Fresh hurdle for NIB over its approval powers

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SummaryThe so-called legal powers these ministries cite have only been delegated to them and they can be re-delegated. There is no substance in their claims.

Days after the Prime Minister’s Office gave its go-ahead to set up a National Investment Board (NIB), new complications concerning the fine-print of the proposed body that aims to push clearances for mega investment proposals have emerged.

There are two views in the government over whether the NIB should have overriding powers of approval of projects in case concerned ministries fail to take a decision within a given timeframe or whether its role should be limited to monitoring only.

Entrusting it with only monitoring powers would virtually render the NIB toothless as the very concept of such a body was necessitated by the fact that projects worth around Rs 2.5 lakh crore are stalled for want of statutory clearances. These investments, largely in infrastructure sectors, are expected not only to boost the economy but also to help the ruling Congress politically by generating lakhs of jobs ahead of the next general elections.

Amid these divergent views about the NIB’s mandate, there is another debate in the government over whether the proposed body should be anchored in the existing transaction of business rules or they should be changed to give the NIB an overriding authority to approve projects.

The cabinet secretariat was learnt to have mooted a proposal that instead of changing the rules, the proposed NIB should be replaced by a cabinet committee on investment (CCI) under which there should be a committee of secretaries (CoS) to vet the proposals.

While finance minister P Chidambaram, who had conceived the idea of the NIB, has no issues with the nomenclature, not many in the government are enthused by the idea of a CoS as it could become yet another layer in the decision-making process, sources said.

The latest complications in setting up the NIB have come at a time when some ministries and departments, including the ministry of environment and forests, have reservations about such a body over grounds such as jurisdictional authority and opposing the proposal for a time-bound decision-making process.

While the defence ministry is said to have no objection to the setting up of a NIB, it wants “to be consulted” on projects having a bearing on national security. The finance ministry is also likely to hold consultations with intelligence agencies over time-bound security clearances.

“The so-called legal powers these ministries cite have only been delegated to them and they can be re-delegated. There is no substance in their claims. As for their

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