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Vivian Fernandes
Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Economic Survey: Dressing up government for a market economy


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This year's Economic Survey is a delight to read, especially the chapter on 'Issues and Priorities.' It is an essay on the role of the government in an open economy where it is expected to keep its hands-off all activities except those where choice is inhibited because of monopoly power (utilities) and asymmetric information (healthcare), or where private usage imposes public costs (cars). In doing so, the Survey is not exceptional. Those mentored by former Chief Economic Adviser Kaushik Basu were also quite insightful. On governing for outcomes, the Survey says outlays should be linked to targets, and departments held accountable for achieving them. The distinction between plan and non-plan expenditure should go and with that the role of the Planning Commission in making allocations. The Finance Ministry should be the sole allocator. The outlay of every department must be justified by results which will be certified by third....


Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Railways: Does the PM have the stomach for radical change?


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Is the Railway Budget as deceptive as the man who presented it to Parliament? As chief minister of Karnataka, Sadananda Gowda came across as a decent, non-threatening person, but cracked down on corruption, especially that of his PWD minister, which cost him his job, says political reporter Aditi Phadnis. Tucked away in his speech is a three-line paragraph on 'structural reforms', which Gowda states as the separation of the policy formulation role from that of implementation because the Railway board has become 'unwieldy'. The minister does not elaborate; perhaps he did not want to alert the resistance. If he actually delivers on this initiative, Gowda will join two other tall railway ministers from my part of the country in coastal Karnataka: TA Pai and George Fernandes. The railways should have been the locomotive of the Indian economy; they are a drag. This is because it is a commercial....


Friday , June 20, 2014

Greenpeace: In the business of manufacturing dissent


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News reports say that the non-governmental organisation, Greenpeace, will need Home Ministry approval to receive foreign funds. The Intelligence Bureau according to reports in the Indian Express has called the NGO a threat to India's economic security. These moves have been criticized as attempts to silence opposition to government policies. Are they? Dissent is essential to democracy. It is the people's right to ventilate their discontent. A caring government is expected to address their concerns. A large number of people seeking redress for a grievance give rise to people's movements. I place organizations like Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghatan, which organized labourers in Rajasthan to demand minimum wages through the right to information, and the National Campaign for People's Right to Information in this category. The countrywide agitation of farmers against corporates acquiring swatches of arable land on the cheap for special economic zones may have impeded industrial development but....


Tuesday , May 20, 2014

Modi, the compulsive campaigner


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I expect Narendra Modi to bring method into governance, keep his administration grounded and charged up, and hold his ministers accountable, going by his track record in Gujarat. Modi is a compulsive campaigner, not only during elections but also in between. They say that India is an argumentative society; Modi will like to make it a mobilised society like China. Modi says development should be a movement, like the freedom struggle; it must be participatory. Only when people have a sense of ownership can a government achieve big results. In Gujarat Modi had a series of campaigns: Nirmal (sanitary) Gujarat, Nirogi (healthy) Balak (child), Kanya Kelavani (girl's education), Shala Praveshotsav (school enrolment festival), Beti Bachao (save the girl child) and so on. The outcomes may not have matched expectations in all cases, but intention and earnestness were not missing. At the Centre Modi will want to keep....


Sunday , May 04, 2014

Modi in power: Economic development plus ultra low-intensity communal conflict?


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Residents of Bhavnagar's Krishan Nagar holding 'Ram Durbars' outside the bungalow of Bohra Muslim businessman Ali Asghar Zaveri to prevent him from moving in might seem an isolated example. It is not so. The posh neighbourhood shot into the headlines after VHP President Pravin Togadia's video surfaced, urging (presumably) VHP and Bajrang Dal cadres 'to take the law into their hands,' spit on Zaveri, and 'create a riot-like atmosphere', so that not only does Zaveri not move in but other Muslims get the message as well. The forced separation of communities in Gujarat is nothing new. When I was researching my book (Modi: Leadership, Governance and Performance), I got into a conversation with Muslim taxi driver, Mohammed Ali Saiyad, 48, on way from Ahmedabad airport to Gandhinagar. He told me his brother, who works as an electrician with a private airline, had booked a two-room flat for Rs 14....


