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NEW DELHI-Farm Lobby in Full Cry

NEW DELHI Farm Lobby in Full Cry B M THE Finance Minister, R Venkatara- man, has been alternately blowing hot and cold about prices. If at the time of presenting his budget, he won plaudits for saying that prices would not only be held but even be brought down and might even crash in some cases, he evidently found himself in a very awkward position midway through the debate on the budget in Parliament when he was twitted about the faster rise in prices than had been witnessed even last year in the wake of the much-maligned budget of Charan Singh. He seems to have managed to recover his poise, however, towards the end of the debate on the budget to assert that prices had reached a plateau and henceforth there would be stability. He based his confidence on the argument that the effect of the increase in petroleum prices had now spent itself and with a good monsoon and expectation of a bumper crop, pressure on prices would begin to ease.

NEW DELHI- New Vistas for Private Sector

NEW DELHI New Vistas for Private Sector B M THE most striking exposition of his budget is not to be found so much in the Finance Minister's presentation speech or in the speeches he made in reply to the budget debates in the two houses of Parliament as in his address to the All India Manufacturers' Organisation earlier this month. The speeches in Parliament were largely tailored to subserve the political-populist aims of the ruling party with the emphasis on fulfilment of the election promises of the Congress(I) and the reliefs he had so generously given to the "common man", above all the middle classes who had been burdened so vindictively, according to ruling party propagandists, by Charan Singh in particular through his budgejt last year. Speaking to the Manufacturers' Organisation, however, he was far more forthright in his appeal for a response from the corporate sector which "has never been given such facilities by any one of my predecessors" for raising production and making profit. He indeed made it clear to the industrialists that if they still grumbled and did not invest and produce they would be failing themselves as well as him for taking the "calculated risk" he had taken in relying on them.

NEW DELHI-Big Stick for Labour

NEW DELHI Big Stick for Labour B M A CHARACTERISTIC of the functioning of the present government of Indira Gandhi is a preference for avoiding a clear definition of its policy positions on any issue. This preference is most sharply expressed by the fashionable slogan that the ruling political authority has no use for ideology: it likes to go by pragmatic considerations and wants to yet things done. What things it wants to get done and how it will get them done arc matters which are left unstated. Understandably so, for if they were clearly stated, its ideology would then be revealed. This manner of functioning and doing things is in marked contrast to the brief interregnum of the Janata rule when the ruling factions were constantly engaged not only in factional squabbles but were all the time also debating policy preferences and commitments. This did create a lot of confusion and uncertainty and the charge of nonperformance found ready acceptance in the popular mind. By contrast there is doubt about the cohesive and monolithic nature of the present ruling establishment, at least on surface. But nobody can affirm with any assurance what the monolith is upto.

NEW DELHI-Power Planning Evading the Issues

NEW DELHI Power Planning: Evading the Issues B M THE recent Power Ministers' conference failed to come to grips with basic issues in power planning and ended up with only a general consensus on more rapid development of power generation capacity and transmission network. The Central Power Minister, Ghani Khan Choudhury, had been blowing hot and cold since assuming office about revamping the national power system, with the emphasis mainly on the Centre taking over the entire enterprise in its own hands in order to do the job with the assistance of the World Bank and big business houses in the private sector. But all that he managed to secure was a broad agreement that creation of a national power grid should be given high priority in power planning and that the Centre should speed up the setting up of pithead super thermal power stations and initiate action on launching some large hydro projects. As for opening up power generation to the private sector, the issue does not seem to have even been raised at the conference.

NEW DELHI- The Selling of the Budget

The Selling of the Budget B M THE most arresting aspect of the presentation of the full and final budget this year has been the remarkably slick news-management that accompanied it. The radio and the media were pressed into service to emphasise that never before had such reliefs and concessions been given to the common man in a budget. It was not even mentioned in the first reports that the additional taxation in the budget was a hefty total of as much as Rs 440 crores in a full year. The entire attention was on the excise reductions on some items of consumption, among them tooth paste and sewing machines, which together amount to a paltry Rs 15 crores. The result was a build-up of euphoria about the budget which was extraordinary. It is interesting to see how on second thoughts and closer examination a more sober view of the budget is beginning to be taken.

NEW DELHI- Planning, Pragmatic Style

THE three-man incompletely reconstituted Planning Commission is displaying unusual energy in attending to the work allotted to it It set a record in activity when it met twice in full sessions under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister at an interval of barely three weeks. In the first session it laid down the new time-frame for a Sixth Five-Year Plan. While the two years of Janata planning was written off completely, it was announced at end of the session that there would be no plan holiday at all and that the new Five-Year Flan would begin right from the current year and would span the Plan is also proposed to be written

NEW DELHI-Mess in Fertilisers

NEW DELHI Mess in Fertilisers B M THOUGH classified as a core industry and accorded the highest priority for rapid development, the fertiliser industry in the public sector is right now in a total mess. Even while the demand for chemical fertilisers is rapidly rising and may well exceed five million tonnes for the nitrogenous variety alone, indigenous production, in both public and private sector plants, is lagging far behind and will not be able to meet even half the demand. So imports of fertilisers arc becoming a major and increasing drain of foreign exchange resources. Even so, the further expansion of the fertiliser indus- try, which at the moment appears possible only in the public sector because no private entrepreneur seems willing or able to take the risk of investing in this industry, remains blocked. Even the setting up of the new plants based on Bombay High gas, which were cleared by the Janata government, looks like being further delayed because the new government would like to give a second look to the construction arrangements for these plants. A committee has been set up for the purpose.

