NEW DELHI: Former telecom and disinvestment minister Arun Shourie believes that India doesn’t need multiple advisory councils but a Reforms Commission that sets the agenda for the country.
“Everyone does similar work and whoever is closest to Sonia Gandhi (in UPA) or Narendra Modi will get heard. The Planning Commission should be replaced by a Reforms Commission that tells us where to move forward and how, instead of just doing the same old fund allocations,” he said.
Firmly backing the Rajasthan government’s decision to amend outdated labour laws to boost job creation rather than wait for the Centre to change these laws, Shourie said this is the only way forward on subjects in the concurrent list of the Constitution.
“Such changes will solve many of the issues where investments are stuck. Labour laws don’t help labour, they are only anti-jobs. The fact that you need the government’s permission for retrenchment means it’s redundant as no government will grant such an unpopular move,” he said. Breaking of status quo, said Shourie, is critical for India to move ahead, and it is important to promote competition among states to attract investments, improve working conditions and create jobs.
States could similarly take the lead in the land acquisition law, which the Centre may find difficult to amend. “Under the new land acquisition law, you can’t set up a factory for four years. But if it’s on the concurrent list, some progressive states can reduce that time frame through state laws,” Shourie said.
There is speculation that the former minister would get a critical role in the Modi administration, but Shourie categorically said that he is neither speaking on behalf of the BJP or the government.
“Trade unions only represent a small part of even the country’s organised labour force. Do you want the process of economic growth and development to be mortgaged to a handful of people? This is the real problem in India. People who are in, don’t want to let anyone else enter. And those who are out, will try to get in even through a window,” he said, referring to trade unions’ opposition to labour law reforms.
Shourie recalled instances from the previous NDA government when existing players opposed changes in the telecom licensing regime or even Air India’s disinvestment. “The people who opposed Air India’s disinvestment are the same ones who are now opposing the entry of new carriers like Air Asia,” he said.
Commenting on the remarkable ‘change of discourse from caste to development’ in India’s politics, Shourie said this had happened because of state chief ministers, ‘whether it was Narendra Modi in Gujarat or Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh or later even Akhilesh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh.’
“By contrast, we used to have Lalu Prasad tell people in Bihar that they don’t need roads as they have no cars to drive,” Shourie said. Calling for a paradigm shift in the Centre-state relations, Shourie suggested that the fund allocation formulas of the Finance Commission and Planning Commission be changed in order to reward states that take progressive steps.
“There are 7 lakh headmasters in India with no leadership skills… if you make imparting skills to them a norm, for instance, and tailor allocations on the basis of adoption of better policies and practices by states to improve things like primary healthcare and the public distribution system, that would go a long way. That doesn’t mean that poor states have to be left behind,” he stressed.