By Rajendra Prabhu
It seems the Central Govern-ment is tying itself in self-contradictions.
President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam proceeding towards Central Hall
The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh writes to his cabinet colleagues that the National Common Minimum Programme (NCMP) will be the Bible for governance. He tells them to identify the NCMP core in their respective ministries and send him a report on how to implement them. Yet, he also tells them that ?fulfilling the objectives of the NCMP will have to be done without leading to undue financial drain on our resources.?
Having sent that word of caution, the government of Dr Singh announced in the President'saddress that the employment guarantee would be implemented in phases. So it would not be that at least 100 days of employment would be available in the rural areas off the shelf. So where lies the truth? Will the NCMP'spromise of an employment guarantee prevail or the caution in the President'saddress? Will the ministers make both visionary schemes and take a cut on their budgets?
That is for public consumption?or rather consumption of the Left group supporting the government. For, the concomitant statement that profit-making PSUs would not be privatised, has already been broken in the handing over of Mumbai and Delhi airports? modernisation to the private sector.
The NCMP'scommitment to ?strong and effective public sector? is there in the President'saddress too. But, that is for public consumption?or rather consumption of the Left group supporting the government. For, the concomitant statement that profit-making PSUs would not be privatised, has already been broken in the handing over of Mumbai and Delhi airports? modernisation to the private sector?a step over which the airport employees are fighting with the Civil Aviation Minister and with the Left supporting the employees. As for the sale of loss-making units, let'swait and see how many of them would be sold, how many of them revamped. The long history of the National Textile Corporation does not give any hope that buyers would be found or the employees would agree.
One loss-making unit that would not be sold is the ITI unit in Rae Bareli. It being the privileged constituency that repeatedly elects the most privileged family'smembers in this country, the unit which never produced anything for decades, is going to be revamped, say reports. Most economists have said that sale of public sector units is one way of making up the revenue deficit but that path is closed. Yet, the President'saddress reiterates the NCMP promise to end the revenue deficit by 2009.
Raise the allocation for health, says NCMP, setting the target at 2.3 per cent from the current less than 2 per cent of the GDP. The NDA also talked of higher allocation moving to 4 per cent of the GDP in five years. So that is nothing new. What could have been new are steps to get the posted doctors and paramedics go to the PHCs in far away villages. The President'saddress ignored, however, the fact that the NDA in its 2003-04 budget had announced a scheme of health insurance and it was being implemented.
It seems the Central Government is tying itself in self-contradictions.
On labour law reforms, there is already a move away from the ?no need for reform? stand of the NCMP taken under pressure of the Left to final decisions which will be taken after consultations with trade unions. That brave statement ignores the history of consultations for the last several years since the 1990s?neither on Trade Union Act nor on Industrial Disputes Act was there any consensus after repeated meetings of the Indian Labour Conference under four different governments.
On education there is the promise of a cess to fund the steep increase in allotment to 6 per cent of the GDP. But the 6 per cent target is not unique for the UAP. The NDA had also promised the same percentage allocation in its manifesto much before any other party did. The difference between the two is that the NDA manifesto had the road map on how that money would be spent, specifying areas and targets. The President'saddress does not lay down any road map, as pointed out by the Economic Times.
The same ?on and off? approach marks many other schemes and intentions announced. The much touted ?affirmative action? in private industry that sent the new Dalit Messiah into raptures is neither here nor there. The President speaks of the government being ?sensitive? to this demand and promises to ?initiate dialogue? to fulfill the aspirations of the SCs and STs. The Congress-led government in Maharashtra, which went ahead with reservations in the private sector is now having to rethink after several industry managements threatened to stop further investments. So Paswan could be dreaming only of a pie in the sky.
That brave statement ignores the history of consultations for the last several years since the 1990s?neither on Trade Union Act nor on Industrial Disputes Act was there any consensus after repeated meetings of the Indian Labour Conference under four different governments.
There are similar generalisa-tions regarding other sectors of the economy also. On exports, for instance, ?an atmosphere conducive to rapid growth? through simplification of procedures, harmonisation of tariff, etc. are stated. But with no effective targets or sectoral road maps. In the last five years there has already been much action on procedure simplifica-tion leading to online processing and sectorwise targets have boosted exports from around US $ 35 billion to over US $ 50 billion. NDA committed itself to a specific target of $ 50 billion in export earnings in software sector alone, a three-fold increase in handloom exports to reach Rs 10,000 crores by 2009 and similar targets were set forth in the NDA manifesto. Neither in NCMP nor in President'saddress there is mention of the US $ 50 billion of exports of software or of handloom exports reaching Rs 10,000 crores.
Indian industry, says the President, would be made ?productive and competitive? for which ?every support would be given?. In what way would this support move? How would the government tackle the issue of restructuring to make it competitive? It is all silence in regard to critical issues in making the industry ?productive and competitive.? The government'sown undertakings have resorted to VRS in the past to become competitive. If this government would not allow VRS as the Left claims, what is the other way? No light on this matter.
It is all wonderful to make promises and then water them down when it comes to implementing them or finding resources. That is the politician'sforte. But in only bundling together many intentions and not coming to grips with the issues these intentions throw up, both the NCMP and the President'saddress set a new record. One newspaper commen-ted that many issues have been left to commissions and commit-tees to sort out?a fine way of escaping from the demand to implement them.
After tom-toming on univer-sal food subsidy, the new government has come down to better targeting of subsidies. But the entire tone is not to cut down on subsidies. However, there is no explanation how the ballooning subsidies and reduction of revenue deficit would go together. If the Electri-city Act is to be ?reviewed?, then there isn'tgoing to be a steep reduction on subsidy for electricity through budgetary support, to cover up the huge deficits of the State Electricity Boards.
As a precursor to shelving of badly needed reforms, while promising to continue with these reforms, is the latest act of the Centre in allowing Kerala to postpone the reforming of the electricity generation and distribution, by one more year. Of course, the promise of reforms is to win over the industry and the promise not to reform is to win over the Left. The ruling alliance is all set to fall between the two.