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BW Businessworld

Not Mere Promises

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India is tired of promises. Even the world is tired of India’s promises. Can this government offer more than just promises?

Among the various plans and schemes announced by President Pranab Mukherjee to a joint session of India’s freshly elected parliament were a few strong clues that this government could actually deliver.

The presidential address is a formal acknowledgement of the new government’s priorities and policies. The address is actually submitted by the government so that the President can articulate it as the agenda for the term of the lower house Lok Sabha.

Here are three reasons why the government could be far more effective than previous ones.

The first is that the government announced that it would take an axe to all the old laws and regulations that have no place in a modern country. Prime Minister Narendra Modi began by asking all ministries in the central government to submit a list of at least ten laws and rules that need to be changed. The President address mentioned this priority and said that old governance structures that are holding back efficient decision making must be removed.

Manufacturing and infrastructure projects require more than 50 clearances from almost 20 ministries. A reduction in these will enthuse investors domestic and foreign; big and small. Outdated laws should be easy to modernise or remove with the strong majority of the ruling party in the Parliament.

Second is the decision to use technology for delivery of goods and services. This process began with the previous government but it did not have the will to implement it wholeheartedly. It has been languishing, as a result. In a first strong step, the Ministry of Defence has announced that all procurement by its departments with a value of Rs 1 million or higher must be done through an internet based bidding system. This simple step would minimise discretion and corruption. Other departments should follow suit.

After the 2G auction fiasco, the previous government had auctioned 3G spectrum via an internet auction. Not a whiff of scam was reported in the over $11-billion auction. This government should take the concept forward and apply it to all departments.

Third reason why this government can be effective is its move to reduce India’s dependence on monsoon. Despite six decades of development, Indian agriculture remains perilously dependent on the rain laden clouds. The government’s agenda on this front was outlined by the president when he announced the National Irrigation Programme. This programme hopes to ensure water for city dwellers as well as farmers. The steps will require implantation skills combined with political maneuvering. The key pillars will be micro irrigation, rain water harvesting, ground water rejuvenation. These can be implemented with executive will. The big issue to crack will be river linking plan. This will require strong cooperation with states that are usually hypersensitive about water matters.

Improved supply of water will directly affect inflation issues since productivity of farms will rise. With better water management, the government can easily reap a good harvest of votes in elections.

Since Mr Modi has achieved many of these goals in his 12-year term as Chief Minister of Gujarat, the chances of his success at the national level improve. Since Mr Modi works with clear time lines and deadlines, these promises appear closer to fruition than ever before.

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