NEW DELHI- Requiem for Planning

express his views on the Aksai Chin part of the state of Kashmir.
It is indeed ironical that Indian communists, at least some of them, went to jail protesting against the then Indian attitude towards China. China and its faithfuls here have forgotten that. Now Pham has made it known that he does not care much for such acts of internationalism either. Any stick is good enough for him to beat China with. He was only trying to see if he could use the Indian stick.

NEW DELHI-Steel Skills Go Abegging

NEW DELHI Steel Skills Go Abegging B M THE Chairman and Managing Director of MECON, the prestigious steel design and engineering consultancy firm in the public sector, has resigned and has taken fat-salaried job with a trading and construction firm based in the UAE with which the former Chairman of the Steel Authority of India, Wadud Khan, is associated. With K C Mohan have also gone to the same firm the Chairman of the Hindustan Steel Con- struction. Corporation and a number of other senior specialists from other public and private sector organisations. This is a case of probably the largest brain drain at one go and highlights the debilitating phenomenon which is assuming bigger and bigger dimensions. But government circles in New Delhi shrug it off fatalistically and helplessly as something which cannot be helped.

NEW DELHI-Economic Salvation through Multinationals

Economic Salvation through Multinationals B M WHILE reiterating his fondness for partnership between Indian companies and multinationals in his speech in- augurating the Chem-Tech exhibition at Bombay, the Vice-President of India, Hidayatullah, referred to his earlier widely noted speech at Delhi in which he first came out with a case for shedding distrust of multinationals and allowing them a wide role in India in collaboration with Indian business interests. He claimed that his views on multinationals were his own and did not necessarily represent those of the government. This was something of a surprising claim for someone in his position to make. But it is also understood that his Delhi speech had been drafted for him in the Commerce Ministry and he had read out his speech. The Commerce Minister, on his part, speaking from the same platform had further reinforced the position taken by the Vice-President and elaborated on it There has been speculation since then about the drift of official policy on multinationals, especially against the background of the ouster of Coca- Cola and IBM during the brief period of Janata in power. Hidayatullah had made specific mention of that fact in his speech. He said: "We have noticed of late in India a sudden distrust of multinationals and indeed it was apprehended at one time that like Coca- Cola and the IBM and some others the multinationals one by one will have to quit. At present there is certain remission in that apprehension". The question immediately came up whether this was a command performance. Hidayatullah's assertion at Bombay that these were his personal views and not of the government has not given a convincing answer to the question. On the contrary, the question has received added relevance.

NEW DELHI-Intimations of a Wash-Out

NEW DELHI Intimations of a Wash-Out B M WHAT the Finance Minister and the Railway Minister did, after all, on the opening day of the new session of Parliament early this week was to ask for votes on account for four months, This set at rest the speculation that their so- called interim budgets might contain a general assessment of their problems and also some policy perspectives together with some specific measures. But they did nothing of the kind and chose to postpone discharging their responsibility till after the Assembly elections, This evasive exercise was, of course, laced by the overworked claptrap about the difficulties inherited by the government from the previous two governments and the mess that the latter had made of the economy. Ven- kataraman airily talked of evolving of a new "coherent medium-term strategy" by a Planning Commission yet to be constituted. It is, of course, easy to see that this process will take a long time to fructify and it is hardly likely that the Finance Minister will have this "medium-term strategy" by the time he is at last ready to present his full year's budget, It does not seem likely that it will be possible to formulate even a coherent annual plan, let alone a medium-term strategy embodied in A new Five-Year Flan, by the time he presents the budget. In the event, the coming financial year will be a wash-out so far as purposeful management and direction of the economy is concerned, Coming to the budget estimates, both the Finance Minister and the Railway Minister have attempted only to try to show the gaps between the revenue and expenditure to be somewhat ''reasonable", or, at least, smaller than what have been recorded in the current year

NEW DELHI-Emerging Policy Perspectives

NEW DELHI Emerging Policy Perspectives B M THE populist euphoria generated by the election triumph of Indira Gandhi is visibly wearing off faster than might have been anticipated by even hard- boiled cynics. Doubts and misgivings about the intentions and performance potential of her government have already begun to be expressed in many quarters. It is beginning to dawn upon even the most ardent believers in her charisma that while it is easy to proclaim laudable objectives and priorities, the options available for translating them into action are far more limited and difficult to exercise. She has been content for the time being to emphasise the difficulties inherited by her and her government and the need to make a more thorough examination of men and matters before embarking on any positive action.


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