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DRAGGING FEET

A sluggish bureaucracy is the bane of enterprise in India. Even a well-known company like Tata Steel, therefore, has to struggle hard and long with official inertia to secure some basic approvals. It is a telling commentary on administrative inefficiency that the Jharkhand government took six years to agree to renew its land-lease agreement with the company. By finally taking the decision, Jharkhand’s chief minister, Mr Arjun Munda, has sought to put the dismal record behind. It may be fair to blame him or his predecessor, Mr Babulal Marandi, for the ridiculously long time the government took to make up its mind because the issue had been hanging fire before the new state of Jharkhand was born. The fault lay squarely with the bureaucracy which dragged its feet on the renewal of the agreement. Any differences between the company and the government over renewal fees cannot explain why these could not be sorted out in such a long time. The people of Jamshedpur would vouch for the fact that the company offers them not only employment but also civic amenities which are practically non-existent in other parts of the state. Wranglings over the agreement’s renewal were thus inimical to public interest as well.

One hopes that the larger lesson of the issue will not be lost on Mr Munda’s government. Intent as he is on the industrialization of the new state, he must realize that this is no way to attract enterprise and investment. If a major industrial house like the Tatas can be stopped on its track in this manner, small entrepreneurs would balk at the idea of doing business with this slow coach of a government. On the contrary, a proactive government can expect reciprocal responses from entrepreneurs. Tata Steel’s promise of investing Rs 10,000 crore in the state over the next ten years should prompt Mr Munda to decide soon on one schedule of the agreement over which he is still undecided. What the government does in this case will be a signal to potential investors in the state. Jharkhand is blessed with bountiful mineral and other natural resources, but it is clearly beyond the government to exploit them for the state’s economic prosperity. Mr Munda cannot afford to shackle private enterprise by bureaucratic delays or controls.

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