Disunion cabinet

PM’s agenda will carry weight only when his ministers start talking to,not at,each other

Written by The Indian Express | Published:June 8, 2012 3:07 am

PM’s agenda will carry weight only when his ministers start talking to,not at,each other

Amid the drift and the slowdown,Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has set infrastructure goals for the coming year,in roads,power,railways,aviation,shipping,to revive investment and help the economy climb out of the current morass. Acknowledging that growth had run into “turbulent weather”,the PM said that infrastructure needed an infusion of a trillion dollars over the next five years,with a combination of public and private initiative and the government would do its best to ease the progress of such projects.

Not exactly new,but these words need to be reiterated,given the pervasive despair. “Turbulent weather”,alas,can also be a great metaphor for evading responsibility,blaming Europe for the government’s red tape,regulatory dithering and the failure to provide a consistent policy environment. Even as the PM spoke of 9,500 km of highways to be constructed and 4,000 km to be maintained,the National Highways Authority of India does not have a head. The PM did flag the matter of coordination between parts of the government — in fact,that may be the central crisis of the UPA. Its infrastructure plans will remain hyperbole,repeated verbatim every year,as long as its ministries work at cross-purposes. The coal and power ministries are sparring over fuel supply agreements. Railways Minister Mukul Roy conveyed his commitment by skipping the PM’s meet altogether. His Great Leader wants about Rs 25,000 crore; otherwise she won’t say yes to anything. Meanwhile,the environment ministry is at war with the ministry of road transport and highways — in fact,with practically most of the key infrastructure ministries. While there may be an inbuilt tension,even a healthy one,between their mandates,the government must jointly consider the tradeoffs and evolve a way forward,instead of settling into this destructive dynamic. GoMs were set up to evolve an inter-ministerial plan of action. But these are now little black holes littered across government. A new one for coal regulation was set up this week with P. Chidambaram in charge — with no greater cohesion in the government.

Unless the UPA drills in a sense of common purpose among its ministries,this slide will continue. While it has been convenient to blame allies for blocking reform,many contradictions arise within the Congress itself. This has to be fixed at the level of the party leadership. Until that’s resolved — and that’s a political problem,not an economic one — the PM’s call for action will carry little weight.

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