From Make in India to real estate reforms and relations with China to the controversial anti-corruption law, Niti Ayog CEO Amitabh Kant addressed a wide range of pressing concerns at OTC as the Modi government turns three.
As part of its ongoing drive to get out of business, Prime minister Narendra Modi’s government has listed the seven decade-old, chronically sick state carrier Air India for strategic disinvestment.
Speaking at the ThePrint’s ‘Off The Cuff’ event in Pune on Tuesday as the Modi government turns three, Niti Ayog CEO Amitabh Kant said that the panel has given three reports on strategic disinvestment and “Air India is one of the issues being examined”. Kant said the market share of the beleaguered flag carrier has dropped very radically to 14 per cent and it is the “the next candidate” on the government’s list of reducing stake.
“The government’s intention is to get away from business. The PM has made it clear that the government should be a facilitator,” he told the event moderated by ThePrint Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta and Bajaj Group Chairman Rahul Bajaj.
Speaking up about an issue that has roiled the bureaucracy, Kant strongly defended recently convicted former coal secretary H.C. Gupta as “a man of impeccable integrity”.
“We take thousands of decisions. The Prevention of Corruption Act says if you have caused pecuniary advantage, you are responsible. I think that amendment is totally flawed,” he said.
The law should see if the bureaucrat had the intention to commit a crime and subject the officer to an “administrative inquiry not criminal”. He said the Modi government has realised the problem and has moved to change the law. Kant Also said the judgement convicting Gupta had not said he made money. It just said there was a lapse in the coal blocks allotment file.
“We are collectively trying to assist him,” Kant said referring to Gupta who has in the past said he could not afford to defend himself in court.
Batting strongly for Modi’s flagship Make In India programme, Kant said the focus was not on protectionism even though the world was being swept by this mood. It is about making India competitive, he said.
“India must be a champion of globalisation. India should produce in size and scale, export and penetrate global markets,” he said.
In fact, Kant said, the government has encouraged Chinese companies to not only invest but also manufacture in India.
“If China has a stake here, it will also ensure peace,” he said offering a new perspective at a time of growing strains between two of Asia’s economic powerhouses.
Addressing the rising concerns about sluggish job creation, Kant said India needs to manufacture to create jobs. “Those who think India can grow on the back of services are totally mistaken,” he said, adding that jobs would also come from the construction sector.
He said the real estate sector needs to be reformed, disciplined and pushed but it is an issue for state governments to tackle.
What the Niti Ayog has done is to get states to compete on ease of doing business parameters and was also “naming and shaming” laggards. The Indian economy can rise if 10 or 12 big states consistently grow at a rate of 10 per cent. These will be the “champion” states.
The second OTC to be held in Pune, the event was attended by business leaders, young entrepreneurs, academics and top bureaucrats.