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Why I differ with Fr Frazer Mascarenhas of St Xavier's, Mumbai


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In an email to students of St Xavier's College, Mumbai, its principal Fr Frazer Mascarenhas has questioned the Gujarat model with its emphasis on private enterprise and growth, while favouring a rights and entitlements approach to development, which is the hallmark of the present government at the Centre (see Times of India, 23 April edition). 'All the human development index indicators and the cultural polarization of the population show that Gujarat has had a terrible experience in the last ten years,' says Fr Mascarenhas. Since I have written a book called Modi: Leadership, Governance and Performance (available on www.amazon.in and www.homeshop18.com), I feel compelled to dissect the assertions of Fr Mascarenhas (Fr FM), though I am by no means an apologist for Modi, but see myself as an journalist prejudiced towards Constitutional values and free markets. So here goes: Fr FM: 'The prospect of an alliance of corporate capital....


Sunday , April 06, 2014

Spot the difference between media cover-up of the 1984 and 2002 riots


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Reverence in the media to those in authority and a tendency to fall in line, allows those indulging in political mass murders to escape justice and investigators to engage in cover-ups, says Manoj Mitta, author of books on the 2002 and 1984 riots. Institutions have evolved since the 1984 riots. The National Human Rights Commission was set up in October 1993. The judicial conscience now stings; it does not merely prick. The NHRC under the late Justice JS Verma visited Gujarat's riot-affected areas and gave a report (31 May 2002). Under its new chairman, Justice AS Anand, it took the unusual step of moving a special leave petition in the Supreme Court, when Baroda's Best Bakery Case (fourteen killed) collapsed and all seventeen accused were set free by a trial court (in June 2003). The reason: the baker's daughter and the complainant and her family had turned hostile. They....


Sunday , March 09, 2014

Using the law to roll out illiberality


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The decision of a publisher to settle a civil defamation suit and stop selling a book on Hinduism is a celebration of the liberal principle, said senior advocate Aman Lekhi. The question whether the book hurt the religious sentiments of Hindus was being tested in court and the publishers ran away from it. The petitioners had not imposed their views, and the Constitution was not subverted, Lekhi said. But other speakers said the serial use of penal provisions by fundamentalists to harass and intimidate was a marker of creeping illiberality. None of them however supported the banning of books. The occasion was a debate organized by the Foundation for Media Professionals following a settlement made by Penguin Books with Delhi-based Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti (SBAS) on February 4 to stop selling in India and withdraw unsold copies within six months of Wendy Doniger's book, 'About Hinduism, An Alternative History',....


Monday , February 17, 2014

Honest politics is AAP's economic policy: Kejriwal


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(Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal spoke at the Confederation of Indian Industry's national council meeting in Delhi on Monday (17 February, 2014). He clarified the party's attitude on private business. The party is seen as statist because it disallowed FDI in retailing, threatened to cancel the licenses of private power distributors, and filed corruption cases against Delhi's water utility officials involved in public private partnerships while in power for 49 days. Left parties believe that it is the private sector that corrupts politics. But Kejriwal reversed the equation. He said it is politics that corrupts business and encourages crony capitalism. Here is a high-fidelity summary of what he said.) Government does not do vikas (development). It is people, like you, who do vikas. The government has no business to be in business. The government's job Is to provide security to citizens, ensure justice and give honest governance. AAP....


Friday , January 31, 2014

Kejriwal must force open access to cut power tariffs, policing through CAG will not help


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Between 2008 and 2012, 1.32 lakh crore (or 1.32 trillion) units of power were sold in the country at an average wholesale prices of Rs 5 per unit, says Gajendra Haldea in an article in Dainik Bhaskar. Haldea is Advisor to Planning Commission Chairman, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, and author of the Electricity Act 2003, which lays the basis for competition in the sector. Adding cost of distribution and overheads, this power should retail for Rs 8 per unit. None of the countries of India's size sell power at this rate, he says. When the US power company, Enron, supplied electricity from its Dabhol plant in Maharashtra at Rs 7.80 per unit in 2000, there was an outcry; the government abrogated the contract (by paying a huge penalty) and ejected Enron. The situation has not improved. State Electricity Boards buy costly power and sell it at a discount.....


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More about Vivian Fernandes

Vivian Fernandes is a senior journalist with nearly 30 years of practice, 19 of them in television, all of which he spent at TV18. Vivian’s last assignment was as executive editor of a book on India and China written by the founder of the Network 18 group, Mr Raghav Bahl. He has been an observer of Indian business and politics, and had reported on economic policy making as reporter, chief of Delhi bureau of correspondents and economic policy editor. Vivian has traveled abroad with Prime Ministers Narasimha Rao, Atal Behari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh. He was also reported on the World Trade Organization’s trade talks from Cancun, Hong Kong and Geneva. He continues his association with the Network18 group, but not as an employee.
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