Font Size



Menu Style

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn
Image courtesy: pmindia.nic.in
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s maiden Independence Day speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort suggests that he is slipping into the political cast of legendry Abhimanyu. He must avoid that as the Nation has great expectations from him. 
Like the awe-inspiring warrior son of Arjun in epic Mahabharta, Mr. Modi wielded development weapon to pierce through multiple barriers erected by UPA and its pseudo-secular supporters to enter the Lok Sabha with an absolute majority that stunned the whole world. 
 Abhimanyu, however, didn’t know how to exit through the Chakravyūha (security rings) created by Kaurvas and ultimately went down fighting. 
Mr. Modi finds himself in a similar situation. Having got the robust mandate to usher in Achche Din for all, Mr. Modi is now struggling to conceive his strategy to implement the nebulous development agenda. He could not even give peek view of the eagerly awaited 100-day agenda, whose formulation is a modest job by any standard.
His Cabinet is still in the baby steps mode on the development terra firma that bristles with too many barriers, many of which were cobbled together by UPA. 
Before suggesting an innovative, 12-point strategy for him to avoid going down in history as the political Abhimanyu, one needs to first applaud him for the straight talk on selected issues and the statesmanship. His resort to populism and evangelism is understandable.  Many commentators have rightly appreciated Modi’s break from his predecessors’ practice of speech reading. He spoke extempore and communicated and connected well with the masses. 
In his speech, Mr. Modi did not announce any concrete strategy to create work opportunities for all especially jobs for the unemployed youth. He avoided making any reference to the twin related issues of black money and corruption.
He explained at length how and why the Planning Commission has outlived its utility. The explanation ended with a whimper as he could not even name the proposed institution that would replace it. If this is the pace at which NDA Government would restructure/reconstitute major policy and governance institutions and later enliven them, then it faces the risk of completing five years without reinventing governance.   
Planning Commission has had its own quota of ills and needs to be reformed. It, however, certainly cannot be made the scapegoat for the collective failure of the Centre and the States to promote sustainable, inclusive growth since the Independence.  
The tasks, which the proposed institution would undertake are already been performed by the Planning Commission as is evident from numerous studies available on its website as well as infrastructure.gov.in.
Mr. Modi stated: “India's federal structure is more important today than in the last 60 years. To strengthen our federal structure, to make our federal structure vibrant, to take our federal structure as a heritage of development, a team of Chief Minister and Prime Minister should be there, a joint team of the Centre and the states should move forward, then to do this job, we will have to think about giving the Planning Commission a look.”
To strengthen federalism and to take States on board his development chariot, Mr. Modi should have immediately convened a meeting of National Development Council (NDC), which is required to meet twice a year as per its mandate and which last met in December 2012.  
Like his predecessor, Mr. Modi is keeping silent on convening an urgent meeting of Inter-State Council to discuss the recommendations of Commission on Centre-State Relations (CCSR) that submitted its seven-volume report in April 2010.  CCSR has recommended a robust agenda for strengthening federalism and for accelerating development.
 Mr. Modi has also not convened a meeting of National Commission on Population, which is very crucial for promoting generational equity and sustainable development. India is a laggard in the global rankings for availability/consumption of many items on per capita basis. It is worse off than what it was at the time of Independence on a few indicators. 
Mr. Modi and his advisors must realize that neither brilliant oratory nor dogmatic faith in social media can generate jobs. Ducking the population problem as he did in his independence address would not ease the challenges of development. 
Clarion call for moratorium on communal & caste violence and social strife cannot end mutli-pronged internal war that has been India’s integral feature for centuries. 
The generic invitation to foreign companies to “Come and Make in India” would not result in FDI deluge. His call to the Indian youth to set up micro enterprises to produce imported items would virtually yield zero results. Such calls must be preceded or accompanied by concrete plan to remove regulatory and other glitches including ubiquitous corruption. Bad governance either makes projects implementation very difficult or renders them unviable.
Has the new Government done a ground reality check to count the number of projects and the stage at which they are delayed or abandoned due to abuse of regulatory and judicial process by vested interests? Has it collected data on the number of units that have suspended or stopped production due to policy-induced mess including free trade agreements (FTAs) and inverted duty structure? Does it know that even monopoly or dominant producers have stopped or curtailed production due to Government-facilitated cheap imports? 
