Pyare Deshwasiyon, Bhaiyon aur Behenon,
Good wishes for our 69th Independence Day. Today is the day when every Indian renews his pledge of patriotism and working together for the benefit of the nation, and I too will do so. Last year, when I spoke to you for the first time, I listed our my priorities and made some promises. Today I will give you my report card, which will include both my successes and failures. I will not make any more promises, but focus on fulfilment and implementation of promises and schemes already announced so that it will result in sabka vikas.
But before I do that, I would like to apologise to the nation for not preventing the complete washout of the recent session of Parliament. I do not wish to blame anybody, or talk about what BJP did as opposition and what today’s opposition party has done. We have to learn lessons from our past mistakes, forgive each other, and work together to build the nation. On behalf of my party and government I apologise for the disruptions that were done in the past, and offer my hand of cooperation to today’s opposition parties. We may have different ideologies and political interests, but we are all interested in building a strong and prosperous India. We will do everything in our power to ensure that not one minute is wasted in the next Parliament session.
In the last session, two important reform bills – the Land Acquisition Bill and the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill – were proposed to be passed. I believe our mistake was in failing to explain what we were trying to do with both measures. In the Land Bill, it was said that we were trying to grab farmers’ land when the real issue is that infrastructure projects need land and small farmers with uneconomic land holdings derive very poor incomes as they are unable to invest in their land and grow more crops with higher yields.
Our Land Bill may have been flawed, and with all humility we will rework it and remove the shortcomings. In fact, along with our reworked Land Bill, we plan to introduce a Constitutional Amendment to make the right to property a fundamental right. We will also create provisions in the new Bill where land pooling, leasing and land-for-jobs exchanges and guaranteed monthly incomes become a part of the law when compulsory land acquisition becomes inevitable to build roads and other infrastructure for the poor. We hope the next Land Bill will have universal support from all parties. Our Bill will be a win-win for all, including those who have to give up their land for the greater good. GST is a very important reform for our country. If implemented well, it can improve tax revenues for government, and eliminate corruption and tax evasion. Objections have been raised to the current version of the Bill on three counts: that it needlessly brings in a 1 percent extra tax on inter-state sales; that many goods have been excluded from it; and that the rate may be high. I agree that the Bill needs improvement, and the government will incorporate all important suggestions made by the opposition in this regard. However, we must also recognise that what is good for one state may not be so good for another. To get over this problem, we have agreed to compensate states for any loss for five years. And even though the final Bill may still have some compromises, we will try and correct it over time. GST is good for the country, and we will do our best to implement the best possible Bill on the basis of a wide consensus.
Another major reform we have planned is a shift to pay cash instead of subsidies. We have already done this will LPG, and now propose to do this with kerosene and finally food and fertiliser subsidies. Let me explain what this means for the aam aadmi. Instead of giving kerosene at a low price, it will be sold at the market price, but those eligible for subsidies will get the price difference paid into their bank accounts. You can check with anyone who has an LPG connection and confirm that this cash payment scheme works. Let me also explain how this helps you. You don’t have to buy kerosene by waiting at ration shops. You can buy it from any stockist. You don’t have to buy kerosene if you don’t need it. You can use the money to pay your daughter’s school fees. Black marketing of kerosene and adulteration of diesel, which is damaging your vehicles and pumps, will end.
Corruption will reduce. I request state governments to implement this scheme from this year and improve the lives of the poor. Earlier this year, I asked better off people to give up their LPG subsidies and more than one million people have voluntarily. I salute them. They are true desh bhakts.
Last year I announced the abolition of the Planning Commission and its replacement with Niti Aayog, which is like India’s thinktank. The old Planning Commission acted more like a resource allocator or gatekeeper than as a real facilitator of development based on cooperative and competitive federalism. Our country is a “Union of states”, which means states have to drive development, with the centre facilitating development by sound macroeconomic management, keeping inflation down, providing cost-effective external and internal security, building stable diplomatic relations with friendly nations to promote trade and providing sound defence against enemies. We have tried and succeeded to some extent on all these fronts. Prices are under control, and India’s flag is flying high. We are strengthening our defences and tightening up our security against terrorism.
When I asked common people what did the Planning Commission do, nobody had any idea. Many people are now asking me, what will Niti Aayog do? My answer is it is a resource available for Centre and states for improving governance and efficiency. Niti Aayog will study the efficiency of anti-poverty schemes, suggest policy options for ministries, provide policy and strategy inputs for states which want to become more attractive to investors, and help states work out what is best for them. The centre will fully bear the cost of providing state-specific studies and I urge all Chief Ministers to fully use this think tank to take their states forward. Niti Aayog will succeed only if you fully utilise its capabilities.
At a later stage, Niti Aayog may also help make local government and panchayats more effective by creating models for adoption. I must confess I too did not fully realise the role that urban and village bodies have to play in issues of concern to our daily lives. For example, last year I talked about Swachch Bharat and the need to build toilets in all villages and homes. I am glad to see that many toilets are being built, but our cities are still full of garbage and some of the toilets built do not have water and hence not very useful. The centre can provide funds, but ultimately cleanliness is a citizen programme and its success cannot be driven from Delhi or even state capitals. Power and accountability has to flow downwards, and if we do not do this our dream of living up to Gandhiji’s high ideal of cleanliness by 2019 will not be achieved. After the implementation of the 14th Finance Commission report, 62 percent of tax resources now go to states, and only 38 percent remains with the Centre. I urge states to use the money wisely, and also share more of their own resources with urban and local self-government bodies, who have a big role to play in citizen services. What we are doing at the Centre must be done at the state level too. State governments must not concentrate resources in their hands, or else development will not happen.
There is another thing I would like talk to you about. I would like to make the lives of all Indians – and especially the poor – better. But in India we tend to believe that businessmen are bad, and they need to be harassed or humiliated in order to help the poor. There is also the fact that many businessmen have used corrupt means to get rich, and some have also done nothing for the poor. In my government we have a different view. We will act strongly against corrupt businessmen, but we believe that there can be no jobs, no growth if our businesses are not run well and are unprofitable. I am trying to help businessmen create jobs by making it easier to do business. Last year, I had asked businessmen to Make in India by putting up factories and assembly units, and I am glad many foreign and Indian companies are coming forward to create jobs in India. To make
them create more jobs, we may need to make labour laws flexible. Occasionally, when a business is unprofitable it will need to reduce labour, but our laws will help these workers find jobs by retraining – which is what our Skill India programme is about.
I know workers will worry about losing jobs, but let me assure you flexible labour laws will create more jobs, not less. You know this from your own experience. Some of you are farmers who employ labour in your farms. Will you employ them if you can never ask them to go if, say, there is a drought and you can’t afford to employ them? People in urban areas employ security guards to guard their homes, drivers to drive their cars, and maids to do household work. These jobs provide livelihoods to millions of Indians. But ask yourself: if you had to employ them forever, would you hire them? This is why we need flexible labour laws. Some 15 months ago, when I was elected PM, I promised you that my only goal is to help the poor, and in the matter of development, my motto is “sabka saath, sabka vikas.” But development needs united efforts and peace. On this 69th Independence Day, I would like to repeat that promise that I will do whatever it takes to ensure peace, amity and good
governance for all 125 crore Indian. My government will work for all Indians, without considering their caste, religion or language. I urge all Indians to think India First.
Jai Hind. Vande Mataram.