Weak defence against corruption charge, attack on Narendra Modi and a desire not to be the PM for another term marked Dr Manmohan Singh’s last press conference
The Prime Minister accepted failure to check unemployment and inflation in the last press conference of his tenure as PM. "I am concerned that we have not been as successful as we need to be in generating employment in the manufacturing sector. This is an aspect of performance which we are working hard to correct," he told the media. He pointed that inflation had been difficult to control due to rising commodity prices and energy prices in the international market. These were reasons beyond the control of the Indian government.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared that he will step down after the next Lok Sabha election. "In a few months time, after the general election, I will hand the baton over to a new Prime Minister," Manmohan Singh told the media. "Rahul Gandhi has outstanding credentials to be nominated as the Prime Ministerial candidate, and I hope our party will take that decision at the appropriate time," he added.
The Prime Minister also said that it would be disastrous for the country if Narendra Modi were to become the next Prime Minister. He added that he was fully confident that the next Prime Minister, after the Lok Sabha election, will also be from the Congress-led UPA coalition.
On the performance of the Indian economy during the time he was the Prime Minister, he said, “The rate of growth achieved in the last nine years of UPA rule "is the highest in any nine year period." He also claimed that that the growth process was made more inclusive than ever. It is another matter that the Congress Party was completely routed in the last four Assembly elections.
On the growth versus inflation issue affecting the common man, he said "We have also not been as successful in controlling persistent inflation as we would have wished," he said. "This is primarily because food inflation has increased. However, we should remember that our inclusive policies have put more money in the hands of the weaker sections.”
"To keep food prices in control, we need to increase supplies and also improve marketing arrangements and logistics. This is especially important for items which are perishable such as fruits and vegetables," he added. PDS foodgrain prices have not been increased since 2003.
On the issue of accelerated policy-led growth, the Prime Minister said: "Reform is not an event it is a process. We will continue to push forward the cause of reform."
On the issues of corruption in coal block allocations and 2G spectrum allocations, all the PM said that these related to the UPA-I government and the UPA-II government had been in place after renewing its mandate with the electorate.
To a question if he had ever felt like putting in his papers out of frustration, he said: "I never felt like resigning at any time. I have enjoyed doing my work. I have tried to do my work with all honesty, with all sense of integrity without regard for fear or favour."
The PM claimed that he would come out unscathed when history is written about this period.
Considering the hardship to mine labourers and their families, fall in export, starving of supplies to the domestic level, steel industry and miners are hoping for a positive reaction from the Supreme Court for Goa as well
At the close of 2013, the good news is the lifting of the ban imposed on the iron ore mines, by the Supreme Court, has brought some cheer to the iron ore-starved steel mills. Only 15 iron ore mines are in operation that can mine about 15 million tonnes; if efforts are made to speed up production of iron ore, and if there are no environmental hiccups, the maximum that can be mined would be approximately 22 million tonnes of iron ore.
Actually, the steel industry in Karnataka alone requires 36 million tonnes of iron ore. Out of the 15 million tonnes of iron ore mined in this state, National
Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC) accounts for nine million tonnes of iron ore from its mines in Karnataka.
Although the Supreme Court has lifted the ban on iron ore mining, apart from Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) clearances, many mine owners require approvals of land leases. Many of these may have expired in the interim period, when the ban was effective. They have to get these clearances before mining can commence. Anyway, the lifting of the ban on iron ore mining is welcome and long overdue.
Apart from meeting domestic needs, export shipments of iron ore in 2012-13 touched a measly 18 million tonnes against 168 million tonnes shipped in 2010-11, because the Supreme Court stopped illegal mining activities, both in Karnataka and Goa. It may be recalled that between July and August 2011, iron ore mining in Karnataka was banned while a similar ban was imposed in Goa in October 2012.
India's iron ore exports, prior to this ban, was valued $7 billion. Commerce minister Anand Sharma stated, in an interview, that the trade deficit soared to $191 billion in 2012-13 and the current account deficit (CAD) to $88.2 billion, or 4.8% of the India’s gross domestic product (GDP).
While the iron ore export ban, as a result of illegal mining activity, caused a great loss in foreign exchange earnings, our coal imports cost the country a mammoth $22 billion. The coal industry needs to do a lot more to overcome the obstacles of MOEF clearances. India's largest iron ore miner, the NMDC, which accounts for 40% of the country's supplies are able to get its output from mines both in Karnataka and Chhattisgarh. This is one of the government organisations doing its mining operations quietly. India's steel manufacturers expect to increase their production by 24 million tonnes by 2017-18 from the current level. This means not only NMDC but other mines will also have to increase their production to meet their demand.
In 2012-13, iron ore production reached 140 million tonnes. Since the lifting of ban has just been announced, it would be at least 12 to 18 months before signs of increased production can be felt. Unless the Supreme Court also decides to lift the ban on mining operations in Goa, it may be necessary to import iron ore from Australia or elsewhere. In fact, Australia, the largest iron ore supplier in the world, expects to push up its exports to 670 million tonnes this year. Iron ore prices rose to $135 per (dry) tonne.
During a recent press conference, Manohar Parrikar, the Goan chief minister mentioned that, hopefully, mining operations in Goa would resume this year.
He felt, that, if and when the mining ban is lifted, it would be necessary for both Central and state governments to work out the modalities to reduce windfall profits earned by miners, and hopes that extraction of ore would be done keeping in mind the environmental concerns.
The steel industry and miners are hoping for a positive reaction from the Supreme Court, considering the hardship to mine labourers and their families, fall in export, starving of supplies to the domestic industry. Hence, the ban in
Goa should be lifted as soon possible.
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the Ministry of Commerce. He was also associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US.)
Arvind Kejriwal's AAP received 37 votes, including 28 of its own, 8 from Congress and one from JD (U)
Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Admi Party (AAP) government in Delhi on Thursday won the confidence vote with support from Congress and Janata Dal (United)- JD(U).
AAP received 37 votes, including 28 of its own, 8 from Congress and one from JD (U) in its favour while all 32 members of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) voted against the confidence motion.