Does Modi Government know that domestic manufacturing including by a Gujarat Government enterprise is being discouraged and imports are being encouraged right under its nose? These issues require elaboration and would be discussed separately in another column. 
Mr. Modi should not substitute good governance that requires tough decisions with the quest for consensus. Even for the elusive consensus, the NDA Government has not taken the first step. This should be the release of consultative papers for initiation of time-bound public discourse on various issues.
It should have by now unveiled at least half a dozen consultative papers on contentious topics such as 1) legal and other man-made factors including population explosion that constrain development; 2) uniform civil code for national integration and real secularism; 3) expansion and enforcement of the citizens’ constitutional duties keeping in view national pastime of queue-jumping and violation of daily-life rules relating to littering, travelling, etc.
Consultative papers can yield better results than Mr. Modi’s pithy observations about deplorable public attitude "Mera Kya, Mujhe Kya" (what does it mean for me and why should I bother). 
A consultative paper must urgently propose an effective strategy to enforce the rule of law to salvage democracy from fast-spreading anarchism. It must suggest alternatives to mobocracy.  Ubiquitous violence by lumpen elements on roads on issues ranging from power failure to alleged negligent death of seriously ill patient has become the trend. 
The Government must put in place a holistic consultation mechanism to stop hijacking of national agenda by media-orchestrated, NGOs-contrived street protests on policies and projects. 
The NDA Government should put on hold judicial accountability bill and issue a consultative paper, which should propose red lines that the Judiciary must not cross to seize the Executive’s powers for formulating polices and running the administration.
The paper should propose a mechanism for audit of differing and at times contradictory judgements given on the same issues at different points of time. 
It must pose for discussion the public’s right to know the basis on which the judiciary picks up cases for hearing and fast tracks some of them. The public should be informed as to why judgments cannot be lucid and concise and why there are no timelines for giving verdicts. 
The other crucial topics for public consultation include corruption, subsidies versus development expenditure, crony capitalism and public private partnership (PPP). 
If Modi Cabinet lacks the political will to prepare the public to gear up to face tough decisions for larger objective of national development, the least it can do is fall back on several unanimous resolutions and reports that emerged at different forums. 
There can be no better consensus document than the unanimous resolution passed by Parliament on the ‘Agenda for India’ on 1st September 1997 to mark the Golden Jubilee of Independence. There are other unanimous resolutions passed by Parliament and the NDC that Modi Government can fall back upon to push the inclusive growth agenda. 
Let us now come to specific initiatives that Mr. Modi should launch to implement the herculean task of generating work opportunities, wealth, happiness and peace (Achche Din).
First, reinvent governance: PM must reinvent governance by embracing transparency through robust and whole-hearted disclosure of its documents on all issues excluding defence and internal security. His Government should put in place surveillance mechanism at all Government-public interfaces to prevent corruption and inefficiency. 
It ought to introduce the concept of audit of decision-making process. An internal audit unit should be created in the Cabinet Secretariat to spot any deviation from the defined guidelines, anomalies and contradictions in the decisions taken by numerous committees and regulatory authorities over the years. This should cover inordinate delays in follow-up action on certain Cabinet decisions. The case studies undertaken by the unit would also be put in public domain.
Simultaneously, the Government must completely overhaul the technique of issuing statutory notices, etc. It should give up completely the archaic practice of prefacing an announcement with dozens of ‘whereas’ sentences.
Second, embrace one law; one sector mantra: The Government must embark on consolidation of laws with the objective of having one law for one sector. This initiative is needed to remove legal clutter, reduce litigation to the minimum and to facilitate effective governance. ‘One sector; One Law’ innovation would also reduce legislative business, thereby improving the productivity of Parliament. 
UPA tied the growth process in several laws and framed new regulations under environmental laws to forbid projects in certain areas, delay other projects and subject others to additional scrutiny. Untying each legal hurdle in the development is cumbersome and time-consuming task.    
Let Mr. Modi show his mettle by requisitioning a Cabinet note on consolidation of over a dozen environmental laws into one enactment that can be called Environment Protection and Sustainable Development Act (EPSDA). 
