Union Finance and Defence Minister Arun Jaitley said his government is quietly pushing through defence acquisitions, initiating discussions to take higher education to the next level by allowing more autonomous institutions and educational universities, and undoing the damage done by the previous UPA government in critical areas like land acquisition and taxation that require legislative changes.
Addressing a packed gathering of top businessmen and other prominent Mumbai citizens at the Express Adda here on Wednesday, Jaitley said he has been discussing the issue of opening up education with HRD Minister Smriti Irani. “Now is an opportunity to allow more autonomous institutions, more independent universities, more deemed universities,” he said. Pointing to the practice of capitation fees in medical colleges, he said those regulating medical education must follow the AICTE example by being more liberal.
As Defence Minister, he said a few concrete steps have already been taken to shed the “ultra conservative” nature of the ministry. “I have delicensed 53 per cent of the defence manufacturing items,” said Jaitley. The number of pages comprising names of items that require industrial licences for manufacturing has been reduced from six to two, he said.
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To further encourage the private sector to build capacity at home, the ministry has decided to keep out the public sector from supply of large number of transport aircraft. “So the idea really is that people will enter into joint ventures and some private sector capacity building will also take place in an area where our capacity was very limited. So I think there’s a lot you can do in the Defence Ministry,” he said.
Jaitley said he has also ensured that the defence acquisition council meets at least once a month, which has helped him take decisions and place new orders. He said the options for acquisitions had narrowed significantly with many firms being blacklisted. “If we get to know about some case, we immediately take action and blacklist them. At every stage you’ve gone ahead and blacklisted people,” he said of the UPA government.
On land acquisition, he said while the quantum of compensation can always be a point of debate, it has become impossible to follow the procedure laid out in the law. According to him, one way out is to enlarge the set of exemptions. “Defence isn’t an exempted purpose, it should become one. Affordable housing should also be included and so should some of the infrastructure projects,” Jaitley said. The purposes listed in the exempted category do not have to meet the stringent procedures laid out in the law, he said.
“When I look at the Land Acquisition Act, the gentleman who drafted it must be honoured for doing the single greatest disservice to India’s GDP. I suddenly realise that defence is not an exempted purpose. So, if the Indian Navy needs land, it has to go through that 10-year process. So in war you can acquire it, but in times of peace, if the Defence Ministry needs it for a defence project or a defence production unit, it has to go through the normal procedure,” Jaitley said.