Manmohan: I am not a lame duck PM

Prime minister describes perception that government has gone comatose as clever propaganda by opposition parties

New Delhi: Dr Manmohan Singh today dismissed talk that he is a "lame duck" prime minister, saying that he had been entrusted with the job by the Congress Party, from which he has not heard "any contrary view".

He described the perception that his government had gone "comatose" and was a "lame duck" as clever propaganda of opposition parties, "to which some sections of the media had lent a ear", and he underlined that "truth will prevail" and his performance would speak.

Sonia has done superb job
Dr Singh spoke about the "maximum possible co-operation" that he was getting from Congress party president Sonia Gandhi, with whom he met one-on-one every week. He had never felt that she was an "obstacle".

During a 100-minute interaction with five editors at his official residence this morning, a relaxed prime minister fielded questions on a wide range of issues, from the talk over whether Rahul Gandhi should take his place, to the Lokpal Bill, corruption and relations with neighbouring countries.

Sonia Gandhi had done a "superb job" as Congress president for nearly 15 years now, he underlined.

Asked about occasional statements from party functionaries that Rahul Gandhi should become prime minister, Dr Singh said that the Congress Party and its president had entrusted him with this job and he had not heard any contrary view from the Congress high command.

"In fact, the Congress high command has always been most supportive, particularly Mrs Gandhi," the prime minister said.

Younger people should take over
He went on to add, "Personally, if you ask me, the general proposition that younger people should take over, I think, is the right sentiment". Whenever the party "makes up its mind I will be very happy to step down, but so long as I am here, I have a job to do".
To a question about a possible reshuffle of his Cabinet, the prime minister said it was a "work in progress". Asked if it would take place soon, Dr Singh replied, "I cannot predict."

About the Lokpal Bill, he said it was essential and desirable. The country needed a strong Lokpal although it is not a "panacea".

He told the editors that he would try to find a way on the Lokpal issue and work for a national consensus. The government would reach out to civil society, but no group could insist that their views, "A to Z", are the last word.

PM under Lokpal

As for bringing the office of the prime minister under the purview of the Lokpal, the prime minister said he has no hesitation in bringing himself under it.

However, many of his Cabinet colleagues were of the view that bringing the institution of the prime minister under Lokpal would create "an element of instability which can go out of hand".

In any case, the prime minister is covered by the anti-corruption act and is a 24-hour servant of the people, he said, and pointed out that a person holding that office can be removed by parliament.

Dr Singh said that he would like to be "guided" by political parties on this issue. Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa and her Punjab counterpart Prakash Singh Badal had both expressed their views that this office should be kept out of the Lokpal's purview.

Stability of the government  
Told about doubts being raised about the stability of his government, particularly in the light of problems with the DMK, the prime minister said, "We have some points of tension, but nobody wants an election."

On the dialogue with Civil Society, he said that the government should appear to be receptive to what society says and he had himself encouraged a dialogue with Anna Hazare.

With regard to Baba Ramdev also, the effort was not to create unnecessary misunderstanding, he said, adding that he had earlier written to the yoga guru to share some of his concerns on black money and corruption.

About the controversy surrounding the decision of four union ministers to meet the yoga guru at Delhi airport, Dr Singh said that it was not to "receive" him, but that the meeting had been arranged so that it could take place before the guru entered Delhi.

Responding to a question about the police action against Baba Ramdev and his followers at Delhi's Ramlila ground in the middle of the night, Dr Singh said it was unfortunate but he did not see any alternative. If action was taken the next day there would have been larger crowds, he said.

Asked if Anna Hazare was naive or politically motivated, the prime minister said it was not good to question the motives of those persons the government is negotiating with.

Guilty will be punished

Asserting that his government was committed to pursuing whatever was feasible to deal with black money, tax evasion and corruption, the prime minister said it was nevertheless not a "one-shot operation".

He acknowledged that the telecom scam, the CWG scam and other perceived cases of corruption had caused genuine concern to the middle class whom he assured that the guilty would be punished.

In his opening remarks, the prime minister said there was a growing perception in the media that the government was under a siege and not able to implement its agenda.

He then went on to hit out at the role of the media, saying that it has become "accuser, prosecutor and the judge". No parliamentary democracy could function in that manner.

Uncertain neighbourhood

About foreign relations, the prime minister said India lived in a very uncertain neighbourhood and a very uncertain international economic environment.

On Pakistan, he said that the action taken by it so far to deal with terror emanating from its soil was not satisfactory, but India had to keep the country engaged.

He said terror should never be used as a state policy. Terror groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) were offshoots of the ISI.

Asked about the possibility of his visiting Pakistan, Dr Singh said they were keen about it but there must be something solid to achieve.

About China, he said that the Indian media should not sensationalise differences with that country. He had dealt with the present leadership of president Hu Jintao and prime minister Wen Jiabao whom he regards as men of peace.

