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Singh vows reforms rush

Manmohan Singh in New Delhi on Friday. (AP)

New Delhi, Jan. 3: Manmohan Singh today vowed to continue with reforms in his remaining five months as Prime Minister.

Singh, who was speaking at a press conference, made it clear that he believed “reforms is a process not an event” and said “so long as we are in power, we will continue to push the cause of reforms wherever there is scope for it, and if circumstances permit us to go forward”.

Officials said the government had a readymade reforms menu of which at least some were “doable”.

The cabinet is expected to meet soon to approve the tweaks in foreign direct investment in sectors such as railways, defence and construction projects.

In the past, bickering among allies in the ruling UPA had seen FDI reforms being stalled for years.

Proposals to allow FDI in retail and foreign airlines buy into domestic carriers were cleared only after the Trinamul Congress walked out of the coalition. Singh seemed to wish to continue with FDI reforms when he said, “We will continue to improve upon our practices wherever needed.”

Financial sector reforms are also on the agenda. The Reserve Bank is expected to award 4-6 bank licences. New banks are expected to spur banking sector growth, encourage competition in the financial market with newer products, besides acting as a stimulant for stock markets.

However, parliamentary logjam over goods and services tax (GST), direct tax code (DTC) and higher foreign inflows in insurance and pension will continue to dog the investment climate.

Most analysts believe that while DTC may ultimately sail through, passing GST or the insurance act will be difficult.

The Prime Minister acknowledged that infrastructure bottlenecks had held up large projects. “There were bottlenecks in terms of timely clearances of the projects from the point of view of environment and forest.”

A cabinet committee on investment (CCI), set up a year ago and headed by Singh himself, resolved a few hurdles. However, a resistant bureaucracy often foiled any attempt to cut down delays by refusing to adhere to time limits set by committee.

Singh also pointed out that his “new deal for rural India” promised in 2004 was bearing fruits.

“We followed farmer friendly policies, including raising support prices for farm produce, expanding credit to farmers, and through increased investment in horticulture, rural development and rural infrastructure, especially roads and electricity,” he said.

 
 
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