Recently a group of ministers proposed three major measures to deal with corruption. But the government missed out on making a noise about this
The Manmohan Singh government has lost touch with both types of PR: public relations and political reality, both of which are inextricably intertwined in the face of the challenge thrown by Anna Hazare and the millions who follow him.
The government has decided on three strong anti-graft measures which will make life a lot more difficult for corrupt bureaucrats and ministers. But the way the announcements have been made is more like a cat mewing in the dark than a lion roaring in the full light of day.
Take this news agency story, for instance. It says that a group of ministers (GoM) headed by Pranab Mukherjee has proposed that the discretionary powers of ministers and bureaucrats in procurement of goods and equipment for the government—from rice to the purchase of aircraft—will either be shelved or severely curtailed.
Every year, government procurement by the Centre, down to the panchayat level, is an unbelievable Rs11 lakh crore.
The GoM is convinced that abuse of discretionary powers is the major reason for corruption. It decided to quickly draft a national policy on procurement and a law to fix accountability. India is one of the few countries which does not have a national policy in this regard. Both the national policy and the law will be placed in parliament during the winter session.
The draft law has the following features:
> All procurements should be after competition between suppliers.
> All states and union territories should have a "Transparency in Procurement Act" stipulating the methodology for procurement, identify authorities for procurement decisions and a mechanism to look into irregularities.
> The criteria for evaluation of bids will be laid down before the auction process begins, which cannot be changed under any circumstances.
> Procurement wings will do market research to arrive at reasonableness of the suppliers' bids.
Only officials with proven integrity should be involved in the procurement process.
> Payments to suppliers to be settled promptly.
According to another report, the same GoM has proposed that bureaucrats face a 10% loss of pension for minor cases of corruption and a 20% cut for major infringements that lead to compulsory retirement from service.
Cases of public servants accused of graft will be put on the fast track and disciplinary action decided within a year of a complaint being received.
Expectedly, the GoM was constituted soon after Congress president Sonia Gandhi called for measures to check corruption at the party's plenary session at Burari, in Delhi, in November 2010. Not much happened until Anna Hazare turned up with his Lokpal Bill and was supported by millions.
The third major anti-corruption measure proposed by the government is a new policy for allocation of 2G spectrum. The draft law says that for commercial use the government shall follow fair, transparent, equitable, non-discriminatory, market-based competitive assignment which may include (but is not limited to) methods such as auction, tender, bidding. The newspaper report said the methods followed will be like the transparent auction for 3G/BWA which yielded over Rs1 lakh crore to the exchequer in mid-2010.
These are three vital methods of reducing corruption by huge amounts. And how are they announced to the public? Through driblets in different newspapers which underplayed them.
The government has a vast Press Information Bureau. The prime minister has an information advisor. But even a rookie reporter would have handled it a lot better.
He would have clubbed these three decisions and called a press conference at Vigyan Bhavan, the biggest auditorium in Delhi. He would have lined up Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh and the entire Cabinet on the dais and gone to town, touting these as the biggest, most fantastic response to the demands of millions of people that corruption be eradicated. (No mention of Anna Hazare). But we have a weak, confused government which doesn't know its shoulder from its elbow.
(R Vijayaraghavan has been a professional journalist for more than four decades, specialising in finance, business and politics. He conceived and helped to launch Business Line, the financial daily of The Hindu group. He can be contacted at [email protected].)
This is the ninth consecutive month when headline inflation has been above the 9% mark. The jump in inflation to close to double digits is likely to put pressure on the RBI to continue with its policy of monetary tightening
New Delhi: Headline inflation inched closer to the double-digit mark in August, rising to 9.78% on the back of soaring prices of food and manufactured products, which may prompt the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to continue with its monetary tightening policy, reports PTI.
Overall inflation, as measured by the Wholesale Price Index (WPI), stood at 9.22% in July while the rate of price rise stood at 8.87% in August 2010.
As per data released by the government today, the overall inflation figure for June this year has been revised upward to 9.51% from the provisional estimate of 9.44%.
On an annual basis, food items became 9.62% more expensive during the month under review. Onions grew 45.29% costlier, while fruit prices were up 22.82% and the rates for potatoes rose by 12.53%.
Overall, vegetable prices witnessed 11.80% inflation during August 2011.
Inflation in overall primary articles, which have a share of over 20% in the WPI basket, stood at 12.58% in the month under review.
Non-food primary articles, which include fibres, oil seeds and minerals, became dearer by 17.75%.
Prices of manufactured products, which have a weight of around 65% in the WPI basket, went up by 7.79% year-on-year in August.
Inflation in manufactured products has been steadily rising since February this year, when it crossed the 6% mark.
Among manufactured items, edible oil became dearer by 12.94%, tobacco product prices rose by 13.17%, cotton textiles grew 16.86% more expensive and wood and wood products were 9.72% costlier year-on-year.
In addition, iron and semis grew dearer by over 20%, while prices of basic metal alloys rose by 11.56% during August 2011.
Inflation in the fuel and power segment stood at 12.84% year-on-year in the month under review, as per the index.
This is the ninth consecutive month when headline inflation has been above the 9% mark.
The jump in inflation to close to double digits is likely to put pressure on the RBI to continue with its policy of monetary tightening, according to experts.
The apex bank has already hiked key policy rates 11 times since March 2010, to tame inflation. The bank's next mid-quarterly policy review is scheduled for 16th September.
India Inc has said the string of rate hikes, which have raised the cost of borrowing, have acted as a dampener to fresh investment and hindered growth.
Industrial production plunged to a 21-month low of 3.3% in July. Meanwhile, economic growth during the April-June period stood at 7.7%, the slowest expansion rate in the past six quarters.
Both the government and the RBI have projected headline inflation to remain elevated till the third half of the current fiscal, mainly on account of pressure from international commodity prices.