22 February, 2011 

Hon’ble Deputy Chairman Sir,

Thank you for the opportunity to speak on the Presidential Address.

Sir, let me say at the outset that I believe that our country is on the path of Growth. I firmly believe that rapid economic growth is the only panacea for the pressing challenges of poverty, destitution and lack of opportunities for over 400 million of our Indian brothers and sisters.

I also say this Sir - I believe in Indian entrepreneurship. Many entrepreneurs have, over the last two decades since Economic liberalization under successive Governments – created significant investments, jobs and economic activity in our country. So I completely endorse the parts of the President’s speech that dealt with this.

Sir, I also believe that in a country like ours, the state and Government have a very significant responsiblity to those in our society that are underprivileged, destitute and needy – therefore spending increases towards helping lift and transform lives of these Indians – what’s referred to as inclusive growth by the Government is something I support.  However, sir, giving the same government system this enormous amount of money – 11 lakh crores - to spend without adequate checks and balances or outcome oversights, is a disaster waiting to happen.

Further, as we all are aware, there is a clearly and increasingly visible ugly side to our country’s progress. That is the severe decline in the credibility of Government as an institution. In his recent interaction with Television Editors, our Prime Minister referred to the scams that have hit our country – and talked about the issue of declining self confidence of the country as a consequence. Unfortunately in that press conference, he got many things outright wrong, this point was one amongst them. If there’s a decline in confidence in our country, it is the confidence towards Politics in general, and Government and governance specifically. This is a dangerous trend - in a country that has a majority of its population of young Indians, this is turning them off from Politics, Government and Governance. Increasingly, people are looking at alternates to Government to solve their problems and aspirations, or worse, people are looking at shortcuts to law and processes within the government because they do not believe any other model exists.

Sir, let’s face upto it – There are a number of challenges facing our country – Security, Sub-Saharan Poverty for over 400 million of our country men, decline and failure of Government institutions and Corruption in public life and Government. Of all these, the most important top-of-the-mind issue on the minds of people around the country today is corruption and government failure.

I am deeply disappointed at how the Presidential Address tackles this vital issue. Unfortunately on this issue that millions of Indians are concerned about, there is more of the same rheoteric that has been said and talked about since 2005 .. Let me remind you what was said then. In the 2005 Presidential Address, this was promised by the Government  “My Government is committed to the reform of Government and to making it more transparent, responsive and efficient. A Model code of Good governance is being drawn up…”

What happened since then – It seems the biggest scams have happened 3 years after this promise of the Government?

The people of India have seen scams before. But this latest round of scams – coming as they have one after another have shaken the nation – with the sheer scale and size, brazenness and indeed the cast of characters involved – from Politicians, bureaucrats, regulators, and of course, Corporates. The President’s address would have been the ideal opportunity to restore the shaken confidence of the people – by laying out specific steps to restore confidence in Government and Politics.

While many in Government – expectedly – will represent these scams as an aberration – an exception rather than a general rule, I for one, would love to believe this, but unfortunately, it is not the truth. Corruption, Public policy capture by Corporates are unfortunately becoming the norm and not exception.

The President’s address says this “Our citizens deserve Good governance. It is their entitlement and our obligation”. I agree fully.  If we as members of this house and representatives of the people of our country have an iota of responsibility to the current and future generations of Indians, we must do more than yet another Group of Ministers and yet another report. There is already an Administrative Reforms Commission report that had far reaching administrative and government reforms – most of the structural recommendations have remained unimplemented. Sir, the solution to a clean Government and a credible Government needs a complete change in the way we view government.

Sir, what we need is a determined effort at introducing Governance reforms and giving the people of India, government and government institutions that they can have faith in. Faith that the peoples’ interest and National interest would be the sole objectives of the Government.

The scams of today in specific and corruption in general are a result and consequence of two issues – Unfettered Administrative discretion in dealing with Public assets with no checks and oversight, and unfettered administrative discretion in doling our Government contracts and spending with again very little oversight and almost total failure of institutions like Independent Regulators!  There are hundreds of Central government programs under the Planning Commission – with little or no outcomes. Even today, 60 years after Independence, there is no answer amongst all the Economists and other Intellectual czars in the government to a simple question of ‘when will we have a poverty free India?”. Unless the government is serious about addressing this core problem of addressing the issue of oversight and disclosure of Government’s current unfettered commercial powers, there can be no governance reforms – Group of Ministers or not.

The 2G scam has been much talked about and discussed and debated. A Minister is in jail and some bureaucrats are as well. Some corporates are being questioned and investigated. But this scam also signals deep and complete systemic failure of Government. The role of the Independent regulator, the role of senior bureaucratic leadership of the Government and Prime Minister’s Office, Corporates and their shady lobbyists and the failure of the bureaucracy and the cabinet system in responding to the obvious and visible evidence of this scam from way back in 2007 – all need to be investigated.  Is it the case that whilst we on hand celebrate our democracy – on the other hand one minister and a group of bureaucrats and a group of Corporates can swindle the nation and its people of so much and mislead Parliament, without any question from anyone in the Government? This short narrative shows how complete the failure of the Government’s systems of checks and balances has been in this case and if not for the CAG and the Supreme Court, the protests from various quarters including Finance Minister, Finance Secretary, Competition Commission Chairman, my senior Colleague Sitaram Yechury and media reports - about this developing scam would have remain ignored.

Disappointingly, some members of the Government, instead of responding positively to this and punishing the guilty including Corporates, we were made to listen to feeble attempts of a cover up – ranging from zero loss theory and attempts to discredit the CAG to an even more feeble effort at characterizing the losses as a subsidy for the telecom sector – i.e, a subsidy to make millionaires billionaires or billionaires multi billionaires.!

Sir, the benefits of Good Governance are real and not intangible! – Doing the right thing, for example, in the 3G spectrum - gives the Government 100,000 Crores and now belatedly with the 2G spectrum, over 35,000-40,000 Crores for additional spectrum for operators –a total of 140,000 Crores – or 14% of the total budget this year or Rs. 6000 for each of our countrymen living in destitution. I am proud to have played a small role along with many other colleagues in this house in making this happen. Imagine how much more could have been spent on the poor, if the moneys given as subsidiary to the billionaire telecom corporates had been received by Government!!

Sir let me end by repeating – This effort at Governance reforms should be serious, concerted and deep. Let it not be reduced to another report or academic exercise assuming that people of India will forget. They will not. They expect changes and they deserve it.

Lastly, I am disappointed by the lack of Presidential address tackling the long standing issue of One Rank One Pension demand from the retired Veterans – a legitimate demand from lakhs of proud men who have spent their lives in serving the nation and the flag – and securing the democracy that is today our Country. I am aware that the Government’s Senior bureaucracy has denied this request on grounds of budgetary constraints – Can this country not afford a few thousand crores in helping these men and families live the rest of their lives with honor and pride – especially when the same bureaucracy has silently presided over the loot of lakhs of Crores from the exchequer. The Standing Committee on Defence has recommended this. All political parties have done so. I have appealed to the government repeatedly on this and am doing so again! I hope the government responds this time!

2 years ago, the Presidential address promised “The dreary sand of dead habit must be left behind”! I hope that belatedly the government now starts walking the talk!

Thank you sir, Jai Hind.