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Singh lax on Sinha's promises
P Vaidyanathan Iyer & Subhomoy Bhattacharjee | January 10, 2003 11:11 IST
The finance ministry's record in fulfilling this year's Budget promises is mediocre with nearly a third of the announcements made by former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha on February 28, 2002, waiting to see the light of the day.
While Finance and Company Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh has addressed financial sector reforms in good detail, his initiatives in crucial areas like infrastructure, agriculture and the social sector leave much to be desired.
Taking stock six weeks before the Budget 2003, it comes to light that of the total 61 announcements made in Budget 2002, 21 are yet to be implemented. However, Singh can claim he lost the first quarter.
He also took significant strides on capital account liberalisation, made retail trade in gilts a reality and pushed through important Bills, including the Competition Bill and the Securitisation Bill. Singh has also drafted his own agenda, which includes setting up a Serious Frauds Office and re-examining the entire taxation framework.
But, some big-ticket announcements like a Rs 2,500-crore (Rs 25 billion) development reserve facility for states, a Rs 500-crore (Rs 5 billion) Urban Reforms Incentive Fund and a City Challenge Fund remain on paper. There have been no disbursements from these funds and reforms by states in these areas continue to languish.
Agriculture, too, slipped North Block's serious attention. A modern integrated food law, an amendment to the Agriculture Produce Marketing Act to facilitate direct sale by farmers, expansion of futures and forward trading to cover all farm products and winning over states for decentralised procurement are issues yet to be addressed. All these cases, however, require active support of the ministries concerned.
In the infrastructure sector, the original Rs 1,000-crore (Rs 10 billion) Infra Equity Fund has been scaled down to Rs 300 crore (Rs 3 billion). Private-public partnership has not materialised so far despite several rounds of discussions initiated by the Prime Minister's Office.
There is a silver lining in the roads sector with the NHAI set to complete the Golden Quadrilateral substantially and also tying up funds for the North-South and East-West corridors.
Singh has also not been able to get going on pension reforms although he has talked about them in several forums. Even the civil services-proposed pension plan has not been implemented.
The ministry has worked out a one-time settlement scheme for states' power dues with central utilities. Privatisation of metro airports has, however, been deferred and though corporatisation of ports has been facilitated through an Act, no remarkable progress was made towards their privatisation.