The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Delhi joins race for spoils

New Delhi, April 10: Indian industry is preparing to join the worldwide scramble for Iraqi post-war reconstruction contracts even as the US begins to tighten its hold over the battered country.

Delhi is in a piquant position as it had refused to support the western coalition’s war against Saddam Hussein. But now, it is having to push for the early resumption of the UN’s oil-for-food programme, under which the global body has executed contracts for supply of goods worth $10.1 billion sourced from over 100 countries.

The Centre is sending a small delegation to New York — comprising government officials and members of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry — to make a pitch for UN-mandated reconstruction contracts in Iraq as well as resumption of humanitarian aid to the war-ravaged country.

The delegation — expected to be led by R.M. Abhayankar, secretary in the external affairs ministry — will consult officials from the UN’s Office of Iraq Programme for the resumption of supply of goods and materials worth Rs 3,000 crore, which are supposed to be shipped before May 12 under Resolution 1472 passed on March 28.

“Since companies from a large number of countries are vying for such projects, time is of essence and Indian businesses urge the government to provide full support,” Ficci said in a study prepared ahead of the New York talks.

Ficci is involved in the latest initiative as the industry’s interlocutor because it handles the Indian end of affairs of the Indo-Iraq Joint Business Council.

The government-industry initiative to fish for post-war contracts comes amid growing speculation that the US and its western allies intend to stay in Iraq till they install a government led by a person of their choice who has a modicum of public support.

The US has already made it clear that it does not see a great role for the UN in the post-Saddam regime. This could complicate matters for countries such as India, which did not — and still do not — support the US military action. Early this week, Parliament passed a unanimous resolution calling for an end to the Iraq war.

“The resumption of the UN’s oil-for-food programme, even if it is only for a period of 45 days, is a step towards the rebuilding of the war-affected economy,” the Ficci study says.

The Office of Iraq Programme has identified six priority sectors where the country’s emergency needs can be met through UN- approved and funded contracts. These are food, health, water sanitation, education, agriculture and electricity.

The Ficci study says Indian companies are ready to immediately send supplies against the Rs 3,000-crore contracts which they have to fulfil by May 12. “Further, there is scope of entering into contracts worth Rs 2,000 crore in the near future,” the study says.

According to Ficci, Indian businesses are ready to provide wheat, tea, rice and sugar at short notice, even though the items are not included in the food sector’s priority list.

“Indian companies are (also) well placed to make available electrical items, including gas turbines, generators and transformers, with a minimum lead time.”

Drugs, pharmaceutical and medical items worth Rs 100 crore, and medicines, medical disposables and equipment worth Rs 500 crore, too, can be provided immediately.

The ready-to-supply list also includes LPG cylinders, stationery and educational material, water pipes, pesticides and soyabean meals.

India had bagged a large number of construction and railway contracts -- mostly turnkey jobs -- soon after the Iran-Iraq war in the early 1980s. The number reduced to a trickle after the first Gulf war in 1991.

Now that there will be plenty of opportunities to bag construction contracts to rebuild Iraq, Indian companies may well find themselves muscled out of lucrative deals by the US and other Western corporations.

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