Indian PM urges steps to boost economy

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By NIRMALA GEORGE, Associated Press

NEW DELHI (AP) — India's national security is at risk if urgent steps are not taken to boost economic growth, attract new investment in infrastructure and legislate against corruption, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Wednesday.

Singh warned that if economic growth remained stagnant, new investments were discouraged, government finances did not improve and energy security was not ensured, "then it most certainly affects our national security."

Singh's speech marking the 65th anniversary of India's independence from British rule comes after large parts of India's power grid collapsed over two days last month, leaving hundreds of millions without electricity.

Singh promised to accelerate infrastructure development and said the government would work to remove barriers to investment to attract foreign capital in those sectors of the economy.

The government has set ambitious targets to develop roads, airports, railways, electricity generation and coal production for which it would seek help from private companies, he said.

"To attract foreign capital, we will have to create confidence at the international level that there are no barriers to investment in India," he said.

Singh called on political parties to pass legislation to reduce corruption and bring greater accountability to the government. The measure has already passed the lower house but awaits approval from the upper house.

In an effort to curb corruption, Singh also said the government would ensure that every household in the nation of 1.2 billion people had a bank account within the next two years.

"We want to create a system in which money from government schemes — pensions for old people, scholarships for students or wages for laborers can be credited directly into people's bank accounts."

In the past year, India has been roiled by widespread protests by millions of people who are fed up with the rampant corruption that infests almost every part of government. The past two years also saw a string of scandals involving top government officials while hundreds of millions of people are trapped in poverty.

Singh's image as an honest technocrat has been dented by accusations that he has not done enough to curb corruption since his Congress Party was first voted into office in 2004 and for a second term in 2009.

Singh's government has faced a slew of corruption allegations involving the murky sale of cellphone licenses in 2008 and the hosting of the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Critics estimate that those two events alone cost the country as much as $45 billion. Meanwhile, a leaked auditor's report in March suggested that up to $210 billion in potential revenues were lost as coal assets were sold cheaply without a competitive bidding process.

Anti-graft activists say it is not enough for Singh to claim he is honest if he remains oblivious to misdoings of his colleagues in government.

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