Top seven ministries: Challenges ahead

  • HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: May 26, 2014 11:46 IST

After a landslide victory in the Lok Sabha elections, the Narendra Modi-led BJP government will have to take on a slew of challenges in various key ministries. We take a look at what tests await the new government and how the saffron party plans to handle them:

Defence ministry

Delay in acquisition and shortage of critical weapon systems, the divide between military and civilian officers are some of the issues likely to be taken up by the new defence minister.

The ministry has prepared a list of issues and problems which would be put up before the next government, officials said.

The list of issues is likely to include the delayed acquisition of critical weapon systems including the 126 Multirole Combat Aircraft, 197 light choppers and shortage of ammunition faced by the army for its tank fleet, they said. The divide between civilian and military officers is also likely to figure in the list, the officials said. This divide between civilian and military bureaucracy had come out in open during the age controversy of former Army chief and now BJP MP Gen VK Singh.

In its manifesto, the BJP promises to:

*Address the issue of reforms with regards to defence equipment, support services, organisational reforms and other related matters.

*Address the increasing shortage of commissioned and non-commissioned staff in the defence forces on a priority basis, in a time bound manner.

* Implement one rank, one pension.

*Modernise armed forces, and increase the R&D in defence, with a goal of developing indigenous defence technologies and fast tracking of defence purchases.

*Deal with cross-border terrorism with a firm hand.

*Review and improve the border management. Punitive measures will be introduced to check illegal activity.

Railway ministry

The railway ministry is not in its best shape and this means the Cabinet berth is unlikely to go to an NDA ally. In its manifesto, the BJP promises to:

*Modernise railways; induct state-of-the-art technology.
*Prioritise safety and invest in long-required overhaul of stressed infrastructure, strict norms and warning systems. Convert all unmanned crossings into manned crossings in a phased manner.
*Modernise and equip all stations with requisite infrastructure and public utilities.
*Launch Diamond Quadrilateral project — of high speed train network (bullet train).
Leader of the NDA's ally LJP, Ram Vilas Paswan has been the railway minister in the past. But railways, which has been held by allies in last several governments, is likely to stay with BJP as the Modi government would want to micromanage the ministry.

Finance ministry

Modi's government will face its first credibility test with markets when it delivers a budget by July that will need to convince investors that India can realistically contain its fiscal deficit.
To meet a deficit target of 4.6% of gross domestic product (GDP) for the year that ended in March, the outgoing government cut spending by $13 billion and pushed about $16 billion in subsidy costs into the new year.
A sharp narrowing of the current account deficit, to under 2% of GDP in 2013/14 from a record high of 4.8% the previous year, was helped by steps to curb gold imports.
Higher duties and other restrictions almost halved gold imports, but the moves have been deeply unpopular. Gold smuggling surged after the measures, casting doubt on reported data.
The Reserve Bank of India and finance ministry officials will recommend that the new government relax strict gold import rules to head off a surge in illegal buying, officials with direct knowledge of the plan said.
"The UPA government has unleashed 'tax terrorism' and 'uncertainty', which not only creates anxiety amongst the business class and negatively impacts the investment climate, but also dents the image of the country. The BJP realises the importance of having a tax policy roadmap, so that people are aware of the future and plan accordingly," the BJP said in its manifesto.

In its manifesto, the BJP promises to:

*Provide a non-adversarial and conducive tax environment.
*Rationalise and simplify the tax regime.
*Overhaul the dispute resolution mechanisms.
*Provide tax incentives for investments in research and development, geared towards indigenisation of technology and innovation.
*Use mobile and e-banking to ensure financial inclusion.
*Barring the multi-brand retail sector, FDI will be allowed in sectors wherever needed for job and asset creation, infrastructure and acquisition of niche technology and specialized expertise. BJP is committed to protecting the interest of small and medium retailers, SMEs and those employed by them.

Foreign ministry
India, the regional heavyweight, has long had difficult ties with its neighbours, most notably Pakistan, but also smaller nations, such as Nepal and Bangladesh, over trade, immigration and river sharing issues.
Modi may also be seeking to address concerns that long-time rival China is making inroads in the region.
China has built a port in Sri Lanka and is involved in upgrading another in Bangladesh, besides its military and civil assistance to long-time ally Pakistan, heightening Delhi's anxieties of being boxed in.

