Monday, December 5, 2011

Teekhi Baat with Anand Sharma/December 03, 2011/IBN7


Commerce Minister Anand Sharma says that the decision to allow FDI in retail was well-thought out and that the UPA is not afraid of a division in Parliament. Excerpts from Teekhi Baat on IBN7:

Q: It seems you have become the Abhimanyu of the Congress, stuck in the retail FDI chakravyuh.

A: I have come out of chakravyuh. The chakravyuh is laid by people who don’t understand what is in the interest of the country’s farmers and consumers. This decision has been taken after a great deal of thought, not overnight.

Q: All political parties, including your allies except NCP and National Congress, gave a statement that this should not happen. Don’t they understand the benefits?

A: This is an enabling policy, it is the state governments’ decision to allow or disallow.

Q: Don’t you think you should have held consultations?

A: We have had discussions with every state in finalising the draft. I explained the whole background (to Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee) that we are second in the world in food, fruits and vegetable production. And 40 per cent of produce is wasted because we don’t have the required infrastructure, cold storage, warehouses and very few cold storages. The farmer does not get the right price for his produce.

Q: Even then she did not agree?

A: She said that the conditions in West Bengal are different. We respected her thoughts. She said this will be at the discretion of the states, and you make this amply clear, because I will not allow this in West Bengal. This is in the enabling policy framework.

Q: What’s the policy worth if 25 of 30 states don’t implement it?

A: I don’t want to go into how the states will react.

Q: But the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president, who was with you in Youth Congress has come out against it.

A: It is fine if they do not want it in Kerala. Even he is a part of our party. But I have a question: should the states who want this be left deprived? The BJP says they don’t want this in the states they rule. The same BJP was in in the NDA government which prepared a Cabinet note seeking 100 per cent (in retail) without any restriction or condition.

Q: They said that was in single brand.

A: No, it was multi-brand.

Q: It was made by Maran.

A: But Maran, a minister in the government, alone did not make it. In their 2004 manifesto, they had talked about 26 per cent. And there is an April 2004 interview of then finance minister Jaswant Singh, when he spoke about a strong decision and commitment.

Q: He said that he was speaking about single brand.

A: I don’t want to taunt anybody, but it is true that the BJP had a different line of thinking when they were in power.

Q: When Kamal Nath wanted to bring FDI in retail, the Congress president wrote to him to not hurry on the issue.

A: Discussions have been on for a long time. A consensus of all cannot be reached.

Q: But Parliament is the apex body of the country.

A: This is within the purview of the executive. There can be discussion in Parliament.

Q: Then what will happen if Parliament disapproves?

A: There will be no disapproval. Is there any precedent of policy being disapproved in Parliament? In 1985, there was tremendous opposition to Rajiv Gandhi when he talked of computerisation. In 1991, Dr Manmohan Singh was finance minister when the economy was opened up. It was then said that the whole country will become a slave, East India Company will be back again. Now Indian companies are buying companies abroad.

Q: Parliament has not functioned for 10 days.

A: The BJP has been stalling Parliament on some or the other issue. Advaniji went on a 38-day yatra over black money, and now he has forgotten the whole issue.

Q: It could be said that Anand Sharma played such a game that the issues of black money and Lokpal got forgotten.

A: I am happy that we have taken a step that has changed the political discourse in the country. Other people were setting agenda, but now the government has set the agenda by way of policy.

Q: Why do you fear to go to Parliament with this issue? Don’t you have a majority?

A: When there is a Cabinet decision and Parliament is on, it is the minister and government’s responsibility to keep the House informed, which we did. It is the MPs’ right to discuss the same, but the Opposition did not let the discussion happen.

Q: But what is wrong if adjournment has been demanded? Are you ready for a vote?

A: This is within the purview of the Speaker. I will not comment.

Q: But why do you fear an adjournment motion?

A: We are not afraid.

Q: But BJP and other opposition saying that it is ulta pulta alliance, and nobody knows who is with whom.

A: When the issue is placed before Parliament, it will be clear.

Q: The DMK and TMC are not with you?

A: This is what you think.

Q: They have said so.

A: They have some reservations but they will not go with the BJP and Left front, and against us.

Q: So you don’t think they will vote against you.

A: I don’t think any political instability will be created.

Q: Is the Congress with you? Sonia doesn’t say much; she leaves issues to the government.

A: It is our duty to give her information. Soniaji does not interfere in government’s functioning. She has said the interests of the small farmer and small businesses should be kept in mind. I will say that the provision of 30 per cent local sourcing was on her suggestion.

Q: You said that BJP said that there should be 100 per cent FDI in retail. You are the commerce minister; this should be on file. Maran did say it, but Cabinet rejected it.

A: But they put it in their 2004 manifesto.

Q: What about after 2004?

A: Their thinking has changed after they lost power.

Q: It is being said that the US depression means pressure has come on India to open up. It is being said the policy was announced after the Asean Summit at Bali, where Manmohan Singh met Obama.

A: The Cabinet note on the FDI issue had been initiated for completing inter-ministerial consultation in August, well before the Bali summit.

Q: So this charge is wrong.

A: Totally baseless, mischievous.

Q: Did you think you could lose the Uttar Pradesh elections on this issue.

A: There is no co-relation; we will not lose.

Q: Nobody objected to the manufacturing policy formulated on your watch, but allowing FDI in retail may mean people from outside will come and control our markets.

A: When single brand retail was allowed, it was said local supermarkets would be hit hard.

Q: But some Indian brands were affected.

A: That is business. Some businesses grow strong, and some go weak. It will be wrong to link policy with the same.

Q: Will you revise the proportion of locally sourced goods to 45 per cent?

A 30 per cent is the minimum.

Q: So will you revise it?.

A: Let us see how the policy is implemented and the benefits that follow.

Q: Will you roll this decision back under any circumstance?

A: I don’t like the word rollback.

Q: Will you make some changes then?

A: There are safeguards built into the policy.

Q: So it is written on stone.

A: It is not a matter of being written on stone, it has been done in consultation with all.

Q: So there is no scope of any changes in this.

A: Like I said, this has been thought over and framed. This has not been framed with eyes closed.

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