The existing laws include Environment Protection Act (EPA), 1986, Forest (Conservation) Act 1980, The Indian Forest Act, 1927, The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act popularly referred to as Forest Rights Act and Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, The Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals Act, 1960 , Biological Diversity Act, 2002, National Green Tribunal Act, 2010, The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Act, 1977, The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1981, Public Liability Insurance Act 1991.
EPSDA would marry the imperatives of population control which is first step towards arresting environmental degradation, environmental protection and economic growth.
Population explosion has been identified as the foremost cause of environmental degradation by two policy documents that were formulated by Congress/UPA regimes. The demographic problem has also been cited by these documents as the rationale to promote rapid economic development and thus eradicate poverty.
The Government must flaunt these provisions before the foreign-funded NGOs and the judiciary. Both the entities overlook population explosion to take lopsided stance on environmental protection with the strong support from mainstream media.   
The policy documents that focus on population-environment matrix are: National Environment Policy, 2006 and National Conservation Strategy and Policy Statement on Environment and Development, 1992. With due respect and apologies to Hindutva ideologues, one must state that the 1992 document has also pitched for control of livestock population. 
EPSDA thus must provide for holistic interpretation of population-poverty-environment web. This might perhaps dissuade activists from viewing projects as sole manifestation of corporate greed. The proposed law might well restrain the judiciary from focusing only on the Right to Life, which in any case has been thoroughly compromised by the impact of reckless procreation.  
Consolidation of environmental laws is better than amendment of specific laws, which is difficult to achieve due to regular pandemonium in Parliament. 
Education is another sector that is crying for legal reforms. Modi Government should consolidate numerous laws on universities and institutions into one law that can be named as Higher Education Act.  
Such consolidation of laws in all sectors should be achieved within a maximum period of two years.
Third, follow Single-window norm: The Government must create a single-window approval mechanism both for clearance of projects as well as for delivery of related public services. To begin with, the Government should reinvent the environmental approvals system for projects through a mere administrative order. It should replace the existing compartmentalized, multiple and sequential system of grant of approvals with a single-window clearance to reduce gestation period and cost of projects.
At present, a project developer has to seek separate permissions from the relevant Environment Impact Assessment committee, Forest Advisory Committee, Standing Committee of National Board on Wildlife (NBW-SC) and the concerned coastal regulatory zone authority and relevant State Pollution Control Board. 
Fourth, make advance ruling norm mandatory in all economic spheres to minimize entrepreneurial risk: the Government, for instance, must provide for advance ruling by the National Green Tribunal on projects so as to avoid waste of money and time on implementation of projects that often get aborted, altered or delayed due to PILs.
Fifth, enact two new Laws to fulfil millions of dreams: To immediately fulfil aspirations of the masses, the Government must enact National Development and Jobs Creation Act (NDJCA) and Dignity of Labour Act (DLA), which should preferably be incorporated as provision in the consolidated Labour law to avoid multiplicity of laws. The provisions of this law should override the provisions of any existing law in case of any conflict between different laws. NDJCA should be enacted under Section 31B of the Constitution to insulate its implementation from litigation. It should be drafted wisely to promote sustainable development and jobs through a new type of cooperative enterprises. 
Section 31B of the Constitution says: “Without prejudice to the generality of the provisions contained in article 31A, none of the Acts and Regulations specified in the Ninth Schedule nor any of the provisions thereof shall be deemed to be void, or ever to have become void, on the ground that such Act, Regulation or provision is inconsistent with, or takes away or abridges any of the rights conferred by, any provisions of this Part, and notwithstanding any judgment, decree or order of any court or Tribunal to the contrary, each of the said Acts and Regulations shall, subject to the power of any competent Legislature to repeal or amend it, continue in force.”
The possibility of the apex court quashing NDJCA is remote for obvious reasons. In 2007, the apex court had given a verdict, stating it has the right to review the judicial immunity enjoyed by a law placed under Schedule 9 of the Constitution. 
Under NDJCA, the Government should form a statutory corporation for ecological restoration of all closed mines, some of which can later be transformed to tourist spots. The Corporation should also oversee the operation of all mines with help from National Remote Sensing Agency. It should also ensure that only GPS-equipped vehicles transport ore from mines.  
