"Religious harmony, not mere tolerance, is the bedrock of India's secularism. Enshrined in the Indian Constitution therefore, are several rights that are intended to protect the interests of all citizens, including religious minorities. It is also the solemn duty of the Government to make every possible effort to protect and promote secular values and provide equality of opportunity to all religious minorities," he said.
"It is in furtherance of this objective that an institutional arrangement has been set up for enforcement and implementation of all safeguards provided for minorities in our Constitution, in Central and State laws, and in government policies and administrative schemes," he added.
Recalling that the National Commission for Minorities had been established by a statute in 1992 by the Central Government, Dr. Singh said he was happy to note that several states have also followed suit.
He said that it is matter of satisfaction to see the existence of 17 state minorities commissions, and that the establishment of such commissions is under active consideration inf some other states as well.
"Over the years, the National Commission for Minorities and the State Commissions have played an important role in upholding the rights of minorities guaranteed by the Constitution, and in protecting their interests as equal citizens of a democratic nation. I would like to take this opportunity to compliment the commissions for their achievements. The commissions have also done well in bringing into focus the responsibility of majority communities to ensure that the rights of minorities are secured."
"To maintain communal harmony, both majority communities and minorities have to work together to create an atmosphere of acceptance and harmony. In most parts of the country the relationship between majority and minority communities is harmonious, although there have been instances where this relationship has been put to severe test, especially of late. These aberrations tarnish the image of our country and our society. They cause pain and suffering to the affected people. They also disrupt the ability of large sections of our society to contribute to the rapid economic progress of our country," he added.
He said that the central government has established a number of other institutions to ensure that minorities are not only be provided with adequate safeguards, but also given equal access to development opportunities.
"I believe that our government has tried its best to ensure social and economic justice to minority communities. The new 15-point programme for minorities that the UPA Government launched in 2006 aims at ensuring the well-being, protection and development of minorities. The focus of the programme is to ensure that the benefits of various development schemes and programmes of the government accrue in equitable measure to minorities, especially those located in minority concentration areas," Dr. Singh said.
"Wherever possible, 15 per cent of the targets and outlays under various poverty alleviation schemes are required to be earmarked for minorities. A reasonable representation of minorities is also expected to be ensured in the government, including the public sector enterprises," he added.
"Our efforts over the last nine years have shown visible results, but a lot more also needs to be done," the Prime Minister said.
He also said that he was happy to inform that the government has been able to persuade the private sector to some extent to take affirmative action in favour of minorities as part of their corporate social responsibility.
"The success of our initiatives depends to a large extent on the cooperation of states. If both the Central and State Governments work in tandem, the implementation of these programmes can be made more effective. I believe that State Minorities Commissions have a very important role to play in ensuring this outcome and I would urge their representatives present here to redouble their efforts in this direction," he said.
"Our strength as a country lies in our unity. We should be vigilant against forces that seek to exploit our diversity in religion, language and culture to divide our people. The state on its part must focus on taking care of the basic needs of education, health care, housing and employment of minorities and providing a framework for participation of minorities in governance and the processes of socio-economic development," he concluded.
--ANI (Posted on 13-01-2014)