GUWAHATI, Feb 18 � Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh today formally presented the Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed Memorial Award for National Integration for 2008 and 2009 to noted journalist MJ Akbar and Gandhian social worker Hema Bharali respectively at a function at the Pragjyoti-ITA cultural complex here this afternoon.
The Prime Minister also unveiled the foundation plaque of the Rs 1,600-crore Guwahati Water Supply Project.
Addressing the gathering, Dr Singh stressed the need for nurturing and strengthening the nation�s liberal outlook that defined its multi-religious and multi-cultural society.
�Our society and country have a glorious tradition of tolerance and secularism. India has ever been ready to accommodate newer ways of thinking and living� I believe that it is an obligation for all of us to work in this direction,� he said.
Crediting the people of Assam for successfully �combating fissiparous forces during turbulent times in the recent past�, Dr Singh termed peace and harmony as a prerequisite for meaningful development and referred to the various initiatives taken by the Central and State governments towards that end and stressed their transparent implementation.
�The establishment of territorial/hill councils has provided a forum to address genuine needs. However, we must help these councils to build capacities to ensure that they are able to fulfil their responsibilities in a manner which is responsive, transparent and accountable,� he said.
On the ULFA peace talks, the Prime Minister expressed confidence that the process of dialogue was the only method for fostering greater understanding and resolving vexed problems. �The discussions were good and gave me hope for the future,� he said.
Underscoring the need for addressing the multi-pronged challenges of urban governance with a long-term perspective as well as sensitivity � especially where the underprivileged sections of society were concerned � Dr Singh said that in the next two decades nearly half the country�s population would be living in urban areas, and therefore, strengthening the urban infrastructure swiftly was an urgent need.
�We also need to pursue the agenda of reforms in the urban sector with the overall objective of ensuring greater public good,� he said, and mentioned the flow of substantial funds to the metropolitan cities, including Guwahati, under the JnNURM in this regard.
MJ Akbar, in his acceptance speech, said that notwithstanding rapid strides made by the country in a number of spheres, it still had a long way to go towards securing the goal of economic equity.
�A modern nation has to be judged on four parameters � democracy, secularism, gender equality and economic equity, and we are still way behind on the last,� he said.
Terming the economic reforms of 1991 as a landmark in the country�s history, the eminent journalist and author said that communal clashes in the country apparently nosedived in the post-liberalization period, as �it offered a new horizon to the Indian youth.�
The nonagenarian Gandhian, Hema Bharali, in her speech, underlined the need for effecting changes for accomplishing the all-important goal of economic and social liberty.
�However, governments or ministers and MLAs alone cannot ensure a progressive society. Charity begins at home, and we all need to contribute towards that end discarding our selfish interests,� she said, adding that Assam�s problems were getting complicated and the people must put up a concerted effort to resolve them.
Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi recalled the contributions of Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, the great leader from Assam and former President of the country, describing his role in the freedom movement as invaluable.
The award instituted in 2005 carries a citation, a sarai, an eri sador and Rs 2 lakh in cash.
Earlier, the Prime Minister visited the Arya Vidyapeeth HS School where he formally inaugurated the auditorium constructed from his MPLAD Fund. He also exchanged pleasantries with students, teachers and staff of the school.
Earlier, on his arrival at the LGB International Airport this afternoon, the Prime Minister was received by Governor JB Patnaik, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, Revenue Minister Dr Bhumidhar Barman, Social Welfare Minister Akan Bora, Chief Secretary Naba Kumar Das and other senior officials.
Our Correspondents add:
Dergaon: Security has been tightened for the Prime Minister�s visit to Jorhat on Saturday. For the first time, the PM will address the public on the outskirts of Jorhat town instead of the Court Field. The venue has been shifted due to the ongoing examinations at JB College. The PM will address the public at ITI field, Rajabari.
Dr Singh will lay the foundation stone of the India�s second National Institute of Design at Tocklai near Chinamara at 11 am on Saturday.
Due to his visit the Jorhat police has restricted traffic movements and routes have been changed for the time being.The vehicles from the Mariani side will have to go through Sadar Tinali, Lichubari Don Bosco and then Na-ali. The vehicles from Jorhat town will be routed through BOC point-Sadar Thana and then Na-ali. The other vehicles from Rajabari, Mission Compound and Rajabari road will be routed through Sadar Gate to Na-ali.
Sivasagar: The Prime Minister will arrive at Sivasagar tomorrow to lay the foundation stone of a Rs 350-crore Rajiv Gandhi Petroleum Technology Institute at Palasani on the outskirts of the town.
The PM will be accompanied by Petroleum Minister S Jaipal Reddy, DoNER Minister BK Handique, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, Minister of State for Petroleum RPN Singh, Assam Industry Minister Pradyut Bordoloi, CMD (in-charge) of ONGC Ajit Hazarika, Ravi Kapoor, IAS, and a number of VIPs.
The Sivasagar district administration has completed the necessary groundwork for Dr Singh�s visit and has built a helipad close to the site where the Prime Minister will attend a public meeting.
CPI leader Promod Gogoi, at a recent a press meet had demanded re-naming of the institute after an important personality of Assam.