New Delhi: Pranab-da probably doesn’t want his Raisina Hill stint sullied by allegations over spectrum pricing. Is that why he took the easy way out by not holding the scheduled meeting of the Empowered Group of Ministers (eGoM) on Thursday?
However, even by crying off, he will still be causing a fair amount of damage to the exchequer since now the whole process of spectrum auctions will have to be delayed – thus reducing the possibility of bringing in early revenues for the government.
The Supreme Court had set a 31 August deadline for the completion of the 2G spectrum auction that was necessitated by the cancellation of 122 licences in a February verdict. But since a key aspect of the auction process is an eGoM decision on the spectrum reserve price, the deadline is likely to be missed.
According to a report in BusinessLine, the finance minister has effectively said no to the Prime Minister, who wanted him to take a call on the spectrum price before he resigned on 24 June. On Wednesday, the officer on special duty in the finance ministry asked the PMO if Pranab Mukherjee should at all be taking this decision since he had been nominated to become president. The PMO replied that he should take the decision before he goes. But this is now in doubt after the eGoM meet cancellation.
The Economic Times suggests that Mukherjee will exit without taking a call on spectrum. It quotes a finance ministry official as saying: “Pranab’s office had not indicated if the eGoM on spectrum auction would meet before he steps down as finance minister on June 24.”
An agency report earlier this week said that the government will have to look for successors to chair at least two dozen GoMs and EGoMs headed by Mukherjee. He chairs ministerial groups on diverse issues from deciding the location of the National War Memorial to tackling issues relating to 2G and 3G telecom licences. Of the current 39 ministerial groups, he chairs 12 of the 27 GoMs and all the 12 eGoMs.
The report said that apart from the spectrum eGoM, another one slated to decide on the Centre’s policy on the Mass Rapid Transport System, which includes metro rail projects in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and Kolkata, will now also hang fire.
Another eGoM on procurement and management of food is also a crucial one as it has to deal with UPA-2′s ambitious agenda on the National Food Security Bill. This eGoM has taken some key policy decisions like opening up the export of wheat and rice last year.
The ministerial group on under-recoveries of the oil marketing companies on the sale of petrol, diesel, PDS kerosene and domestic LPG, which has decided to raise the prices of three regulated items, will be another headless wonder once Pranab goes. Recently, both the Prime Minister and government’s Chief Economic Advisor Kaushik Basu have been harping on the need to partially decontrol diesel pricing so this ministerial group can take some far reaching decisions which would benefit fiscal consolidation. In Pranab-da’s absence, who will bell the diesel price cat?
Mukherjee also chaired the GoM on tackling corruption which cleared the Public Procurement Bill that was introduced in the budget session of Parliament. Besides, the finance minister also chaired a number of GoMs set up since the UPA-2 came to power in 2009.
The agency report quoted the government’s submission in the Lok Sabha last month while saying that 47 GoMs and 13 eGoMs constituted since 22 May 2009 have either submitted their reports or considered the issues placed before them. And Pranab-da was heading the maximum number of such ministerial groups.
Mukherjee also heads GoMs, including those to Review Fertiliser Policy, the economic cooperation agreement between India and the Asean, the Administrative Reforms Commission, Civil Aviation, Coal Mines Amendment Bill and issues related to the World Trade Organisation. His persuasion skills would have come in handy in the prickly issue of allowing foreign airlines to invest in Indian airlines. On this issue, Mamata Banerjee and some other UPA allies are vehemently opposed and it was assumed that Pranab-da could have used his good offices with Mamata to bring her around. Of course, now that the two can’t see eye to eye on his nomination for the president’s job, this matter remains unresolved.
After Pranab-da, Home Minister P Chidambaram appears to be the second UPA-2 favourite on GoMs and eGoMs. According to the agency report, he chairs 10 GoMs, including the one to look into the constitution of a independent regulator for the coal sector.
Chidambaram also chairs ministerial groups to oversee the modernisation of thetransport system in Delhi, issues pertaining to functioning of Prasar Bharti, management of salt-pan land in Mumbai, construction of a greenfield airport, and committee on the Bhopal gas leak disaster, among others.
So far, 99 GoMs or EGoMs have been constituted since the UPA-2 came to power in 2009. UPA-1 had constituted about 80 GoMs.