Govt partially lifts ban on rice exports

Govt partially lifts ban on rice exports

In the wake of protests by farmers and exporters, the Union cabinet on Thursday partially revoked the ban on export of non-basmati rice that was imposed on 9 October.

Mint had reported on 23 October that the government was considering a roll-back of the blanket ban.

“It has been decided to remove the ban on export of premium quality non-basmati rice that has a price above $425 per tonne," information and broadcasting minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi said after the cabinet meeting.

However, the ban on exports of low value non-basmati rice will continue. “The decision...will help only growers and exporters from North India where such varieties are grown," said Prem Garg, vice-chairman of the All India Rice Exporters Association.

Disinvestment deals

The cabinet also decided to set up a committee of secretaries to look into the legal aspects of an ongoing tussle between the government and Sterlite Industries India Ltd (part of Vedanta Resources Plc.) over the sale of the former’s residual 49% stake in Bharat Aluminium Co. Ltd (Balco) to the latter.

Sterlite had acquired a 51% stake in Balco from the government in 2001. As per the terms of its agreement with the government, Sterlite had the option to buy the remaining 49% stake by 2004, but the two parties have been unable to agree on the valuation of the shares.

The cabinet also cleared changes to the Tyre Corp. of India Ltd (Disinvestment of Ownership) Bill, 2007, pending in Parliament. The changes are aimed at the corporation’s revival with the help of a private sector joint venture partner.

Labour laws

n a move that should bring relief to small enterprises, the cabinet approved an amendment in labour laws so that companies with up to 40 workers will not have to maintain mandatory registers or submit their annual returns.

It also decided to discontinue a policy that gives Central public sector enterprises (CPSEs) purchase preference in transactions involving the government or other public sector firms for a “level playing field between CPSEs and private sector companies and increase competition", Dasmunsi said. Under this policy, in practice since 1992, a CPSE enjoys a “purchase preference" if its quoted price falls within 10% of that quoted by the winning bidder (it is, however, required to match the lowest bid).

Emphasis on education

The cabinet also cleared a proposal to upgrade 1,396 industrial training institutes (ITIs); 300 of them will be upgraded in the first phase of the programme at a cost of around Rs775 crore. All ITIs are to be revived as part of an effort to improve the quality of training they provide, during the 11th Plan (2007-12). The upgradation and revival will be carried out through the public-private partnership route with private companies being invited to participate in the process.

In addition, the cabinet has decided to set up two new Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISERs) at Bhopal and Thiruvananthapuram at a total cost of Rs1,000 crore.

“The IISERs shall have programmes in biological sciences, mathematics, computers, physical sciences, and materials science," said Dasmunsi. He added that each of the institutes would have around 200 instructors and 2,000 students. India’s human resources development ministry runs three IISERs at Pune, Kolkata and Mohali near Chandigarh.

In other decisions, the tenure of short-service commission (SSC) medical services officers of the Armed Forces will be extended from 10 years to 14; India will become a signatory to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, that seeks to prevent arbitrary arrests and detentions, including of well-known public figures. Also, value-added tax collected from companies operating in Union territories, Daman and Diu and Dadar and Nagar Haveli would be refunded because industries in these two areas enjoy a tax holiday.

(PTI contributed to this story.)