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Delhi is distant

Fifty years ago, in 1965-66 Sachindra Choudhry as Finance Minister opted for a steep devaluation of the rupee. The economy was then in dire straits with a severe drought causing a steep fall in food production. Indira Gandhi was struggling to find her feet as the Prime Minister. Keen to explain the government’s policies and to get reactions from the media, she launched the Economic Editors’ Conference (EEC).

The EEC became an annual event inaugurated by the Finance Minister and addressed by a dozen ministers handling economic portfolios, assisted by senior civil servants of the respective departments. The EEC provided an important forum to discuss the impact of economic policies on the different regions. As one attending this from 1973 continuously for four decades, I have found value in this interaction. The forum provided the opportunity to project the impact of policies on different regions and also report on specific needs of regions far removed from Delhi. For instance, at the EEC in 1973, I pointed to the inadequacy of the mining capacity at the Neyveli Lignite Corporation that plunged NLC into continuous underperformance and losses. Mohan Kumaramangalam, the then minister of Steels & Mines, appreciated the query and assured quick redressal. The special sanction that followed for augmenting the mining machinery resulted in NLC emerging as a highly profitable PSU.

 For journalists outside Delhi, the EEC provided an invaluable opportunity to meet with policymakers and discuss policy issues.

 The NDA government has not convened the EEC since it assumed power in 2014 (even in the first NDA government, Jaswant Singh as Finance Minister missed out one).

 The media of Lutyens’ Delhi has not been fair and kind to Narendra Modi and this seems to have conditioned his reflex to keep the media at a distance. But should this also extend to his cabinet colleagues?

 In this light, the Press Information Bureau organised a two-day regional editors’ conference for the Southern States on 1 and 2 September. The Prime Minister has directed his cabinet colleagues to undertake the Tiranga Yatra to explain the highlights of the NDA -2 performance over the last two years. The I&B Minister, M Venkaiah Naidu inaugurated the conference in Chennai along with a photo exhibition to commemorate the country’s 70th independence day. He explained in detail the plans of his Ministry of Urban Affairs with a focus on infrastructure and housing. The Minister for Law and Justice and IT Ravishankar Prasad, known for his articulation, described in detail the Digital India initiative that promises India to leap-frog development.

Two other Union Ministers, Nitin Gadkari and Kiren Rijiju, who were listed to participate did not make it, but senior civil servants of their ministries made detailed presentations. Those on shipping and highways were rich with details on the impressive work done in the development of roads, ports and inland waterways and the focus on the northeast.  The continuous and steep drop in exports due to the global slowdown is a matter of concern. Minister for Commerce and Industry Nirmala Sitharaman made a detailed presentation on the efforts made to focus on specific products and specific regions to expand exports. But, like the AIADMK ministers, she laboured on micro issues like areca and copra, missing out on larger issues affecting the Make in India effort.

The programme included a visit to the IIT-Madras Research Park. Dr Ashok Junjunwala made an evocative demonstration of a welcome breakthrough: a 125 kW solar power unit modified to use DC, which can be used to power homes at a low cost and with reduced dependence on grid power. This famous scientist has made invaluable contributions in the telecom and rural development spheres. The IIT-M Research Park that provides for close collaboration between scientists and researchers in the industry and the academy and students of IIT-M, has already produced some innovative products and several applications with great promise.


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