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Serving, ex-officers spar over democracy & governance at event, Amitabh Kant defends G20 spending

At discussion, India's G20 sherpa defends govt's 'conscious decision' to spread G20 events. Retired diplomat Shyam Saran, ex-union cabinet secretary K.M. Chandrasekhar among dignitaries.

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New Delhi: Serving and retired IAS officers, diplomats presented contrasting opinions on a wide-ranging discussion on topical issues ranging from ‘sinking feelings about democracy’ to the ‘reigning in the constitutional authorities’ at a high-profile event in the national capital Wednesday.  

Other questions fielded by the retired IAS and central government officers included ‘degrading merits, losing ethics and morality’. Diplomats-turned-politicians were also present at the discussion held at India International Centre (IIC). 

“Unlike NAM or CHOGM, G20 is a year-long international event for which government took a ‘conscious decision’ to take the related events and meetings to states, and cities as it is a huge opportunity for transforming the civic infrastructure and branding,” India’s G20 sherpa Amitabh Kant said at the discussion titled ‘Reflections on governance’ based on former cabinet secretary K.M.Chandrasekhar’s new book, ‘As Good as My Word’.

The 1980 batch retired IAS officer said this while responding to an ex-army officer, who questioned the need of the huge expenditure Modi government is incurring for the advertisements. 

Kant, Chandrasekhar, ex-foreign secretary and IIC president Shyam Saran were among the dignitaries present at the dais. 

Also Read: ‘Beautification’ to bulldozers, how Delhi is going all out to become showcase city for G20 summit

G20, double engine govt to degrading merits

The event took an interesting turn, when some officers defended the government policies in the face of the criticism about the Enforcement Directorate (ED), the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) being deployed for ‘political interests’, about making “double engine government’ a political slogan undermining the federal power of opposition ruled states and so on.  

Of the many topics discussed by the former IAS and central government officers, the above-mentioned retired army officer questioned the government’s ways of spending money in advertisements promoting India’s G20 presidency. The ex-army officer mentioned how India hosted NAM and CHOGM summits without such hype. 

Kant responded saying, G20 is nothing like the other international summits or events, but an opportunity to transform drainage, sewage, solid waste management, roads and so on and also a way to bring the states in the focus. 

“G20 is not like doing one event line NAM for a period of 10 days or hosting World Cup Football. It is not like doing ICC World Cup Cricket for a period of 10-12 days. G20 is spread through a year, whole years from December 1 (2022) to December 1 (2023). Many countries like Indonesia or Italy held it in different parts of their countries. The government consciously took up a call, that instead of hosting G20 events in one city like Delhi or Mumai or other metropolitan cities, we will take this to different states and cities,” he explained.  

G20 events are being held in all the states and in 59 cities, Kant said.

“It is an opportunity to transform the cities, as seen in Aurangabad, Udaipur, Kumarakom, where we are holding our next Sherpa meeting. It’s an opportunity to transform drainage, sewage, solid waste management, roads etc. It’s also a huge opportunity for the states to promote their markets, their cultural aspects like handlooms, handicrafts, and build their brands and products etc. It is not like NAM or CHOGM. It is a year-long programme. It is a great opportunity for the country and here is a great example of wonderful federalism in play,” he added. 

Shyam Saran, who was sitting next to Kant, concurred with him. “Certainly, a great urban renewal is happening. New footpaths are being built in Mayur Vihar, Delhi.”

A senior IAS officer, who retired three years ago, expressed his disappointment about the current state of affairs. “I have great respect for democracy and democratic values. But, there is a sinking feeling that is coming into me. Democracy is turning out to be the representative of the lowest common multiplier. We are degrading merit, and more and more people are losing ethics and morality,” the retired officer said.  

Chandrasekhar, meanwhile, touched upon the repeated mentions of ‘double engine government’ by PM Modi and called this idea ‘disturbing’.

“What is this double engine government? In a federal structure, every state should have equal opportunity. Once, during a NITI Aayog meeting, chaired by PM Modi, ‘Team India’ was written in the background. That is the idea of India,” the former Union cabinet secretary asserted. 

(Edited by Tony Rai)

Also Read: ‘A file should not move more than 4 levels’: How Modi govt’s making IAS structure ‘more efficient’


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