New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Sunday said his government would always maintain communal peace and harmony and protect the minorities.
"Our government is committed to maintain communal peace and harmony. We also consider it our duty to protect the minorities and provide for their special needs," Singh said while addressing the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort.
"This is why we have started many new programmes in the last four years for the welfare of our brothers and sisters belonging to the minority communities," he added.
He said scholarships for minority students and special programmes for the development of districts which have a high concentration of minorities had shown good results.
"We will vigorously take this work forward," he added.
The Prime Minister said secularism was one of the pillars of India`s democracy.
"It has been the tradition of our country and society to treat all religions with equal respect. For centuries India has welcomed new religions and all have flourished here. Secularism is also our constitutional obligation," he added.
`Build a Clean India’
Lamenting that India scored poorly in cleanliness, Prime Minister said that children needed to be taught hygiene under a new Clean India campaign.
"I consider it a primary responsibility of all our citizens to maintain cleanliness and hygiene around them," the prime minister said.
"I would like our children to be taught the importance of cleanliness and hygiene in schools from the very beginning under a campaign for a Clean India," he said.
He appealed to state governments, Panchayats, civil society groups and common citizens "to make this campaign successful".
"Nutritious food and good health services are necessary but not enough for ensuring good health of our citizens. We also need cleanliness and good sanitation in our villages, towns and cities," he said.
"There are many diseases which would be difficult to prevent otherwise. The truth is that our country lags behind in this area," he said.
Don`t use `harsh words`
Dr Singh today expressed anguish over the use of "harsh and unpleasant words" in political discourse.
"The use of harsh and unpleasant words in our political discourse has increased in recent days. This is against our traditions of generosity, humility and tolerance," he said in his Independence Day address from the Red Fort.
"Criticism has a place of its own in a democracy and in a progressive society. However, criticism should not be undignified. We should have the capacity to reconcile opposite points of view on important issues through debate and discussion. I would request all political parties to consider this issue," he added.