Monday, April 22, 2013

Kalyan Banerjee’s coal report: Turning the clock back; ruining India….

Today’s TOI talks about the Standing Committee on coal bringing out a report which says that all mines allotted between 1993 and 2008 were allotted in an unauthorized manner. It goes on to suggest that all mines that have not started production yet should be scrapped. And that all those who were involvement in the process should be investigated. This is like turning a clock back – its impact on the investment climate, GDP growth, credibility of government’s policies and in fact on India’s future itself is bound to be disastrous.

Not surprisingly (in my mind), the report has been brought out under the chairmanship of a Trinamool Congress leader, Kalyan Banerjee. The TMC has no stakes in the past. It’s easy for it to attack everything that was done in the past. It couldn’t care less about the saying “Vision is 20:20 in hindsight”. With the information available in 2013, even a joker could say that the processes followed in 1993 may not have been perfect. If this logic were to be extended, most of India’s post-independence economic policy is flawed. All those industrialists who benefitted under the license raj should be asked to return all the gains they made. All those bureaucrats and politicians should be hanged or put in jail. If we go about doing this, we are surely going down the path to self-destruction.

The report covers the entire period from 1993 to 2008. This itself brings out some interesting points:

First, that the BJP is bound to reject it. The BJP’s vaunted position (even though its complete baloney) is that India was a land flowing with honey and milk during its six years of rule. Well if that was so, then why were the coal mines allotted wrongly during its rule the way the report alleges? The BJP escaped the CAG’s investigations because he (a friendly guy!) chose to restrict his field of investigations to the post-NDA period. How convenient. But the Standing Committee covers the NDA period as well, and holds it as guilty of any transgressions as it does the Congress and others.

Second, it says that the process before 2004 was even worse than between 2004 and 2008. In that period apparently, even ads were not floated for the mines that were distributed. The whole process was shrouded in secrecy. In this period of time, the Congress ruled for 3 years (Narasimha Rao till 1996), the Janata Dal (United) for 2 years (Deve Gowda and IK Gujral) and the NDA for 6 years (Vajpayee). If we were to believe this report, none of these parties thought anything was wrong, and continued with the process that they inherited. So either all of them were poor rulers, or all of them were corrupt. This is ridiculous.

Third, there was some degree of transparency brought in between 2004 and 2008 – in the sense that at least ads were released about the mines being distributed. And still, as per the Standing Committee, there was not much transparency in the process. Why? Because there were no auctions and the GOI made no revenues. But even the SC has said that auctions needn’t be followed in all cases; and that revenue maximization cannot be the sole goal of the government. As long as the non-auction process was clean, and as long as the country benefitted, the process was fine. As a matter of fact, coal production in the country rose from some 100 million tonnes in the 1990s to some 500 million tonnes per annum now. There is need for privatization of the coal sector felt today….but back then, the wisdom of successive governments was in keeping coal production with Coal India Limited. The policies of those days did help take the country forward. How can we today blame those policies?

Such reports should be rejected outright. They serve no purpose but to tarnish India’s image and growth story; demotivate its cadres, and derail its future. Written as it is by a communist leader (for the TMC is even more Left than the Left itself), it is not surprising that he has found everything post the 1991 reforms to be amiss. He may not say this, but if he had his chance, he would never have allowed the private players to get into coal mining at all (producers of electricity, cement and steel). The report reflects more political ideology than anything factual.

This is also called “witch-hunting”. Finding out something from the past, intentionally losing the context, and then making a big deal out of it today, knowing fully well that such a stand will create a flutter in the media. But there is one big mistake that Kalyan Banerjee has made. That is that he has blamed both the Congress and the BJP. Ask Kejriwal. He knows the day he started blaming the BJP alongwith the Congress, his movement ended. The poor man today goes on a 2-week long fast, and still doesn’t manage to attract any crowds. If only he (and Anna) had stuck to their cozy BJP intimacy, they would have been far more successful.

But why blame Kalyan Banerjee alone? Every political party adopts the same trick in nailing its opposition. The BJP (aided by the CAG) accuses the Congress of having followed a wrong policy (FCFS) in the past. Why does it say this? Because the subsequent policy followed in 3G (auctions, which the Congress only thought of) gave good results (or so the party believes, even though in mind the policy was badly flawed and led to the industry being stillborn). Anything done better in the future becomes the reason to cast accusations about the past. How will the country ever progress then? Why will any bureaucrat or politician want to make improvements then, if that is going to be the grounds of him or his government of the past being called corrupt? Actually, had 3G not been auctioned, and had FCFS continued with, there would have been no 2G scam at all! The Congress made a mistake! Damn this economist PM! The BJP’s doublespeak is of course even more pronounced, because it would like us to believe that the FCFS policy was good between 2001 and 2004, but turned bad exactly after the UPA took over! C’mon guys….

For India’s sake, we the people must protest against such political tricks. We are not interested in the past. We are more interested in the future. Whoever makes changes for the better should get our vote. The BJP should tell us what changes they will bring about in the future if they came to power, rather than just criticizing about the past. But does the BJP do that? Never. All they speak is about some vague concept called “good governance” without bothering to elaborate on it even a little bit. At least the Congress brought about changes in 3G auctions. At least, the Congress introduced (and passed) the Lokpal Bill, no matter how flawed. At least, the Congress is bringing up the Land Reforms bill which will improve things in that sector. Can the BJP tell us what they will bring in the future? We are not interested in debating the past. We are interested in debating the present and the future.

The real truth is that we are on a self-chosen path to self-destruction. The world outside must be watching us and wondering if democracy is indeed the right model for a developing country. On the one hand they see a China, growing rapidly under a dictatorial one-party rule. On the other hand, they see an India, suffering under a fractured political set-up. Equally, our competitors must be heaving a sigh of relief, knowing that the global dollars will now flow to them and not to India. Truly sad. In fact, abhorable….

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