With little to report, PMO in tight spot to list UPA-II successes

Written by Nistula Hebbar | Nistula Hebbar | New Delhi | Updated: Apr 19 2012, 09:12am hrs
How difficult is it to draw up a performance report card for the government in the time of a policy drift The Prime Ministers Office is facing this question as it prepares to make ready a Report to the People as part of UPA-IIs third anniversary celebrations.

Pulok Chatterjee, principal secretary to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, has sent off letters to all government departments asking them to list their achievements in the past year to be chronicled in the report. UPA-II's third anniversary is scheduled on May 22 and the report will be presented by Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi at the customary dinner at 7, Race Course Road attended by all allies.

Yes, we have received the letter, and will be sending our response shortly, said an official in Nirman Bhavan, the building that houses the health and urban development ministries. In many ministries, achievements are scarce and, therefore, routine seminars and public outreach programmes are being repackaged as achievements.

It is a fact that things are a little slow on the ground, said a senior official in the roads and highways ministry, which has seen huge slippage on the target to build 20 km per day of highways.

A quick look at the performances of other major ministries will show that the report card may contain a series of C and D grades and not even a decent B.

In civil aviation, for example, Air India may have got a long-delayed bailout package, but the plan to allow foreign airlines to pick up stakes in their Indian counterparts, key to reviving the sagging morale of this industry, is hanging fire.

The proposal to allow foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail, which was supposed to be a confidence-building measure (CBM) for the economy, had to be put in abeyance and poor implementation of social sector flagship schemes like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) have led to reduced allocations in the budget this year. The reduction has been as much as Rs 7,000 crore (from Rs 40,000 crore in 2011-12 to Rs 33,000 crore in 2012-13) for MGNREGS alone.

If there is a glimmer of of hope, it could be in terms of increase in trade with Pakistan, but that too is a firefly of a glimmer when what is need is a conflagration. Needless to say, the finance ministry's report card wouldn't be very impressive given the decline in GDP growth in the second and third quarters of last fiscal, the high fiscal and current account deficits and its failure to rev up investments, although extraneous factors are also to blame for the situation. Though headline inflation has moderated a bit after two years of being at near double-digit levels, food inflation has again shown a spurt as per the latest data, and the Reserve Bank of India in its report on Monday had warned of upside risks to inflation. There is little to show for the ministry headed by Pranab Mukherjee on the tax reforms front as well, except perhaps the progress made in the creation of the IT platform for the rollout of the goods and services tax (GST). Worse, a slew of retrospective amendments proposed in tax laws in the Budget 2012 have antagonised foreign investors.

The long-standing proposal for subsidy reform read decontrol of diesel and reduction in the subsidy outgo on LPG and kerosene is caught in a political quagmire, a fact that would dent the report card of not only the North Block but the petroleum ministry as well.

Meanwhile, the dinner party with all UPA allies (hopefully) in attendance is also likely to be an awkward affair. While last year DMK chief M Karunanidhi, smarting under the double blow of his daughter Kanimozhi's arrest in the 2G case and an election wipeout in Tamil Nadu, stayed away, this time around Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress is providing anxious moments to UPA managers.

With Mamata having opposed most of the policy initiatives of the government, from digitisation of broadcast to FDI in retail to the latest being the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) proposal of the home ministry, it may well be that the report could have to be vetted by her beforehand, said a senior minister, at the receiving end of Banerjee's tirade on more than one occasion, ruefully.

The BJP, meanwhile, is preparing its own report card for the government, under chief spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad, to be released after the anniversary dinner.

Family occasions are always a mixed joy, much more so for the UPA family.