Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Snippets/ Mail Today, April 05, 2010

Governance agenda back on track
SO, AFTER a long gap of four years, the National Advisory Council is back with Sonia Gandhi once again heading it as the Chairperson. When set up shortly after the UPA had come to power in May 2004, it was often criticised as being a parallel power centre as Sonia enjoyed the rank of a cabinet minister and the NAC was given unrestricted access to all government documents, including cabinet files.

The NAC attracted further attention when, in 2006, Sonia got embroiled in the office of profit controversy and quit as its chief as well as a Lok Sabha member. She easily won reelection to Parliament but she did not return to the NAC which remained a defunct body. Even its website hosted by the National Informatics Centre simply said, “ This site is temporarily unavailable”. I am not surprised at the sudden decision to revive the NAC. The feathers in the crown of the UPA — the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the Rural Health Mission and the Right to Information Act, among others— were thanks in large measure to the vital role that the Council played in pushing these through in the UPA’s early years.

Since then, there is widespread feeling that the government has lost its way, particularly on the UPA’s social agenda where implementing policies and programmes that ensure delivery to the aam aadmi is first priority. Sonia is busy picking the members for the newly resurrected council which once constituted will meet once every month as in the past.

I believe that just as the government has decided to go in for a broad political consensus on programmes and legislation concerning national interest, the NAC under Sonia will interface with the civil leadership and provide feedback to the government to ensure that good governance is back on track. For first signs of that, I will keep checking the NAC website to see if it springs back to life.

Ministers learn that PM runs a tight ship indeed
MANMOHAN Singh is known as a prime minister who gives his ministers a free hand in running their departments. What is less known however is Manmohan’s habit of keeping a close watch on the departments, in particular, the financial health of units under the public sector. This was evident once again last week on the occasion of the inauguration of 47th National Maritime Week when Manmohan had a quiet tete- a- tete with the Minister of Shipping Shri G. K. Vasan where I understand he was busy quizzing the minister on matters like turnover and profits at our ports.
Normally, these are the kind of functions where the prime minister, or any other dignitary, pretends to be a keen listener but is actually very bored and can’t wait for it to be over. But Manmohan was different. What caught his attention was the theme for this year’s Maritime Week celebrations : “ Sea Faring: A Career of Opportunities”. Apparently, one of the speakers noted that there are about 50,000 ships sailing around the world at any point of time and the demand for new crew was estimated to be around 2 lakh sailors in the next five years alone. According to sources who attended the meeting, that’s when Manmohan smelt opportunity.

Remember, he is the man who unleashed the liberalisation process that now enables Indians and Indian companies to compete with the best anywhere in the world. He was all ears as the Shipping Secretary K Mohandas explained in detail about the immense potential in the sector and later as the Chairman of the Shipping Corporation of India gave a detailed account of the PSU. Don’t be surprised if the prime minister now keeps a close watch on the maritime sector. As long as there are jobs waiting to be filled and profits to be made, he believes Indians will be up there challenging the finest in the world for every job and every dollar.

FOR months now, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of External Affairs, the National Security Council Secretariat, Home Ministry and many other ministries and departments have been on guard against cyber attacks originating in China aimed at destabilising the establishment. Now here is something to prove the existence of the menace within. Last week, the government issued a curious circular. It was curious because the government went to great lengths to clarify that it had not revised rates of overtime allowance for central government employees. The circular issued by the Ministry of Personnel said: “ It has been confirmed from the ministry of finance that OM NO 1( 4) 2010 E- II dated 27/ 3/ 2010 signed by M Rajan Chandranaydu, Under Secretary to the Government of India, purportedly issued by the Ministry of Finance is a fake.

It is clarified that no such instruction has been issued by this Department or Ministry of Finance.
Ministries/ Departments are advised not to take cognisance of the fake instructions being circulated in Central Government Offices”. It remains a mystery how such a fake order was issued on the letterhead of an Officer of the rank of deputy secretary and even more, how it came to be pasted on the walls of central government offices across the capital. An inquiry has now been ordered and it is hoped that the culprit, possibly someone at the lower level, will soon be caught.

But pity the poor babus who went on a splurge in anticipation of a largesse.

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