A Bill in danger
While agreeing with your Quick Edit (“Agreeing to disagree”, Mint, 31 May) I don’t think the government blinked, it merely winked and is plotting to derail the Lokpal Bill. Suddenly, as if on a cue, a CD appeared to malign the members of the committee that is trying to draft the Bill. There were also allegations of evasion of stamp duty by the same members on the sale/purchase of a house. There are contradictions here and the authenticity of the CD is in doubt. The country has also witnessed the spectacle in New Delhi of a yoga guru take stage and indulge in summersaults seldom seen before. What is tragic in this episode is the role of the opposition. It is said that we have, perhaps, the weakest Prime Minister so far. Maybe we do, but there is no doubt that we do have the weakest opposition seen in a long time
I read your edit “Avoiding a fiscal hole”, Mint, 27 May, with amazement and alarm. It’s astonishing that you recommend higher fuel prices to maintain the sanctity of the fiscal deficit. It’s ex facie absurd that petrol and diesel prices in India are substantially higher than in the US whose per capita income is almost 20 times greater. This is because customs, excise duties, sales tax imposts constitute almost half the price of a litre of petrol, if not diesel, on the pump. Your assumption that higher petrol prices are a tax on the rich and are inflation-neutral is spurious because they are billed as business expenses which reduces the taxable income of firms and also translates into higher prices of goods and services provided by the rich and successful. Likewise, you seem innocent of the knowledge that higher diesel prices make life very difficult for farmers to get their goods to market and are responsible to a substantial extent for the huge wastage of horticulture produce estimated at Rs 40,000 crore per year within Indian agriculture. The logical recourse is for government to cut taxes imposed upon crude oil and petroleum in the hope that rising fuel offtake and consequential downstream industrial and agricultural prosperity will make good by way of greater direct tax collections and productivity gains within the economy, of the revenue sacrificed by cutting fuel taxes.
The other and more sustainable option to maintain the current/fiscal deficit is to slash wasteful government and non-development expenditure. Surely you are aware that the actual wage bills of the Union and state governments are national secrets as are the humongous travel bills of ministers and bureaucrats.
I am a third generation Iranian—Indian Sikh, born and brought up in Iran having experienced socio-economic changes through all its turmoils in Tehran. I agree that India needs to engage both the US and Iran with superior diplomacy (“Middle East miscalculation”, Mint, 12 May), especially the US with whom we are trying to build a close partnership. But it is equally true that India has been far too cavalier in addressing energy security issues which are riding far too much on its relations with Washington. The US is not helping us secure energy supplies even as it presses that we abandon our dealings with Tehran.
If anything, we should learn from how the US manages to secure its interests. Here, again, Iran offers an interesting example. The last time the US wanted to bring China and Russia on board the sanctions committee, it made some serious diplomatic manoeuvres. To buy a Russian “yes” for sanctions, the US shut down a missile station in Poland. To assuage China and help it manage its oil supplies, as the latter purchases a lot of oil from Iran, the US despatched a special emissary to Saudi Arabia for assured supplies of oil to China if Beijing agreed to sanctions. China and Russia worked closely with the US. In spite of this both countries continue to pursue their political and energy interests with Tehran. Why can’t we do that?
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