Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Snippets / Mail Today, December 14, 2009

Kamal Nath keeps a low profile now
QUITE a few of the high- fliers in the UPA government are conspicuous by their absence from the front pages. I don’t know if it is by design or default. One of them is the road transport and highways minister, Kamal Nath. In his earlier avatar as commerce and industry minister, be it New York or London, Berlin or Tokyo, he had been there and done that.
But the man seems to have gone AWOL after moving to Transport Bhavan. Though he was far from pleased with the transfer to transport ministry, he got down to work in right earnest and set ambitious targets for the ministry, which included the construction of an additional 21 km of highways each day. He used his clout to push the Prime Minister’s Office ( PMO) to restructure tender procedures and liberalise norms for funding these projects. He also aggressively pushed the state governments to remove bottlenecks in land acquisition — which has been the bane of the Golden Quadrilateral as well as the National Expressway projects — even as he travelled to world capitals to raise much needed funds for some of his mega schemes. But things just don’t seem to be moving at the pace that he would have wanted.

The sloth that is bureaucracy is not being able to keep up with the pace and style of the new minister. Though new projects covering over 2,000 km have been identified, not many bidders have shown interest due to low returns and long gestation periods. One reason could be that Kamal Nath has not been able to push the National Highways Authority of India because he is still clearing the debris and dirt left behind by his predecessor T. R. Balu.

Kamal’s priority is to put back on track the unfinished projects and then move on to new ones. We will wait and watch whether this long- distance runner will break the record of one of his predecessors, B. C. Khanduri, the retired Major General who was the roads minister during the Vajpayee government.

When official insiders are seen as outsiders
DESPITE the winter chill in Copenhagen, there is much heat being generated in the Indian camp in the Danish capital. Adding to that is the confusion which has more to do with a clash of egos of the many civil servants who were chosen as interlocutors. In keeping with the UPA government’s style of functioning, all of them were seen working as autonomous power centres.
But there was a clear division between those who were formally in the government and those outside that charmed list.

While Jairam Ramesh, the glib environment minister was indulging in letter writings and policy formulations, the prime minister’s special envoy in climate change, the former foreign secretary Shyam Saran, was taking direct orders from the PMO without keeping Ramesh in the loop. But both Ramesh and Saran realised soon that non official interlocutors like Chandrashekhar Dasgupta and Pradipto Ghosh, former environment secretary were no easy pushovers. The two first refused to go Copenhagen in protest against the government adopting a “ flexible” stand on the issue of equitable per capita emissions.

They later agreed to join the delegation after the minister “ cleared the air”. Yet in Copenhagen, they were not fully involved in the behind closed door discussions which Ramesh, Saran, environment secretary Vijay Sharma and Ajai Mathur, head of the bureau of energy efficiency, were conducting. Dasgupta and Ghosh, known for their impeccable credentials and long and credible track record on the issue of climate change, would not budge from the known and stated stand on the emission cuts. They not only refused to join the bandwagon but also have demanded debate and transparency.

And both of them are senior to the other civil servants who make up the Indian team.
Ultimately, it turned out to be a clash between those who were in the government and those who were outside.

THERE is much about Rahul Gandhi that is to be admired. For a couple of years now, we have seen his youthful zest, tenacity and doggedness as he pursues his dream of taking the Congress back to its commanding heights. But if there is one thing that makes me take my hats off, it is his determination to stamp out the culture of sycophancy which has engulfed the Congress since the days of Sanjay Gandhi. Even Indira and Rajiv Gandhi, powerful and charismatic as they were, loved to be surrounded by cronies.

Rita Bahuguna Joshi, the Uttar Pradesh Congress chief showed crony symptoms last week when she gushed to the media in Sitapur, Uttar Pradesh about Rahul Gandhi’s commitment.
" It was so dark. The pilot was not ready to land but Rahul Gandhi forced him to land the helicopter. You should really admire his commitment". Just a day earlier, Beni Prasad Verma, the Samajwadi Party turncoat who is now a Congress MP did his bit of cronyism by calling Atal Bihari Vajpayee unprintable names during a row over the Liberhan Report in Parliament.
On both counts, Rahul set the record straight. He told Rita Joshi that she was neither a pilot nor a weather expert to talk about difficult landings. He brusquely reminded his much senior colleague Verma about parliamentary traditions and etiquette. If sycophants become a vanishing breed in the Congress, praise be to Rahul.

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