| It could be an apocryphal story. At the height of the dengue scare, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called for a review of public health facilities and the cause of rising cases. Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss held forth that he couldn't be held responsible for breeding of mosquitoes at building construction sites. His suggestion: if this was to be prevented then builders should seek clearance on cleanliness from the Health Ministry. Manmohan swiftly shot down the idea as this would have added one more layer of clearance. He also snuffed out chances of another bitter turf battle between him and a gaggle of ministries that oversee project clearances. |
Manmohan is not always this lucky. Camouflaged under a wave of good news from 8-plus per cent GDP growth rate to overseas acquisitions by corporates to the spiralling Sensex, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime is one big arena of pitched battles between senior ministers. As Parliament adjourned after the winter session, the battles resumed. The policy landscape is littered with delayed decisions and stalled initiatives.
| Quota Raja |
HUMAN RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT
The PMO appointed the Moily Oversight Committee to look into quota implementation. Moily suggested staggered implementation. Arjun wants it in one shot.
Wanted HRD minister to separate private and Central universities in the draft bill. Arjun had mentioned both.
He has pushed through the 93rd Amendment Act even though it goes against the merit-first belief of the PM.
Antulay is minister for minority affairs but Arjun Singh is announcing all the sops such as 50 per cent quota for Muslims in Aligarh Muslim University.
Minority education should be shifted to him. PMO said yes but three days later backed out as Arjun refused to oblige.
This is his constituency. Has announced a Muslim headcount in all schools across India after the Sachar report.
Petro Price Priest
Petroleum is main source of revenue for both Centre and states. The tax structure magnifies even minor hikes in global crude prices into higher fuel prices.
If crude prices rise we will have to hike prices. Centre must cut excise duty to help to bring down rising fuel prices.
How can we review the matter? We are already following the formula laid out by the Rangarajan Committee.
Nine months back when Intel went to Vietnam, India decided to woo the chip industry. Investors have been waiting since for a policy and sops.
India should offer the best possible deal to chip-makers. Wants tax sop of 350% on R&D spend; equity participation.
Concessions have to be realistic. Sops should be limited to 25% of project cost. IT Ministry has to move a Cabinet note.
Pawar has had several battles with the Ministry of Finance ranging from interest charged to farmers to imports. The latest is on the ban on sugar exports.
Government policies-imports or exports should enable farmers to recover costs. Farmers should not suffer.
Governments need to control inflationary pressures to ensure the interests of not just farmers but consumers too.
SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY
Sibal has criticised Arjun Singh's quota policy arguing for meritocracy. He has also asked for phased implementation while Arjun wants it in 'one go'.
Quotas are necessary to enable the backward classes compete in an increasingly globalising world.
No policy should dilute excellence in our educational institutions or impact India's ability to compete globally.
The Supreme Court has ordered MCD to seal shops and offices in residential areas and on unauthorised land. Trader community is up in arms against government.
The rule of law has to be respected. The Supreme Court is the only forum of redress. There is no other forum.
The matter should be handed over to a body for rehabilitation and planning. Traders could be fined instead.
| Doctor No |
P.R. DASMUNSHI I&B
Ramadoss announced a ban on smoking on screen by film stars. The ban, to be effective from January 2006, is yet to be implemented by I&B.
One cannot dictate content. How can you show Churchill without a cigar or Devdas without liquor?
Film stars set an unhealthy example before youth by smoking on screen. Finds his suggestion up in smoke.
Finance Minister P. Chidambaram argues "differing voices are part of any government. What one should be worried about is the deadening uniformity of opinion." Sure, a coalition government will have its share of political pulls and pressures. But the battle is between Congressmen and not just between allies. Even the introduction and creation of over 77 Groups of Ministers (GoMs) has not enabled resolution of the battles. Neither during the NDA regime nor even at the state-level coalitions have differences resulted in a public spectacle of statements and counter statements. Collective decision-making and responsibility now appears to be a mere notion.
| Home Guard |
The Home Ministry has concerns about SEZs near defence establishments or border areas. It has also shot down employment of foreigners at SEZs.
Issue guidelines for investors instead of using veto power over investments based simply on the location of an SEZ.
Will vet and clear proposals both on sectoral and locational basis to ensure that national security is not compromised.
IB and NSC have blocked 74 per cent FDI in telecom since November 2005. They want Indian CEOs/CTOs as heads of telcos and ban on remote access monitoring.
Telecom is borderless. Foreign outfits like Tyco are managed from India. Besides, it is allowed on 49 per cent equity.
There is danger of national security being compromised through remote access and transfer of user information.
A GoM cleared visa-on-arrival proposal in February 2005. Now Soni's pet project is blocked by objections from the Home Ministry on security concerns.
We should at least reciprocate those countries that offer us this facility and allow visa on arrival for visitors from there.
Visa on arrival cannot be allowed as it may compromise national interests. We must first put systems in place.
This is a serial turf war. After two GoMs, it is now over control of District Rural Development Agencies and District Planning Committees.
Panchayati Raj is not utilising DRDA funds and district planning does not come under Panchayati Raj.
His ministry is involved in institution-building while Prasad should concentrate on implementation.
The SEZ sops battle is easily the biggest in the UPA regime. Chidambaram is opposed to sops. Nath says SEZs will create jobs and revenue. The saga is on.
Tax exemptions and other sops will lead to migration of units and a loss of revenue of over Rs 1,75,000 crore.
Not true. Employment generated will make up for loss of revenue and an additional revenue of Rs 44,000 crore.