At the same time, the prime Minister said India could not compromise on the issue of Arunachal Pradesh to which China lays claim and on river systems.


India negotiating changes in Mauritius tax treaty: FM

Finance secretary Sunil Mitra recently said that discussions to resume the re-negotiation of the three-decade old treaty, stalled since 2008, are likely to resume in July or August

Washington: Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee Wednesday said the government is negotiating changes in a tax treaty with Mauritius, the country which accounts for the maximum foreign investment in India, reports PTI.

“So far as Mauritius is concerned, we are having discussions with them for amendment of the avoidance of double taxation agreement. Talks are going on,” Mr Mukherjee told PTI when asked whether the government is looking at the possibility of imposing levies on inflows from tax havens.

Around 42% of foreign direct investment (FDI) and about 40% of foreign institutional investor (FII) fund flows into India are routed through the island nation.

It is believed that a large majority of them are third country investors which use the Double Taxation Avoidance Convention (DTAC) with Mauritius for saving capital gains tax.

Mr Mukherjee said the Group of 20 (G-20) developing and developed countries across the world is holding discussions on cooperating to share banking information.

“... These can be achieved through a legal framework and that legal framework is provided by two sorts of agreements—one is avoidance of the double taxation agreement and another is the tax information exchange agreement,” he said.

So far India has negotiated/renegotiated DTAAs with 33 countries and also entered into Tax Information Exchange Agreements (TIEA) with 13.

Mr Mukherjee said the legal framework required to trace black money ‘alleged’ to have been stashed in overseas accounts was being worked out. “This legal framework is being framed and we are working on it,” he added.

India’s finance secretary Sunil Mitra recently said that discussions to resume the re-negotiation of the three-decade old treaty, stalled since 2008, are likely to resume in July or August.

While the government has been pressing for re-negotiating the Mauritius treaty, seeking to plug the loopholes and revenue leakages, some experts have raised concerns that the move may impact foreign direct investment (FDI) into the country.

According the pact, capital gains from the sale of shares by residents of Mauritius in India would be liable to tax only in that country. As Mauritius does not have capital gain tax, there is no burden on investors routing money in India through a circuitous route.


SC directs W Bengal govt to halt return of land to farmers in Singur

The apex court said it was passing a limited interim order and asked the high court to proceed with the main matter in which the Tatas have challenged the new law enacted by the Mamata Banerjee government for taking possession of land and distributing it to farmers who were the original owners

New Delhi: The Supreme Court today directed the West Bengal government not to go ahead with distribution and return of land in Singur to farmers which was acquired for Tata Motors’ small car project Nano, reports PTI.

“As an interim order we direct state government not to hand over or return land to farmers concerned until further order passed by the Calcutta High Court,” a vacation bench comprising justices P Sathasivam an AK Patnaik said.

The bench said it was making it clear that this was an “interim arrangement” and it was not expressing any opinion on the merits of the case.

The judges said they were passing a limited interim order and asked the high court to proceed with the main matter in which the Tatas have challenged the new law enacted by the Mamata Banerjee government for taking possession of land and distributing it to farmers who were the original owners.

However, the bench said since the main issues were pending before the high court, it was not inclined to go into them.

“We are not inclined to interfere at this stage on the main issues pending before the high court,” it said.

The bench observed it was granting interim protection as senior counsel PP Rao, appearing for the state government, said the possession of land will remain in the hands of state government till the high court decides the issues.

During the proceedings, the bench observed it is not a question of political issues but a question of rights.

The court was hearing a petition filed by Tata Motors challenging the order of Calcutta High Court which refused to grant any relief to it.

Tata Motors had yesterday approached the Supreme Court accusing the West Bengal government of enacting the law in a haste to take over land in Singur allotted to it for its Nano car project and using police force illegally to take back possession of the plot.

The Tatas, which on 27th June failed to get any relief from the Calcutta High Court, had challenged the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development (SLRD) Act, passed by the state assembly for taking back possession of the land and distributing it among farmers who owned them before acquisition by the previous Left Front government.

Tatas have filed the appeals against the orders of the high court which rejected its plea to restrain the state government from taking back possession and distribution of land to farmers.

The petitions said the state government was allegedly indulging in ‘colourable exercise of power’ on Singur land issue.

Tatas alleged the state government has been ‘illegally’ taking possession of land by using police force.

The company had said that in view of ‘vandalism’ and ‘looting’ of goods at the factory site, the land should be returned immediately to Tata.

Tata Motors had filed separate petitions challenging two Calcutta High Court orders dated 23rd June and 27th June.

On 23rd June, the high court had refused to entertain the company’s plea seeking directions to restrain the state government from taking possession of the about 1000 acre land.

The company had also filed another plea in the high court on 27th June, unsuccessfully challenging the SLRD Act and rules and notification since 20th June.

It had also sought a direction to restrain the state government from distributing land to original owners and farmers thus creating a third party interest.


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