New Delhi: Both India’s power sector and its power centre have been in a churn. Policymaking is paralysed with allegations of graft dominating the Centre’s attention, the latest charge being of impropriety by the Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in allocating coal-minig blocks. M. Veerappa Moily, the corporate affairs minister who took charge of the power ministry as well in August just as the country suffered its worst grid failure, spoke in an interview about the Congress’s plans, governance, politics and issues related to his ministries. Edited excerpts:
Given the political atmosphere in the country, is the Congress ready for elections?
It is not a question of getting ready. Every political party should be ready at any time. But there is no need for an election now.
We have a term up to 2014 and we are capable of running the government up to 2014. We are very confident. The Congress party and the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) have got that kind of strength and political willpower to run the government, and you know we have an agenda before us because we have given a manifesto. A number of measures will have to be introduced.
If you go back to the people abruptly, they will definitely question us on what has happened. So we have a national duty to perform up to an optimum level. We have had achievements in the social and economic sectors and I think we are already on track.
More than that, we have set an agenda for recovering the world economy, because of world recession. We could conquer and combat the tumultuous economic weather of 2008 and 2010.
This comes at a time when the party’s image has been sullied and people say it’s a corrupt party. The reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) are out and there is a logjam in Parliament. Do you think this government suffers from a credibility deficit?
Absolutely nothing. You know the opposition parties, particularly the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), suffer from some kind of syndrome, which is not in the interest of the country. I think they are contributing to denigrate democratic institutions. (Prime Minister) Manmohan Singh has been looked upon by world leaders as the top-most leader. (US President Barack) Obama also said when he came here that when he (Singh) stands up to speak in the international forum, the entire world listens to him. We are very proud of him.
We are not criticizing the CAG report, but what kind of projection have they given? CAG has given the estimation and presumptive loss. The question is, is there any element of corruption involved in that? The question is, what for did the government take decisions, particularly on coal?
The entire economy of the country would have been hit. You must also know the ground reality. Up to the 10th Five-Year Plan (2002-07), the contribution of the private sector (in power generation) was only 21%. It has taken a big jump now. By the 11th Five-Year Plan (2007-12), it jumped to 55%. In the words of the Prime Minister, our decisions have “unleashed the animal spirits”. Policy paralysis is only because of the opposition.
How does this logjam end?
If there is a very destructive opposition party, which would like to make this highest and supreme body like Parliament not to function, I do not know if we can blame the government. The opposition parties have a duty to perform, to take up the issues in the right forum in Parliament. They can discuss anything. But they cannot be so immature as to discuss CAG reports.
Just like a company deploys an auditor, the report would be discussed in the board of directors. The right thing is for them to debate on the floor of the house, but not at this stage, since it is premature.
Is there any track-2 diplomacy where you could get the BJP back to the house and on the discussion table? The way it’s being played out now, its position has been firmed up. Neither will the BJP back down from the position it has taken, nor the Congress.
The question is, they should realize how to function in a parliamentary system. If anybody thinks that they can only fight in the streets and get it, just like in the Middle East, you gather in a square and declare that this government should go, I don’t think it can happen.
So India is not ready for a revolution?
It is not a question of whether it is ready. The question is that India has the biggest Parliamentary democracy and our political acumen has matured enough to resist such street fight leading to a collapse of the government. If the BJP thinks that kind of a short-cut can be achieved without resorting to a real electoral verdict, I think they will be doing a greater disservice to the Indian democracy.
On the violence in Assam, there were allegations that the state government did not handle it well. Could this have been resolved earlier before it turned into an issue of internal migration?
It was the most unfortunate incident. The state government, which has come to power for the third term, has acted very well. For the first time, the UPA government and the state government have taken up the issue of registration of Indian citizenship. Some 30-35 tribunals have been constituted by the UPA government and the state government to settle this issue.
The NDA (National Democratic Alliance led by the BJP) had not constituted even a single tribunal. They speak much about the migrants, but they had not taken even a single step. Second, on the issue of putting a fencing on the border, the NDA, with all their might and best intentions, could not put even a mile of fence, whereas you must go and see now.
Largely, we have fenced off our borders. The matter of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants has to be decided by the tribunal. It is not as if they have migrated to the country only yesterday. They have migrated 100 years back, 50 years back, and the same yardstick cannot be used. What has happened is most unfortunate.
Aren’t vote-bank politics being played in this issue?