Commerce Ministry wants foreign universities to be allowed to set up campuses in India. Only 3% of India's GNP is spent on education. Needs more.
They can come through the University Grants Commission as "deemed universities" subject to UGC norms.
The HRD Ministry needs to unshackle its anarchic control, otherwise quality institutes will not come in.
| PRAFUL PATEL |
Patel has opposed a move suggested by the MEA and the Planning Commission for an open skies pact between India and the members of ASEAN.
If there can be an open skies pact with United States then why not with ASEAN countries?
Indian players need time to prepare to face foreign competition.
The battle over tax sops to SEZs has been going on for nearly a year. The move to ramp up FDI in telecom is caught in a tussle between the ministries of home and it & telecom on the grounds of national security. Similarly, Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel is locked in a tussle with External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and the Planning Commission over an open-skies policy for airlines from ASEAN nations.
Earlier this year during the Budget, Chidambaram had announced that a special package would be devised to attract chip-makers to India. For seven months now, Chidambaram and Telecom Minister Dayanidhi Maran have battled over the magnitude of sops to be given resulting in investments being delayed. Ditto with the steel sector where investments of over $25 billion (Rs 111,900 crore), including that of the Korean giant Posco, hinge on a critical policy decision on export of iron. While the prime minister and the minister for mines are open to discussions, Steel and Fertiliser Minister Ram Vilas Paswan is dead opposed to export of iron ore. It is another matter that India's largest export to China is that of iron ore.
| POWER MAN |
The creation of a National Rainfed Area Authority in the Budget resulted in a battle on who will chair the NRAA. After a GoM failed, the PM settled the issue.
Since we manage watershed management, it should be our baby.
NRAA was for improving farmers' lot so it was logical he ran it.
Wheat and fertilisers landed at the ports. Pawar wanted wheat to be lifted first as it was needed for PDS but Paswan wanted fertilisers lifted first.
Wheat can wait but farmers need fertilisers and it must be lifted first.
Wheat needed urgently to bridge the gap in procurement for PDS.
Ahamed guards the Gulf turf zealously. Prevented Antulay from poaching the Haj portfolio. Haj pilgrimages are great sops to woo Muslims.
Haj should be part of his portfolio as it caters to the minorities.
Haj needs coordination with Saudi Arabia which only the MEA can do.
NRI Affairs was carved out of MEA. Ravi often communicates with Indian missions directly. He also handles the coveted Pravasi Bharatiya Divas.
It was he who had suggested setting up of NRI centres abroad.
Has blocked proposal for diplomatic immunity to officials at NRI centres.
It is not just differences on policy but tussle for control of turf or personal ambition that is driving the schism between ministries. In what tantamounts to challenging the prime minister's authority, HRD Minister Arjun Singh is adamant that higher quota for OBCs in educational institutions be implemented in a single phase whereas both the PMO and Oversight Committee chief Veerappa Moily want a phased roll-out. Result: decision is held up since January. Elsewhere, Paswan wants a job quota in private sector while Manmohan is for voluntary affirmative action.
What has added to the causes of strife is that the UPA has chosen to carve out chunks of ministries to accommodate Congressmen. Consider the HRD Ministry, which was created as a one-stop policy point by Rajiv Gandhi for pushing social initiatives in 1984. While the Women and Child Development Department has been hived off for Renuka Chowdhury, a Ministry for Minority Affairs has been created for veteran Congressman A.R. Antulay to rehabilitate him in the party hierarchy and the Congress among Muslim voters. The bifurcation of Panchayati Raj from Rural Development Ministry has pitted Raghuvansh Prasad Singh of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) against Panchayati Raj Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar over who will run what.
A new angularity presented itself when Manmohan empowered the Plan panel in his effort to monitor projects to achieve "inclusive growth". While the jury is out on whether monitoring of Rs 63,000 crore spent on poverty alleviation has triggered any efficiency, fact is the commission has initiated steps in promoting ways to implement projects in the PPP (public-private partnership) domain. From roads to civil aviation, politically-empowered ministers have balked at what they term as "interference". Some, like the Ministry of Highways even blame the commission for delays in contracts. Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia though sees it differently. "The Planning Commission is meant to provide critical assessment whether policy is playing out right. The debate is a welcome sign."
Of course, debate is the bulwark of democracy but it must be focused on issues, not personal foibles or political pelf. At the halfway mark, the Government is staring at a contrasting images of high growth and penury in the farm sector. Obviously too much time is being wasted in battling within when the regime should battle the elements that keep the polity down. The Government has been lucky with economic growth and political opposition. One is buoyant and the other is near comatose. But nothing as Ricardo said lasts forever and before its luck runs out on the Government, it needs to find inner peace. As Manmohan articulated in a recent speech, "We need a basic political consensus on some of the difficult things that governments must do to create an environment conducive to sustainable development." But that cannot happen without a modicum of discipline. Manmohan himself, though concerned about the pitched battles, is averse to disturbing the delicate balance of the coalition. Congressmen and the allies are obviously emboldened by the fact that real political power resides outside Raisina Hill.
Beyond the politics of pelf and ambitions there is a fundamental problem. The NDA had a dispute redressal mechanism headed by Convener George Fernandes which met regularly to iron out issues. The UPA has no such mechanism. Indeed, the only time the UPA members have met is to celebrate the first and second anniversaries of the regime. Even the UPA -Left meetings are really between the Congress and the Left. Perhaps, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi should take the lead and formalise a coordination mechanism. She should also read the riot act both to the allies and her own party members. If the coalition is to deliver.
-with Priya Sahgal, Neeraj Mishra, Puja Mehra and Saurabh Shukla