Sushma in soup over Lalit Modi visa
- External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj triggered a controversy on June 14 by defending her recommendation to the U.K. last year to provide travel documents to former Indian Premier League chief Lalit Modi to visit his wife, undergoing treatment for cancer in Portugal, if the rules permitted.
- The Union government and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh came out in full support of Ms. Swaraj. Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah said the recommendation was made on “humanitarian” and not “moral” grounds. Mr. Lalit Modi’s passport was revoked in 2010 and restored by the Delhi High Court last August.
- Ms. Swaraj tweeted that she had told the U.K. that “giving emergency travel documents to an Indian citizen cannot, and should not, spoil relations between the two countries”. The Minister said she had conveyed to the British government that India would not object if the British authorities acceded to Mr. Lalit Modi’s request. There was a need, she said, to take a “humanitarian” view.
- The government’s sharp defence followed a discussion between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh. Mr. Singh said, “Whatever she has done is right. We justify it and the government completely stands by her.”
- Ms. Swaraj is learnt to have spoken to the Prime Minister.
Sheila Kaul passes away
- Former Union Minister Sheila Kaul, a sister-in-law of Jawaharlal Nehru and oldest surviving former parliamentarian, died after brief illness at a hospital here. She was 100.
- A former Himachal Pradesh Governor, Kaul had been unwell for the past few days and was admitted to the hospital last evening where she breathed her last at 8 p.m.
- A five-time MP, Kaul was born on February 7, 1915. She was an arts graduate from Lahore Women’s College and had a degree in teaching from Sir Ganga Ram Training College, Lahore. She was married to renowned botanist Kailash Nath Kaul. Kaul is survived by sons Gautam Kaul, a retired IPS officer, and Vikram Kaul, an international sports administrator, besides daughter Deepa Kaul, a former Information Minister in U.P.
- Her mortal remains were consigned to flames at 4.30 p.m. in the presence of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and several other party leaders. Urban Development Minister in the Narasimha Rao Cabinet, Ms. Kaul was accused making out-of-turn allotment of government accommodations in return for monetary gain between 1992 and 1995.
- On the face of it, the 16-point agreement signed on June 8 among Nepal’s four largest political parties should bring closure to the long-delayed process of promulgating a new Constitution for Naya Nepal. Reeling from the earthquakes in April and May, Nepal sorely required its polity and its elected Constituent Assembly (CA) to push for an accord to resolve outstanding issues — the key ones being “state restructuring” and the form of governance. On the latter issue, the accord decided to retain the Westminster parliamentary model with an executive Prime Minister and a constitutional head of state in the President. The Maoists had been opposed to the parliamentary model, but have agreed to take the process of promulgation forward. On state restructuring, the accord has vaguely identified an eight-state model whose boundaries would be decided by a federal commission. Effectively, it pushed the envelope on the much-debated issue to be decided by a committee of experts. Per se , this was a kind of compromise by both sides of the federalism debate. The former accepted the presence of identity as a criterion of federal determination, while the latter stopped insisting that the CA alone would finalise the federal nature of the state.
- There is no doubt that the earthquake, which showed up the Nepali state as wanting in its response to the disaster in terms of relief and rehabilitation (and preparedness) efforts, accelerated the process of getting over the constitutional deadlock. But the sudden spurt of activism in finalising the accord begs the question whether it merely postpones the resolution of the state restructuring issue rather than resolving it. State restructuring was a key demand among the plains-dwellers, minorities and jana jatis in the run-up to the first CA elections in 2008. The demand and need for a CA came about because the first Jan Andolan that brought about a constitutional monarchy in 1990 did not do enough to break the hegemonic hold of communities such as the Bahun and the Chhetris over the state. The decision under the accord to leave the task of resolving what is effectively a political issue to an unelected commission is therefore not an optimal one. Ironically, the first iteration of the CA, before its dissolution in 2012, had managed to nearly resolve the state restructuring issue before some elements from the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) and the Nepali Congress managed to prevent a clinching solution. It is to be hoped that the proposed commission manages to bring about a federal structure that is close enough to what was nearly arrived at by the first CA.
A key right from Telangana
- Even as the Central government fights to create a business-friendly environment, the brand-new Telangana government led by K. Chandrasekhar Rao has walked the talk by announcing a unique and highly welcome Right to Clearance policy. This is a significant move in the new State’s industrialisation programme, and could prove to be a crucial differentiator in the near future. Akin to the Right to Information, the Right to Clearance recognises that businesses have the right to know why project proposals are being delayed and to demand redress for unnecessary procrastination. Bureaucratic red-tape and corruption have not really come to an end in India despite the death of licence raj ; industries are still at the mercy of whimsical policies and procedural nightmares. The Right to Clearance will involve a provision to impose a fine of Rs.1,000 on officials for each day of delay in granting clearance to a project, besides allowing businesses to know the exact reason why a proposal is stuck. It also lays down a 15-day time limit for the clearance of mega-projects involving over Rs.200 crore, and of one month for smaller projects. If government departments miss the deadline, the project will get automatic deemed approval. These, and other features such as single-window clearances, automatic renewals and self-certification, will go a long way towards creating an ecosystem that eases doing business in the State. The opportunity costs of clearance delays are enormous. Such cost and time overruns impact the viability not just of industries but also of lending institutions. Across the country, projects worth crores of rupees are mired, awaiting clearance.
- It is this fact that makes the Chandrasekhar Rao government’s move particularly laudable. Naturally, it has been welcomed by leading industrialists, with some of them already announcing projects. They now have a sense of reassurance and renewed belief that the Telangana government is serious about creating an outstanding industrial hub. Extending the out-of-the-box thinking, the Chief Minister has assured industry of “a graft-free and hassle-free system” that will remove lobbies and middlemen. Moves such as this will help rid the bureaucracy of inertia, and inject a sense of urgency and responsibility into the system. The Telangana government’s move not only empowers industries but also raises the bar considerably, and other States will have to match the offer if they don’t want to lose out amid the growing inter-State competition for investment. There is, however, one thing the government must note. Project-appraisal is not only about speedy clearances. Proper due diligence is also a sine qua non for clearance. Speed should not result in ill-conceived or poorly-structured projects being rushed through, and it is to be hoped that the policy will also ensure that.