The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Stable policy with tweak or two
- Reforms to continue, says draft agenda of Cong-led alliance

New Delhi, May 21: As Prime Minister-elect Manmohan Singh had hinted yesterday, the new government that takes over is opting for continuity in most key policy issues with an additional emphasis on areas like agriculture and employment which its predecessor is alleged to have ignored.

The latest working draft of the United Progressive Alliance’s common minimum programme commits the government to reforms in industry, services and agriculture to stimulate growth and investment. Although the draft will be finalised only after it is approved by the allies, the Left, with which there could have been serious disagreement, has said it is happy with the broad outline.

In the public sector, as announced by Singh, the government will continue sale of equity without privatising the petroleum companies — ONGC, IOC, HPCL, BPCL and Gail — and NTPC and Bhel, which are profit-making. Privatisation or closure awaits those that are losing enterprises.

Proceeds from divestment will be used in the social sector, unlike under the previous regime which funnelled the money into cutting its fiscal deficit.

The capital market, which has been yo-yoing since the election results came out, has been promised orderly development through taxation and other policies. Foreign institutional as well as direct investment will be encouraged.

Labour law reforms, with which all governments have struggled, will not include a hire-and-fire clause. Although industry has been wanting this facility, the expectation that this will happen — under any government — has been low. The draft recognises industry’s need to have some flexibility in labour policy, but with protection for workers and their families.

It suggests negotiations with industry and trade unions to come up with specific proposals for changes to labour laws.

Setting a target of 7-8 per cent economic growth, the draft proposes to step up public investment in agriculture and irrigation. Some economists have argued that lack of investment has thrown agriculture into a low-growth orbit. Without a pick-up in agriculture, GDP growth cannot be sustained at 7-8 per cent, they say.

The new government will seek to create jobs by linking them to rural infrastructure development. It will enact a national employment guarantee law which will provide for at least 100 days of employment in asset-creating public works every year for each rural household.

In line with the alliance’s commitments, the draft pledges to spend at least 6 per cent of GDP on education, half of which would go to primary and secondary education. A cess on all central taxes is proposed to fund the effort. A national health insurance scheme has also been suggested.

It intends to reverse what it calls the “communalisation” of education, a charge that had been brought against Murli Manohar Joshi’s human resource development ministry.

With the Gujarat example in mind, the draft proposes that incidents of communal violence should be probed by central agencies and tried in special courts.

Continuity is again the theme in the approach to the Ayodhya dispute — settlement through a court verdict or a mutually acceptable solution through talks.

In foreign policy, it is clear that there will be little change. The talks with Pakistan will continue along with closer strategic and economic engagement with the US.

A departure is sought to be made from the policy of the previous government in the appointment of the national security adviser, a post that was held by the then principal secretary Brajesh Mishra. There will now be a full-time adviser.

As demanded by the Tamil Nadu allies, the anti-terrorism law, Pota, will be repealed with emphasis on enforcing strictly existing legislation. The Telengana Rashtra Samiti, the ally in Andhra, has been promised a commission on reorganisation of states.

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