Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Sachchi Baat with Amibka Soni_Prabhu Chawla

Sachchi Baat with Ambika Soni. Excerpts:

PC: What was the need to have a new GoM (group of ministers) on media when you are running the ministry efficiently?

AS: It was very important because the information minister does not have knowledge about every area and incident. And these days the government’s scope of work has increased so much that it is very hard for one person to have information of all the programmes happening in its ambit.

PC: You have been performing efficiently and it is the job of the information and broadcasting minister to be abreast about the works undertaken by the government.

AS: It is not only a question of efficiency, information about every program, whether it pertains to rural development, panchayati raj or the home ministry has to be assimilated. Since the work has become very specialized and the scope of work has increased tremendously, on the basis of suggestions by all of us, the prime minister thought it was fit to have a group of six ministers on media. We have not been made spokespersons, we have been made into a group to discuss important issues that are raised in the media everyday and respond to the same. So, no vaccum in conveying information to the media by government

PC: Tell me one ‘ Sachchi Baat’, the government was in for a lot of criticism due to various instances of corruption like the 2g scam, so the committee was formed to handle these issues.

AS: The government might have been defamed because information regarding only one side of the coin might have been telecast and written about. And in this scenario, if the government cannot respond to the issue, and not ‘Sachchi’ but false information spreads, then things would go wrong.

PC: Was this committee formed because the government was defamed recently due to severe attack from the opposition and hence big ministers had to come together.

AS: No, Prabhuji, rather from a long time we had been suggestion to the prime minister and UPA chairman for discussion in the core group. Then there is a time to covert thoughts into action as was done recently. This formation of the GoM was not a reactive step because of news regarding Lokpal or 2g issue, or the GoM was constituted in a hurry. Hence, it cannot be termed as a knee jerk reaction.

PC: There was briefing 2g, lokpal, Mayawati, although I feel that that your reaction on centre state relation is not appropriate, I may be wrong, but even that was done.

FA: No, they said that the Land Acquisition Act (referring to Mayawati and UP government) must to decide upon by the centre, hence was had to clear our stance on the issue. Information about the bill, that we will table it in the forthcoming session of the parliament, discussion and debates are on now, our alliance partners also have inputs to give on the issue, had to be conveyed, which is why we reacted.

PC: So, the committee has the job to put forth the government’s point of view.

AS: The committee has the job to give information on the topics that are in the headlines, on which the press wants access to information. Hence we all together decide how and what point of view should the government present on such issues.

PC: Of the UPA government?

AS: Of the UPA government, but that does not mean that only one of us will be the spokesperson even other ministers might do, like recently we told Vilasraoji to speak on the Land Acquisition Act, even Selja spoke (referring to Kumari Selja). Today coal minister Shriprakash Jaiswalji spoke to the media on coal policy. Not only would we organize reactive press conferences, but also regarding flagship programs and how the scope of work of every ministry is increasing by the day, how the work has become more dynamic.

PC: But the committee speaks for the UPA, but has no representative from its allies, all members are from the Congress party. It means that Congress feared that it is being defamed the most.

AS: No, no this is not because of any defamation. See, if any issue regarding mills is raised tomorrow, then we will request Dayanidhi Maran (Union textiles minister) to speak on the issue. If there is some issue regarding renewable energy is raised, or if there is some controversy, then we will request Farooq saab, to speak on the issue.

PC: Why didn’t you include these people in the committee, why only Congress ministers?

AS: Who is the home minister, he is from the Congress party, and he gets most of the information in case of any untoward happening or event.

PC: What inputs would the water resources minister must be getting; you have included Salman Khursheed in the committee is he a good orator or spokesperson for the party.

AS: He is also the minister for minority affairs, not only water resources.

PC: And Pawan Bansal is in charge of parliamentary affairs and Narayanaswamy is in charge of the CBI hence they have been included.

AS: He is in charge of the Prime Minister’s office, Kapil Sibal of Human Resource Development, he is also the telecom minister, and many issues are being raised which are related to his ministries, hence he is also on the committee.

PC: So, mostly lawyers have been chosen for the job, except you.

AS: I am not a lawyer and what can I do if there are many lawyers in politics.

PC: You want to advocates take on the opposition, in case of any controversy; hence they seem to have been chosen.

AS: No, no, no...We are not advocating anything, ‘hum seedhe taur par sachchi baat kar rahe hain’

PC: ‘Sachchi Baat’ is that you have not appoint anybody from the alliance in the committee, but you are not agreeing on this point, cant Farooq Abdullah be a good spokesperson?

AS: He would be asked to speak

PC: Can’t he speak on national issues

AS: Why not, we all can be speaking on national issues, but I am not, even though I am the union information and broadcasting minister. If there is some issue concerning the home department, we request P. Chidambaram to speak.

PC: Now issues concerning black money, 2G are being raised, on black money, Pranab Mukherjee does not have the numbers (financial details) regarding this issue, why does not he speak on this issue.