In its manifesto, the BJP promises to:

*In our neighbourhood we will pursue friendly relations. However, where required we will not hesitate from taking strong stand and steps.
*We will champion uniform international opinion on issues like terrorism and global warming.
*Instead of being led by big power interests, we will engage proactively on our own with countries in the neighbourhood and beyond.
*We will work towards strengthening Regional forums like SAARC and ASEAN.
*We will expand and empower our pool of diplomats, ensuring our message is taken to the world and our great nation represented on the whole in a befitting manner.
*The NRIs, PIOs and professionals settled abroad are a vast reservoir to articulate the national interests and affairs globally. This resource will be harnessed for strengthening Brand India.
*India shall remain a natural home for persecuted Hindus and they shall be welcome to seek refuge here.

Home ministry

Union home secretary Anil Goswami recently met Prime Minister-designate Modi and briefed him about the security situation, including in Jammu and Kashmir, Northeast and Maoist-affected areas.
Goswami is understood to have briefed Modi about the steps being taken to check activities of terror outfits and infiltration from across the border and action plan being implemented to deal with the Maoist menace, sources said. He is also believed to have briefed Modi about the process of division of Andhra Pradesh, from which two states will be carved out on June 2.

In its manifesto, the BJP promises to:

*Revive the anti-terror mechanism that has been dismantled by the Congress, strengthen the role of NIA and put a system in place for swift and fair trial of terror related cases.
*Reform the National Security Council to make it the hub of all sector-related assessments. It will be accountable for real-time intelligence dissemination. Digital and Cyber security will be a thrust area.
*Insulate intelligence agencies from political intervention and interference.
*Completely revamp the intelligence gathering system by modernizing the intelligence department.
*Provide the State governments with all assistance to modernize their respective police forces andequip them with the latest technology. This will be taken up on a mission mode approach.
*Strengthen and expand the civil defence and home guards mechanism to create a group of citizens for community defence, self-defence and disaster management.
*Take urgent steps for the safety of the migrant workers and communities from the northeast and other states.

Agriculture ministry

The new government may face a factor beyond its control: the El Nino weather pattern, typically associated with weak rains.
Analysts say El Nino could batter India's farm output. High vegetable prices and costlier staples such as rice have pushed India's wholesale inflation to a three-month high of 5.70% in March, while retail inflation quickened 8.31% during the month.
This is the first time in a quarter century that the country's growth will end below 5% in two successive years. And deficient monsoons, critical for the kharif crop, could fan prices further.
It could hurt industrial recovery, as well. When farm output is weak, rural spending goes down. For instance, rural buyers account for nearly half of all motorcycles sold in India.

In its manifesto, the BJP promises to:

*Increase public investment in agriculture and rural development.
*take steps to enhance the profitability in agriculture, by ensuring a minimum of 50% profits over the cost of production, cheaper agriculture inputs and credit; introducing latest technologies for farming and high yielding seeds and linking MGNREGA to agriculture.
*Put in place welfare measures for farmers above 60 years in age, small and marginal farmers and farm labours.
*Introduce and promote low water consuming irrigation techniques and optimum utilization of water resources.
*Introduce soil assessment based crop planning and setting up mobile soil testing labs.
*Focus on the quality, productivity and trade of spices.
*Promote horticulture, floriculture, pisciculture, bee-keeping and poultry for generating jobs and income for rural India.
*Explore setting up of regional Kisan TV channels.

Tourism ministry

Tourism is a sector that is considered close to Modi's heart.
The BJP states in its manifesto: "BJP recognises the role tourism and hospitality can play as a foreign exchange earner and its ability to create millions of jobs every year. Tourism plays a key role in socio-economic progress through creation of jobs, enterprise, infrastructure development, and foreign exchange earnings.
"BJP realises that the tourism sector needs a clear plan for growth, and BJP commits to initiate a mission mode project to create 50 tourist circuits that are affordable and built around themes like: a) archaeological and heritage, b) cultural and spiritual, c) Himalayan, d) desert, e) coastal, f) medical (Ayurveda and Modern Medicine), etc. This will lead to creation of infrastructure and employment around each tourist circuit and help in boosting revenue generation."?

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