WAKE UP, SMELL THE TEA

India Today - - SIGNATURE - DHI­RAJ NAY­YAR

Plan­ning Com­mis­sion Deputy Chair­man Mon­tek Singh Ah­luwalia wants to make tea In­dia’s na­tional drink. Ac­cord­ing to some sur­veys, it al­ready is— 83 per cent of In­dian house­holds ap­par­ently con­sume tea. The Gov­ern­ment’s stamp of ap­proval for this rel­a­tively in­nocu­ous decision, which in­volves no com­mit­ment of ex­pen­di­ture or is­su­ing of ten­ders, will take one whole year. Ah­luwalia has an ex­pla­na­tion. He says the Gov­ern­ment wants to make the an­nounce­ment to co­in­cide with the 212th birth an­niver­sary of Mani­ram De­wan, As­sam’s first tea planter and a rev­o­lu­tion­ary against Bri­tish rule, on April 17, 2013. He may as well have made the an­nounce­ment on April 17, 2012.

But the Gov­ern­ment of In­dia works by due process. Ah­luwalia says he needs to talk to Com­merce Min­is­ter Anand Sharma. The com­merce min­is­ter will no doubt want to talk to his bu­reau­crats. Cum­ber­some files will pass up and down. It’s quite pos­si­ble that milk, not tea, will win even­tu­ally the cov­eted ti­tle— Amul be­gan lob­by­ing for it shortly af­ter Ah­luwalia’s tea an­nounce­ment. Ex­pect water to en­ter as a last, but hardly the least, con­tes­tant. Prime Min­is­ter Man­mo­han Singh, pre­sum­ably the final ar­biter of all things na­tional, will have to make a judg­ment call. As an MP from As­sam, he should rule in favour of tea rather than milk. But lest he be seen mak­ing a firm decision, he may leave the mat­ter to an­other Gov­ern­ment.

The pop­u­lar­ity of tea will cer­tainly sur­vive the UPA’S in­de­ci­sion. Given the dis­mal state of some other na­tional sym­bols— the na­tional an­i­mal, the tiger, is bat­tling ex­tinc­tion as is the na­tional sport, hockey— tea may yet wel­come its nar­row es­cape from a po­ten­tial kiss of death. The star sta­tus of In­dia’s econ­omy, how­ever, is un­likely to sur­vive UPA’S in­de­ci­sion.

The Gov­ern­ment has been quick to respond to mes­sen­gers of bad news. Chief Eco­nomic Ad­viser Kaushik Basu was ad­mon­ished for speak­ing the bit­ter truth. Stan­dard and Poor’s down­grade of In­dia’s eco­nomic out­look from sta­ble to neg­a­tive was met by a “do not panic” and “we will over­come” re­sponse from the fi­nance min­is­ter. Words, whether of ad­mon­ish­ment or of re­as­sur­ance, are no longer enough. The Gov­ern­ment needs to change the mes­sage. It needs to show real progress on pass­ing re­formist leg­is­la­tion, on get­ting the bu­reau­cracy back to tak­ing de­ci­sions, and on rein­ing in its run­away ex­pen­di­ture. That is how In­dia will once again be­come an at­trac­tive des­ti­na­tion for in­vest­ment, so cru­cial for a growth rate of 8- 9 per cent.

UPA 2’ s track record is dis­cour­ag­ing. The few ma­jor de­ci­sions it has taken in the last three years have been the an­tithe­sis of re­form. The re­cent decision to en­force a tax amend­ment with ret­ro­spec­tive ef­fect has spooked all in­vestors, not just Voda­fone. Fre­quent de­ci­sions to ban the ex­ports of key agri­cul­tural com­modi­ties like cot­ton, wheat and onions have hurt farm­ers. The decision to de­mar­cate large tracts of for­est land as no- go ar­eas for min­ing has led to a se­ri­ous coal short­age and a crip­pling power deficit. Iron­i­cally, paral­y­sis, if it means sta­tus quo, may be a bet­ter state of af­fairs than ret­ro­grade pol­icy ac­tion.

Would some­one please give the UPA’S top brass a few cups of strong tea to awaken it from its slum­ber?

GIVEN THE DIS­MAL STATE OF SOME OTHER NA­TIONAL SYM­BOLS— THE NA­TIONAL AN­I­MAL, THE TIGER, IS BAT­TLING EX­TINC­TION AS IS THE NA­TIONAL SPORT, HOCKEY— TEA MAYYET WEL­COME ITS NAR­ROW ES­CAPE FROM A PO­TEN­TIAL KISS OF DEATH.

SAU­RABH SINGH / www. in­di­a­to­day­im­ages. com

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.