NATIONAL ECONOMY: Adrift? PM guns engine – More cohesive than Nehru, Indira eras – and the Sensex rose by more than 300 points, something must be right ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH
BY ASHIS CHAKRABARTI
New Delhi, Sept. 6: In a spirited defence of his government, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said it was more cohesive than all previous governments, including those headed by Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi.
Rebutting charges that the present government was on a “drift” with ministers openly airing differences, he argued that differences were not necessarily a bad thing. What was necessary was that the government and the cabinet worked in cohesion.
“There is no disconnect between the government and the cabinet,” he said while interacting with newspaper editors at his residence.
In fact, he saw the differences as representing the “Congress movement”.
While agreeing that the government had to act cohesively “once a decision was taken”, he argued that his government had worked with a greater degree of cohesion than Nehru’s, when letters were exchanged almost daily between the first Prime Minister and Sardar Patel, his home minister, or Indira Gandhi’s, when the Young Turks in the Congress openly criticised the government on many issues.
He will not “shut up” every minister who airs some differences but agreed that the government needed to act cohesively. Several questions at the interaction were on the alleged “drift” in his current government with ministers expressing different views on issues such as the strategy to tackle Naxalism, the situation in Kashmir, education and economic reforms.
Congress leaders such as Digvijay Singh and Janardhan Dwivedi had questioned Union home minister P. Chidambaram’s strategy to tackle the Maoist menace. The Education Tribunal Bill could not be introduced in Parliament because of opposition from within the Congress, especially from senior party leader K. Keshava Rao.
Singh defended Chidambaram, saying he was doing an “extremely good job”. When a questioner drew his attention to Chidambaram’s complaint that the latter had a “limited mandate” in dealing with Naxalism, Singh retorted: “All of us have limited mandates.”
He reacted in the same vein when told that the business and industry circles were complaining of the slow and inadequate pace of financial reforms. “What reforms are they talking about? Is Wall Street or the City of London the model? We’re following a more cautious approach in financial reforms that is suited to our economic needs and genius.”
The country’s economy had not only survived the global recession unscathed, but was back on the growth path. He hoped that the growth rate would hit nine to 10 per cent in the coming years.
He was particularly happy that Parliament had passed the civil nuclear liability bill, which would end the country’s nuclear apartheid and also help achieve the country’s development priorities, especially in the energy sector. Not once did he mention the Left during his one-and-a-half- hour media interaction or its opposition to the nuclear liability bill.
In his view, four or five issues and the way the country handles them would define how the Indian polity would shape up in the future. These are the Ayodhya judgment, which is expected to be delivered on September 17, the Kashmir problem, the Naxalite challenge, which he again described as the greatest internal security threat for the country, and triggering enough entrepreneurial activity.
But there was no “quick-fix solutions” because these are no easy problems, which have been there for years and even decades.
The Prime Minister also defended his Pakistan policy, saying India had to engage with Pakistan but that “does not mean surrender”. “If we don’t want to go to war, dialogue and engagement are the only way”.
But he could not but be sensitive to Indian public opinion. That was why the composite dialogue process was halted after the Mumbai blast.
Pakistan, however, used the breakdown in dialogue to increase its “leverage” with the international community. After some time, “we realised that the collapse of the dialogue process was not delivering the desired results”. In Thimphu — at the Saarc Summit — he, therefore, began the process of bringing the dialogue process back on track.
He hoped that the Pakistan foreign minister would come to New Delhi in response to the external affairs minister, S.M. Krishna’s invitation.
On the recent controversy over the environment and forests ministry’s veto on the Vedanta group’s bauxite mining project in Orissa, Singh sought to tread the middle path between development and environment protection.
Environment concerns have come to stay and he urged trade and industry circles to accept it. At the same time, he would not like the environment issues to create a situation where it will be like going back to the “licence and permit raj”.
India has to industrialise and the country cannot reduce poverty by not exploiting the mineral resources, which happen to be located in the tribal heartland of the country.
While his personal honesty remained above question, was his government’s image being sullied by corruption as over the Commonwealth Games? At least two editors raised the corruption issue and asked whether the country was seeing a steady rise of “crony capitalism”, especially in sectors like telecom.