AS: Pranab Mukherjee has taken a press conference two three months ago, giving exhaustive information regarding the issue of black money, I was present in that press conference.

PC: That time the committee was not in existence.

AS: Yes, that time it was not in existence. Pranab Mukherjee even conveys though our department regarding issues of black money, regarding the high power committee constituted to look into grass root details about black money.

PC: You are saying lot of work has been done on the issue of black money; five committees have been formed, every second week some announcements are made regarding committees without any tangible results.

AS: We have formed three committees to look into the issue. We have signed bilateral MoU’s with many countries all over the world regarding taxation. Under this arrangement they can given information to us and vice versa.

PC: Has action been taken against anybody, we do not even know if relevant information has come or not, you have not even announced anything. Recently even in court the government said that information would not be given.

AS: Work is happening, its happening, but we don’t have permission to give it out. When you sign a bilateral agreement with some country, even they have some pre conditions which have to be adhered to.

PC: No information regarding action taken has come out.

AS: Names have not come out, investigations might be going on, and when the information comes out it will be for everybody to see.

PC: Tell me one ‘Sachchi Baat’, has the government got information about some big names on which inquiry is on.

AS: This is true; the finance minister has said that some government has got some names about which even the court knows. The government does not reveal those names due to some pre conditions.

PC: There is a charge levelled time and again that names are not revealed because big politicians are involved whether from your party, allies and the opposition parties.

AS: I don’t have information about any names, hence I don’t know whether they are political, non political or corporate.

PC: You are in the committee, you might have been briefed.

AS: Some 30 32 names have been handed over, that Pranab Mukherjee has already said.

PC: But you will maintain secrecy, will not reveal.

AS: I will speak the truth, why I know that I will tell you.

PC: Now days many committees are being constituted, the latest being on the Lokpal bill, there are reports that the government is sabotaging the bill. Government representatives are saying that prime minister should not be included in the ambit of the lokpal, even though the prime minister says that he doesn’t mind being under the ambit of lokpal.

AS: This is not true, Prabhuji, there are 700 television channels in the country today, the media is very competitive. All the time there is a need for some spicy news that can hit the headlines.

PC: What is your view, should the Prime Minister be under the ambit of lokpal.

AS: I am a minister in the union cabinet; my individual views have no relevance regarding this issue.

PC: What view will your committee put forth?

AS: Our committee has not yet put forth their views, right now talk are going on. We want that the committee should gather different viewpoints from all over India. Opinion of all should be incorporated in the final lokpal bill. lokpal will also be related to Lokayukta, hence our ministers would write to the chief ministers of states and their opinions would be sought. Hence, it is premature so say that who should come under the ambit of lokpal and who should not.

PC: Why did you agree for the committee, if you felt that these 8 10 people cannot decide.

AS: What is the issue in approving the committee?

PC: How will the draft bill meet its June 30 deadline, you have made a commitment ?

AS: Prabhuji, Lokpal bill was a very important part of our manifesto. This issue has not been raised today, in 2004 and 2009 we had promised to constitute a lokpal.

PC: I can give a whole list of promises not completed...

AS: Thereafter the government constituted a group of ministers to discuss and debate on how to take the lokpal bill to its final conclusion. When civil society raised the issue of lokpal, a sub group regarding lokpal was already constituted under the leadership of AK Anthony to chalk out the exact path. The work was already in progress when Anna Hazareji raised this issue.

PC: Baba Ramdev is also sitting on fast, what will you do?

AS: He is concerned regarding the issue of black money, the government also has concern for that issue. We all are worried regarding this issue, people will know it.

PC: Now that Baba Ramdev going to sit on a hunger strike will you constitute a new committee to placate him.

AS: I cannot stop him if he is sitting on a hunger strike. It is not as if the government was hesitant, reluctant to tackle the black money issue, the central UPA 2 led government under the leadership of Dr. Manmohan Singh has taken many important steps. Many committees have been formed to tackle the issue of black money.

PC: What is the public perception regarding the government why many people gathered in opposition, the government got scared of Anna Hazare and agreed to constitute of committee immediately on a bill that has been languishing for 40 years.

AS: Prabhuji, you are telling that why some many years were taken for the lokpal bill to be turned into law. In the past few years, every party has got a chance to be in power at the centre but they did not taken any steps to curb corruption. I have told you how many steps we have taken in the past two years to tackle this issue. That means the government is worried regarding the menace of corruption and wants to work to eradicate it.

PC: But you have not answered my questions as to whether prime ministers, ministers, mp and judiciary should come under the ambit of the lokpal. You should have some view on the issue.

AS: It will be a collective decision, the cabinet’s decision. If i want to put forth my opinion, I will do so in the cabinet before our leaders. Outside we will have a collective face. Prime Minister has also spoken on what he thinks on this issue, a man of his stature, who is respected for his integrity all over the country, has spoken. But if you bring the prime minister under the ambit of the lokpal, it has to be well thought what effect it might have on the government and the country. It should not so happen that we are later feel sorry for taking such a decision.

