It’s strange that you find fault with the demand for opening of schools in Kandhamal district in Orissa (“Orissa’s excuse”, Quick Edit, Mint, 19 November), just because it was severely affected by communal disturbances. It is education and job opportunities for all which will neutralize the communal bias that people in Kandhamal district may have developed in the course of missionary activities that pit one community against the other by making religion a tradeable commodity. Law and order can temporarily push the ethnic problem under the carpet, but a permanent solution to the problem requires all-round development of this backward region in which primary and higher education occupy the centre stage.
Union finance minister P. Chidambaram is not known for listening. Rather, he is notorious for sermonizing. His latest homily to industries comes as no surprise (“The finance minister’s remedy”, Mint, 20 November). He knows what the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) should do or when banks should cut interest rates. I am sure if someone asks, he will be able to tell how much Bajaj Auto should reduce the price for the 125cc Calibre. Sadly, he does not seem to know if fiscal policy can help in the current state of affairs. I wonder why people invite him.
The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government inherited a surging economy with high industrial and economic growth rates, low interest rates, a low rate of inflation, low fiscal deficit, buoyant stock markets, surging exports, a stable rupee and huge foreign exchange reserves. What did it do with these resources? Chidambaram increased the tax burden on Indians by 250% in less than five years. The socialist UPA inflicted the poor with an inflation rate of at least 12%—a 13-year high. All this is not due to the global oil price rise—that has not even been passed on and thus, is not part of the 12% rate of inflation. Prices of food items and vegetables have risen 50-500% in the UPA regime. Inflation is a tax with highest incidence on the poor. Interest rates on home and corporate loans have gone up from 7-9% levels to 14-20% levels, similar to 1996 when the country voted out the Congress.
Economic mismanagement of the UPA regime does not end there. Economic reforms that gave Indian masses a sense of prosperity and optimism have been put on hold or reversed. Disinvestment is out. Oil price controls are back with a vengeance. The huge deficit of the oil sector is excluded from calculation of fiscal deficit. Fiscal discipline has been shattered with profligate spending on corrupt schemes such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the farm loan waiver, unlimited fertilizer subsidy and the Sixth Pay Commission give-aways. It is Chidambaram who advises RBI to raise interest rates or lower them. It is he who directs public sector banks on whom to give credit to.
Tens of thousands of crores have been collected from the public as education cess. There is no blueprint of any educational reform from the UPA for spending this money. Now, this money is proposed to be spent by raising allocations manifold on the same old educational set-up.
The slowdown has very little to do with recent global events (except the stock market). It is RBI that dried up liquidity and raised interest rates at the behest of the government. It was their conscious decision to depreciate the rupee. Now, when international crude prices have come down to $48 a barrel from $145, why is the government not reducing the prices of petrol and diesel? Industry will do what it needs to do. The finance minister can do a lot to revive demand without further price distortions. But he won’t, because he does not listen.
Your turn to talk
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