It was a radically different Rahul Gandhi who addressed India Inc on Saturday, seven months after he had his first interaction with them and left them bemused with his confused vision of social inclusion. At the FICCI AGM today, the Congress vice-president admitted that the UPA government had slipped up on managing economic growth and that without speedy project clearances and labour law reforms to spur growth, poverty can’t be fought.
“Frankly there is no excuse for the length of time required to clear some of the projects. We are a fast-moving economy. We cannot allow you to be held back by slow decision-making. Accountability has to be clear, fixed and time-bound,” said Rahul, surprising the industry leaders present with his growth- and business-friendly tone.
His speech came just hours after Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan, accused of blocking several major projects, resigned from the Cabinet, and days after the Congress received a major drubbing in Assembly elections.
Taking a swipe at Natarajan, Rahul identified corruption and “arbitrary power” as major issues plaguing the country. “The biggest problem is absolute arbitrary powers at all levels of the system. This is what we face... the environment minister or chief minister can take any decision he wants...The real issue in all these things, whether land acquisition or environment, is arbitrary power.”
The country needs to build a rule-based structure and move away from the “arbitrary idea that a CM and an environment minister can do anything”, the Congress vice-president added.
“Many of you have expressed your frustration with environmental clearances that are delaying projects unduly. There is excessive administrative and judicial discretion. The loopholes are so big you can drive a truck through some of them! Environmental and social damage must be avoided, but decisions must also be transparent, timely and fair,” the Congress vice-president said.
Rahul also told India Inc that the UPA government was considering a Natural Resource Investment Special Purpose Vehicle, with the aim to “obtain all clearances before auctioning projects to private players. This is a powerful and innovative idea”. Several projects have been held up in the UPA II government for lack of forest and environment clearances, which fell in Natarajan’s domain.
Rahul enumerated the steps taken by his government to augment the economy, noting that the Cabinet Committee on Investment had cleared around 300 projects worth over Rs 5 lakh crore, and was focusing on sectors such as petroleum, mining and manufacturing to