Dilip Cherian | Ministers, babus concentrate on development at Chinese border

Some 70 ministers are heading to the India-China border, not to fight the enemy but to ensure that the huge number of border villages is given the kind of support that they need. According to sources, 1,400 border villages have been identified and Union ministers will visit to understand the issues faced by the people there and take steps to address them. This decision was reportedly taken after a review of telecom connectivity for border habitations by the secretary of border management, ministry of home affairs, D.S. Gangwar. Union minister for environment, forests and climate change Bhupender Yadav also recently visited border villages in Ladakh.

The aim of this Vibrant Village programme is to encourage people to stay in their native locations in the border areas and reverse the migration from these villages. Sources have informed DKB that these visits have been planned to pacify the Ladakhis, who recently staged protests in Delhi demanding statehood. China has reportedly built several border villages and roads to strengthen its territorial claims on the disputed LoC, and the Centre seeks to counter their moves with this initiative.

As a result, babus in charge of these states, and particularly these districts, are on high alert as the ministers will spend a day and perhaps even stay overnight at the model villages given that this flurry of VIP visits will require coordination at many levels. The development work in these states will also be done by people who have never been there.

This is a huge exercise and one that is being done by the Narendra Modi government to ensure that there is no question of morale and lack of enthusiasm in these villages at this time when border tensions are high.

Govt moves to revitalise CCI

The Competition Commission of India (CCI) has been functioning without a full-time chairperson, four months after the previous chairperson retired and seven months since the search for his replacement began. CCI member Sangeeta Verma has been the acting chairperson since last October, and recently, her tenure was extended by three months. Currently, CCI is functioning with just two members, which is half the sanctioned strength and one short of a quorum.

Even before it lost quorum, the commission suffered from a staff shortage, with at least 30 per cent of positions unfilled through the last decade. Some of the commission’s present woes may be of the government’s own doing. In 2018, faced with rising vacancies at the top, the government “rightsized” the commission from seven to four members in the interest of “minimum government — maximum governance”, it said. The change may have streamlined decision-making but robbed orders of diversity in opinion.

Sources have informed DKB that things are now beginning to stir within the ministry and the issue is being prioritised. Perhaps the babus have finally woken up to the issue and the impact of the absence of a full-time chairperson on CCI’s decision-making process and its ability to carry out investigations. Some quarters had even begun to question the government’s commitment to promoting fair competition in the market.

Now as the government searches for his replacement, it has also advertised to fill the posts of three members, with the current two up for retirement over the next 16 months. The appointment of a new chairperson will help ensure the stability and continuity of the CCI’s operations.

Finance babus wrestle with divestment dilemma

The fiscal balancers at the finance ministry are rather busy these days. Even as the Budget Session begins its second innings, the officials are understood to be extraordinarily tied up with internal matters. Finance secretary T.V. Somanathan and revenue secretary Sanjay Malhotra have convened several meetings to try and see how the anxiety about billowing borrowings can be addressed.

The other issue seems to be that some of the attempts at divestments haven’t quite borne fruit. The usually easy-paced finance ministry has seen a flurry of activity between these twin factors over the last couple of weeks. In February’s budget, the Central government had marked down the disinvestment target to Rs 50,000 crores from Rs 65,000 crores budgeted initially. Despite lowering the target, it has managed to raise only Rs 31,107 crores so far.

But finance babus believe they have a plan and that matters are well in hand. They are planning to limit the increase in government borrowing to reduce the public debt burden and lower interest payments. To make up for any shortfall in divestment receipts, the Centre is banking on higher dividend income from state-run companies, and savings due to the new fund release system for autonomous bodies and central schemes. Mr Somanathan says he expects the Centre to save Rs 13,000 crores from the new fund release system, and another Rs 8,000 crores from centrally-sponsored schemes.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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