PC: These days, only the Congress party is active in the UPA, other allies are not active, not even part of committees.

AS: Mamta Banerjee, our ally has done a clean sweep in West Bengal.

PC: You said that the UPA will speak in a collective voice outside, but not only UPA allies but even congressmen speak in a different voices, recently you chief ministerial candidate in Punjab, Captain Amrinder Singh said that Bhullar should not be given capital punishment, that will not solve any problems.

AS: In the world today there is a big debate regarding commuting capital punishment to people. Even in our country this debate is on, hence he told that personally he is against capital punishment. Hence he said that Bhullar’s capital punishment should be changed to life imprisonment.

PC: That means the same parameter will be applicable to Afzal Guru. Now, in Bhullar case the courts have announced the verdict and even the mercy petition has been rejected, then it should be obeyed isn’t it?

AS: Yes, the law of the land says so; if the mercy petition is rejected then capital punishment is commuted.

PC: Earlier the government said that mercy petitions are taken up for hearing as per inward number stating who sent it first, but in Bullar and one other case, numbers were jumped to take decision. Hence, has that system been changed?

AS: From what I know and what the home minister informed, these two people had sent a special request requesting an early decision since their petitions had been pending from a long time.

PC: Don’t you think there has to be a time limit for deciding on these petitions.

AS: Prabhuji, when I spoke to you in an interview of this talk show format for the first time, I was a member of parliament and hence freely could voice my opinion on any issue. Now, as a minister in the government, there are some boundaries and an area beyond which I cannot speak.

PC: So you will be in agreement with the decision that the government takes.

AS: I will agree with the decision that the government takes.

PC: You are also part of the Punjab co ordination committee for the upcoming elections. Recently Amrinder Singh had to issue a statement on Bhullar because of the statement of the Akali dal regarding that issue. Do you also see yourself engaging more and more in Punjab politics in near future?

AS: I am an MP from Punjab.

PC: But you were an MP from Delhi too.

AS: There was no place in Punjab; hence my party president accommodated me from Delhi. Later, I represented Punjab as an MP. From the inception of my career I have been and MP from Punjab, represented Delhi only for four years.

PC: The information and broadcasting ministry announced awards, but the committees for selecting the awardees hardly had any women.

AS: There were women in committees; in fact there was a two tier system for selection, one for regional cinemas.

PC: Hence the regional cinemas bagged most of the awards.

AS: Not like that, but they should not be left out. It was seen that cinema from only one place was getting all the limelight at the award ceremonies. Cinema from other places did not get the chance they deserved, but for the past two three years, they are. Committees were formed at many levels, Sai Paranjape was the chairman of one such committee. We requested many women to be part of such committees, but some of them refused because they had some other commitments.

PC: But you would have short listed only two three of them.

AS: Our effort is to ensure representative to every language and region in the country. But if I only prefer females, then if would not be appropriate.

PC: You mean to say you tried but not many women were ready to be part of the committees.

AS: At that time it was very late to search names of other women after the initial ones refused.

PC: Formerly, I and B minister used to appear on TV, doordarshan but you hardly make appearances on television. There has been once criticism lately about your spending Rs. 60 crores for advertising on the occasion of Rajiv Gandhi’s death anniversary, such a huge amount is not spend even for advertising about Jawaharlal Nehru or Indira Gandhi. Do you think the spending was justified?

AS: I did not spend the money. Every ministry has its own budget, I hardly have any budget. Every ministry, according to its own policy and plan decides about advertisements to be released in papers. We are just a medium to have a level playing field.

PC: All papers were full of ads..

AS: It is the people’s thinking about the young leader who thought about the impact of computer and cell phone, who, for the first time reserved seats for women in panchayati raj system, who spoke on new education policy.

PC: Hence you are justifying the expenditure, it is nothing wrong as the person has done so much for the country

AS: I spoke to my colleagues and they said that after 20 years, they wanted to thank Rajiv Gandhi.

PC: You said 700 channels are operating in the country today, in the past two years more than 70 channels were given approvals by your ministry, seems you have a very liberal approach.

AS: Our policy is open; the media has been a great beneficiary of this policy. When I took charge I announced about increasing the turnover, net capital and experience required for starting a channel.

PC: Hence you will now permit new channels until a new policy is ready.

AS: Hence, till the new policy is not decided, no new channels will be permitted to start operations.

PC: What is your dream?

AS: I have a dream to see every individual empowered with information and demands his rights fearlessly.

PC: Like Anna Hazare

AS: Anna Hazare is a respected personality; I don’t want to get him in this issue. Prabhuji, I am talking about those people who don’t have access to electricity yet, there we give him access to radio so that we can connect him to the country.

PC: The common man should have information.

AS: Yes, he should know what the UPA government is doing for his benefit. How can he become a part of programmes run by the government, so that he can have access to a UID card and take benefit of other flagship programs

PC: We will speak on UID some other time. Thank you for coming to our studio.

AS: Thank You Prabhuji.

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