experience and resources of the global Indian community to develop a world class education system, particularly in higher education,” he said.
Drawing attention of the diaspora to the Northeastern states, he exhorted them to join local and national efforts to accelerate the pace of development of the resource-rich region.
The Prime Minister noted that a law has been enacted to provide voting rights to NRIs and appropriate procedures are being framed to give effect to this new legal provision.
“I have no doubt that your participation in the (electoral process) will be welcomed by the constituencies in which you do participate. You will bring a breath of global fresh air to our politics,” he said.
Dr. Singh, while addressing the Pravasi Bhartiya Divas (PBD) in January last year, had promised that Indian passport holders living abroad could get voting rights.
Subsequently, Parliament passed the Representation of People (Amendment) Bill in the last Monsoon Session to allow NRIs to vote in the elections, but differences between the Election Commission and the government on framing modalities has been holding up the process.
Singh said government has now decided to merge the Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card and Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) cards into a single facility.
The Government had introduced the OCI and PIO cards to facilitate visa—free travel of NRIs and Indian Origin people to India as well as to provide them rights of residency and participation in business and educational activities.
“We hope to iron out some of the problems that have arisen in the implementation of these schemes,” he said.
Listing the initiatives of the government to ensure welfare of Indians living abroad, Singh said Social Security agreements have been signed with 12 countries and negotiations are currently on for a generic arrangement with the European Union.
He said government has now extended the facility of Indian Community Welfare Fund to all Indian Missions. The fund provides help to Indians in distress in foreign countries.
Holding that India’s soft power is an important element in expanding the country’s global footprint, the Prime Minister said the government has decided to establish new cultural centres in the US, Canada, Saudi Arabia, France and Australia.
“I urge the Indian communities in these countries to support and patronise these centres so that they become effective instruments for projecting the diversity and splendour of Indian culture,” he said.
He also laid the foundation stone of Pravasi Bharatiya Kendra here which will serve as a centre for research and development relating to NRIs.