Monday, October 12, 2009

Snippets/ Mail Today, October 12, 2009

Just what should we do with MK Alagiri?
CABINET secretary KM Chandrashekhar may have found a way to deal with truant babus, but who will tame truant ministers? MK Alagiri has raised the truancy bar to new heights. It’s almost five months since he took charge of three very important departments as the minister for chemicals, petrochemicals and fertilisers, yet his attendance in office has been abysmal and important files are piling up.

Though there are two secretaries to assist him — Bijoy Chatterjee in chemicals and petrochemicals and Atul Chaturvedi in fertilisers — the minister is in dread of meeting them. The reason: communication problem. Alagiri speaks only Tamil and both secretaries do not understand the language.

Being senior officers, they are not going to let the simple matter of language come in the way of effective governance. One of them even wrote to the cabinet secretary to say that he had not seen his minister for over two months while the other is biding his time in office waiting for Alagiri to show up. Recently, the minister skipped the meeting of the 13th Finance Commission where he was to present the fertiliser ministry’s projections.

He also gave the go- by to the meeting of the apex body of industry on fertiliser imports. It is no secret that Alagiri’s heart lies in matters relating to the DMK. Sources in the DMK say that Alagiri has held out twin threats: either he be assigned secretaries who speak Tamil. If that is not possible, he wants to be reassigned to Tamil Nadu. Most would say the latter is the better option.

But until either happens, a lot of important work will continue to be held up. But on the flip side, consider this. The minister isn’t around, the official cars are lying idle, the lights and the airconditioners have never been switched on in his office. That’s a lot of saving on petrol and energy bills. That’s austerity Alagiri style.

RAHUL Gandhi’s well- meaning forays, often unscheduled, into the hinterland are turning out to be a nightmare for his security men. Even senior Congress leaders are beginning to get worried. On his visit to Kerala last week, he took off unannounced on three different occasions, sending the SPG and the local police into a tizzy. On such occasions, policemen do get anxious, even irritated, just like you or me would if a son or a daughter stayed out late. In Kozhikode, he suddenly stepped out at night for a stroll on the beach leaving an anxious state police officer to ask another “ Where is our friend hanging around now?” It was an innocuous query. But it was picked up by the police wireless and soon the Youth Congress was seeking the officer’s suspension. What are police officers supposed to do? Particularly when someone like Rahul disregards their advice, skips their cover and simply vanishes. I am reminded of the time when during his prime ministership, Rajiv Gandhi — an ex- Indian Airlines pilot — wanted to take command of the special IAF plane that was flying him. The SPG chief, who was on board, politely but firmly vetoed him. It’s time BV Wanchoo, the current SPG chief, did some plain speaking to Rahul.

How to hold on to Diwali bonanza

AFTER a long hot and tiring summer, there is finally a nip in the air. It’s that time of the year when ministers, senior bureaucrats, income tax officers and sundry PAs get ready to receive fatcat businessmen with big hearts and deep pockets. Biz czars see Diwali as the ideal time to line pockets as an investment for the future. A bureaucrat friend told me recently that in Delhi alone, gifts worth several hundreds of crores are distributed by corporates, real estate tycoons, big stock market players and such like during the festive season.

The good times may just be over. Last week, the government announced that henceforth all gifts valued above Rs 50,000 will be taxable for the receiver unless the donor is a relative or gifts are given during special occasions such as marriage. Bureaucrats and others who were used to their annual festive time stimulus package are naturally seething with rage because their loss is enormous.

Time was when babus were happy with a suit length, a bottle of Black Label and couple of kilos of dry fruits. Now moneybags are known to hand out imported cars and penthouse apartments. Previously such gifts were exempted from tax. That’s why I doff my hat to Mayawati who admits her rags to riches transformation to the donations in “ small change” from millions across the country.

Yet I believe it won’t be long before they find a way out of this one. For one, who will decide on the value of the gifts? In the past, it was easier to put a price on gifts. But at a time when a Mercedes comes free on purchase of a penthouse apartment, the task of putting a price on a gift is not easy. A plasma TV whose value you or me may declare as Rs 50,000 may be only worth a tenth of that to the brazen babu. So trust them to find a loophole here. My hunch is that despite Pranab da ’s diktat, most of them will remain unscathed.

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