NDJCA should provide for upfront building of houses, schools and other essential facilities for persons who would be affected by the proposed acquisition of land at market prices. In addition to this, it should provide for regular income to land owners in the form of annuity payable every year over 35 years. The law should also stipulate free skills development training to project displaced persons.  
The project-affected persons should also be given 100 free equity shares aggregating up to 5% of the share-capital of the enterprise that would be granted mining rights or permission to develop hydel power projects or any other mega project.   
To make the growth process participative, the Centre and the concerned State should acquire 10% stake each in such enterprises. The local government can also have the option to hold 5% stake in the enterprise. The private promoter, which would lead the project, should hold 26%-49% stake with the balance shares to be offered to the public through public offer.
All other industrial and infrastructural projects would be implemented under the existing laws and regulations. 
As the growth can be disruptive for some sections of the society, persons perched in the top echelons of the government should share the pain of the growth process by giving up ostentatious and lavish lifestyle. 
NDJCA thus must provide for time-bound shifting of ministers, judges, bureaucrats from bungalows in Delhi and State Capitals to apartments. The vacated real estate in the bungalow zones, whose price defies imagination, should be auctioned to non-polluting industries with built-in safeguards for compliance with zero discharge norms. The cash generated though auctions should fund the Governments’ equity participation in the new class of cooperative enterprises and for funding apartments for housing migrant labour in cities.
To improve workers’ productivity and safety, the Government should enact the Dignity of Labour Act (DLA) to stop exploitation of contracted or outsourced unskilled as well as highly skilled employees. As bulk of the jobs is now being created under the domain of outsourcing, enactment of DLA must get highest priority. The proposed law should stipulate minimum wages and employment terms for each category of outsourced employees. It must provide for supply of safety gear to workers operating in life-endangering environment.    
Sixth, give a fair deal to street vendors with Chailwala stamp: Launch a centrally-funded scheme to finance setting up of space and infrastructure for weekly markets in cities and for funding of million roadside kiosks across the country. 
Seventh, explore global opportunities to realize the so-called demographic dividend: Put and lobby aggressively for export of manpower on the WTO agenda. Unrestricted movement of labour right from sanitation staff to software developers should be part and parcel of free global trade. Modi Government should also take up with the United Nations the idea of creating a global elite anti-terror force and a traditional peace-keeping force for which India would provide disciplined and well-trained youth. 
Eighth, make NGOs and the media accountable: The Government also must enact a law to make environmental NGOs fully accountable to the nation. Their funding and expenditure should be totally transparent and subject to full disclosures under the Right to Information Act.  
Ninth, create a national reconciliation mechanism under existing institutions: Inter-State Council, for instance, should reconcile Centre-State policy disputes some of which land in the Supreme Court. It should also resolve inter-State disputes.  Similarly, National Integration Council should resolve disputes among castes, sects and religion through reconciliation. Local authorities should also have the specific mandate to resolve disputes to nip communal mischief in the bud.
Tenth, ensure stable business environment:The Government should announce stable, level-playing field policies after elaborate consultation. It should refrain from frequent tinkering and retrospective changes. It should reduce tax exemptions and concessions to the bare essential and simultaneously scale down statutory taxes to average effective rate paid by tax payers. This in effect means merger of tax benefits into tax rates. This, coupled with unification of surcharge and cess into the basic tax rates, would go a long way in simplifying tax regime and in reducing litigation.
Eleventh, take visible and credible initiatives against bribery: NDA Government, for instance, should immediately constitute a truly independent Lok Pal to fight corruption in high places. It should enact a new law to empower Comptroller and Auditor General to audit accounts of independent regulatory authorities, PPP projects executed under private sector domain and Government funded NGOs.  
Twelfth, utilize wastelands: Launch a centrally-funded scheme for massive afforestation and cultivation of wasteland through cooperatives of indigenous people to generate employment and wealth in the form of horticultural and biofuel produce.  
Mr. Modi can get better ideas than these. He perhaps already has many more on his desk. What he is lacking is the political will to act. A delay on this count would prove costly for the NDA in the coming State Assembly Elections.
Published by taxindiaonline.com on 18th August 2014
You are here: Home Polity Mr. Modi, don’t go the Abhimanyu way; Shear UPA’s Chains to Untie Growth Genie