Singh said he was aware of the danger of crony capitalism and insisted that “regulations and regulators must be seen to be effective”.
SC shouldn’t go into policymaking: Singh – Govt sidesteps free food, averts clash – a caution on execution, however inept ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH
BY ASHIS CHAKRABARTI AND SAMANWAYA RAUTRAY
New Delhi, Sept. 6: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said the Supreme Court should not go “into the realm of policymaking”.
This was his response at an interaction with newspaper editors here to the recent order by the apex court that the government give food free to the poor. The court’s directive had caused the government some embarrassment but it had been uncertain whether the Centre would legally challenge it.
While appearing to be unwilling to get into a legal confrontation on the issue or challenge the court’s powers to order the government around, Singh made it clear that he would defend the government’s powers and jurisdiction over policymaking.
Sharing the court’s sentiment on the issue of food availability for the poor, he argued that this (what the court had ordered) was not possible for the government of a country which had, according to the Suresh Tendulkar committee, 37 per cent of its people below the poverty line.
To the extent possible, his government has addressed the issue and there has been no rise in the price of grain since 2004, he said. He also referred to the food security bill on which a group of ministers is already working.
In the Supreme Court today, the Centre virtually ruled out supply of “free” foodgrain to the poor through the targeted PDS but listed several proposals that sought to address concerns over food rotting in godowns.
The two-judge bench of Justices Dalveer Bhandari and Deepak Verma lauded the government’s decisions as a “very good gesture”.
The government told the court that it had already incurred huge subsidies in providing food to the AAY (the poorest of the poor) and BPL categories. Besides, the government was providing “free” foodgrain under four existing schemes, an affidavit read out in the court said. In 2010 alone, 45.52 lakh tonnes were allocated under these four schemes, the government said.
The affidavit was filed in response to an August 31 court order asking the government to give away the excess foodgrain in the FCI godowns to the poor either at “low cost” or “no cost” rather than allow it to rot.
Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar had termed the order a suggestion, prompting the court to clarify that it was an order.
The court’s clarification had sparked a debate over whether the judiciary should issue such blanket orders in areas that are traditionally the domain of the executive.
Appearing before the Supreme Court today on behalf of the government, additional solicitor-general Mohan Parasaran said the government would allocate an additional 25 lakh tonnes of wheat and rice at BPL prices in the next six months to all states.
This will be in addition to the 469.57 lakh tonnes released in 2010-11 for the PDS. An order will be issued this week facilitating this, the government said, pending a review of the number of those eligible for BPL cards — a court suggestion.
Wheat is provided at Rs 2 per kg and rice at 3 per kg to the AAY category and at Rs 4.15 a kg and Rs 5.65 a kg, respectively, to the BPL category.
The court had expressed unhappiness at BPL cards still being issued on the basis of 1994 population figures and suggested that they be issued on the basis of 2010 data.
The government expressed its willingness, adding that the suggestion had been forwarded to the rural development ministry and the Planning Commission to frame criteria to determine the rural and urban poor. The states will then conduct surveys to determine the actual numbers, Parasaran said.
Seeking to avert a confrontation, the government sidestepped the issue of providing “free” foodgrain to the poor.
But acknowledging the court’s concerns over the surplus foodgrain rotting in FCI godowns, the government made several proposals, agreeing to take steps to prevent further loss of grain and improve storage facilities.
The Centre shifted the responsibility for waste to state governments.
It, however, expressed unwillingness to cap the politically sensitive issue of procurement from farmers —both to ensure that they get a minimum price and to meet the PDS requirements.
“Absence of an assured guarantee from the government procurement agencies will act as a disincentive to farmers from sowing these crops in future and a substantial shift may take place to other non-foodgrain crops. This will then drastically impact food security,” the government said.
The government said it would review food entitlements when it framed the Food Security Bill in consultation with the National Advisory Council. Till then, the government said, the APL category will stay. The court had asked the government to consider abolishing this category to ensure more food for AAY and BPL categories.