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Singh pill & punch for graft check

New Delhi, Feb. 4: The Prime Minister today said corruption strikes at the “roots of good governance”, hinders economic growth and “dilutes, if not negates” efforts at social inclusion.

It also dents the country’s international image and “demeans us before our own people”, Manmohan Singh added, speaking at a time the UPA has been grappling with the Commonwealth Games and telecom controversies.

Addressing the second annual conference of chief secretaries, Singh described corruption as a “challenge” that had to be faced “frontally, boldly and quickly”.

The statement comes two days after the CBI arrested former telecom minister A. Raja of the DMK in connection with allegations over the 2G spectrum allocation.

While the Congress hopes to showcase Raja’s arrest as “demonstrable action” and deflate the Opposition’s campaign before the next Parliament session, others see it differently.

The BJP and its allies have declared that the arrest would bolster their demand for a joint parliamentary committee probe into the spectrum controversy. DMK chief M. Karunanidhi has announced that the Dalit MP from Tamil Nadu would be projected as a “hero” who has been “victimised” by “vested interests” for connecting the common man with the cellphone.

Speaking on the fight against corruption, Singh said: “Two bills have already been introduced in Parliament relating to judicial accountability and the protection of whistleblowers. Along with legislation, the necessary revamp of administrative practices and procedures needs to be fast-tracked,” he said.

Expressing concern about inflation, Singh put the spurt in prices of “relatively superior products” such as milk, eggs, meat and fish in the context of a rise in income levels spurred by the UPA’s “effective” programmes of social inclusion.

“The recent spurt in prices has been driven by an increase in the prices of vegetables, fruits, milk, meat, eggs and fish. This poses a different kind of problem, as these commodities are not held in public stocks. Some of the increase in the prices of relatively superior food products... is partly attributable to rising income levels,” the Prime Minister said.

“This itself is a corollary of faster growth and the effectiveness of our programmes of social inclusion, which have succeeded in putting relatively more income in the hands of the poorer sections of the community.”

Acknowledging the “urgency” for tackling inflation, Singh said the lasting solution lay in increasing agricultural productivity — of not only cereals but also pulses, oilseeds, vegetables and fruits — and augmenting the supply of milk and milk products, poultry, meat and fish.

Singh said that despite the UPA’s social sector projects being “reasonably successful”, there was a perception that their benefits often failed to reach the targeted groups “in full measure on account of leakages and, at times, tardy implementation”.

For him, the answer lay in “effective decentralisation and delegation of powers to the panchayats so that the voice of the targeted beneficiaries gets heard....”

Singh underlined the need for administrative mechanisms to respond to the “special needs and problems” of Dalits, tribals, minorities and women, check atrocities against them and punish the guilty.

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