No, no. It is definitely not being played by the Congress. And I do not want to attribute because this is not the time to speak about it, but at the same time now that things have come under control, there is a legal solution to solve the issue of migration, and this is the tribunal. Everybody can contribute to settle the issue.
The ministry of corporate affairs recently began a probe into the books of Kingfisher Airlines Ltd. Could you please throw some light on that? When is the final Registrar of Companies (RoC) report likely to come? Moreover, there was a Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) probe into the company as well. What has come of that?
I do not know if there is an SFIO probe as far as Kingfisher is concerned, but I am quite aware that the RoC was making an enquiry on that. That report is yet to come to the corporate affairs ministry.
Have all sticky issues related to the Companies Bill been sorted out? Is the Bill likely to be introduced in Parliament in this session itself?
The opposition had wanted that the Bill should be referred to the standing committee for the second time, which we promptly did because we want that everybody should be on board.
It’s a revolutionary Bill, and it is going to have a radical change and take care of the aspirations of the corporate world for the present and also the future. The report has come and has been sent to the Planning Commission and the finance ministry for consultation.
In two or three days’ time, the proposal from the finance ministry will come back, and after which we will be sending a cabinet note and after cabinet approval, I will present the Bill. I am anxious to see that the Bill is presented in this session itself.
There is much debate on the issue of quotas for women directors, as proposed in the Bill. What do you have to say on that?
It should be given. You know there is no point in saying that women do not deserve it. I don’t agree with that philosophy. Women are equally competent as men to become the directors of companies.
Has the ministry of corporate affairs come up with a concrete plan to regulate multi-level marketing companies?
We have obtained a report on that. In fact, you know, this has many implications and some of the issues will have to be tackled by the finance ministry. The report says that there are a lot of frauds happening, cheating happening, small investors are being cheated and deftauded. We are taking steps to tackle that. I have already ordered for a discreet enquiry by all the RoCs.
Ultra-mega power projects, among the government’s marquee schemes, have turned out to be a failure, in the sense that the ones that have been awarded, be it at Sasan, Krishnapatnam or Tilaiya, or those that were to be awarded, are stuck.
It’s not that as if we are worried much about it. I think those projects can still be executed within five years.
Projects based on imported coal have been affected due to changes in laws overseas, in countries such as Indonesia and Australia. Your colleague, coal minister Sriprakash Jaiswal, said the government will take up the issue with these countries through the ministry of external affairs. Is there a case to take up the issue with other governments?
It’s a bilateral trade. Suddenly they increased the rate. At the same time, our corporate entities are going to other countries for captive blocks. It’s too early to say that there are a lot of obstacles. I think corporate entities are very competent.
If someone sets up a project and there is an escalation in fuel costs, will it be right to pass on those costs to consumers or end users?
That is one of the factors which will be taken care of by Cerc (Central Electricity Regulatory Commission) while fixing the tariff. This is a dynamic process, not that once you fix up the price that will remain forever.
Cost over-run is always there, so it has to be taken into account. Otherwise there will always be a disincentive for the private sector. But one thing I must tell you is that the manner in which some of our decisions are being taken is very fast, particularly on this. We need to nurture the private sector.
You came to the power ministry when the grid failure happened. You made a statement that in cases of states overdrawing power, the chief secretaries should be jailed. Why not the chief ministers, because the chief secretary only does the biding of the chief minister?
Ultimately, that is not the solution. I just sent some strong message that we are in for disciplining everybody. That discipline should always come from within. It is a federal constitution and each state knows their responsibility. But sometimes, we have to deal with some aberrations.
Overdrawal itself is not responsible for the grid failure. There are other contributing factors. There can be overdrawing from some states and overloading from some others. The western grid overloaded. There are other factors that have a cumulative effect, resulting in crisis. We have already taken a number of steps for rectification so that that kind of a big crisis will not occur again.
The report by A.S. Bakshi, chairman, Central Electricity Authority, has suggested revoking the unscheduled interchange mechanism. What are you proposing?
First of all, the state boards need to be given more autonomy. They are governed by the states. We only transmit power from the grid. Ultimately, it has to be managed by them. Otherwise, we have to black-out the entire state, which is not good. You cannot do it because there may be Metro railways, hospitals and many other essential services. That is what we now intend to do.
Ultimately, you know this crisis will have to be managed. It’s not that a crisis comes and you want to punish everybody. That is not the idea. I sent out this strong message to ensure that grid rules are obeyed.