From Russia to Kashmir Valley, the May reset in govt policy
A snapshot of what happened in the Narendra Modi government in May and what to look out for in June.
indiaUpdated: May 31, 2018 12:12 IST
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
As the NDA government marked the fourth anniversary on May 26, it was also time for consolidation and recalibration. In foreign policy, the focus was on steering ties with Russia back on track. Domestically, the government suspended counter-insurgency operations for the month of Ramzan in the Kashmir Valley, and is laying the ground for talks with separatist leaders. Ministries, meanwhile, continue to deal with challenges, from sugarcane arrears to university autonomy. Here is a snapshot of what happened in the government in May and what to look out for in June.
MINISTRY OF EXTERNAL AFFAIRS
Minister: Sushma SwarajBIG ISSUE: On May 24, PM Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin held a summit in Sochi aimed at imparting a new verve to the two countries’ time-tested partnership. The meet came in the wake of Moscow’s complaints over a decline in Indian purchases of Russian military equipment over the years and proposed US sanctions against Russia coming in the way of some defence orders.SIGNIFICANCE: The meeting helped the two leaders take stock of bilateral ties, share their views on regional and international developments, and look at a road map for the future. They affirmed faith in a multi-polar world, and pledged to strengthen defence and energy ties and cooperate in the Indo-Pacific region.WATCH OUT: Modi will be in the Chinese city of Qingdao from June 9 to 10 to attend a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. He will also meet Chinese President Xi bilaterally on the sidelines of the summit.
MINISTRY OF HOME AFFAIRS
Minister: RAJNATH SINGHBIG ISSUE: On May 16, the home ministry decided to suspend counter-insurgency operations in J&K for the Islamic holy month of Ramzan in a goodwill gesture. State’s CM Mebhooba Mufti proposed the "ceasefire" on the lines of the suspension of anti-militant operations between November 2000 and May 2001 when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the prime minister.SIGNIFICANCE: With a halt in operations, the govt hoped to reinforce confidence among Kashmiris and ease tension caused by the killings of militants, civilians and personnel this year. The Centre also hoped to lay the foundation for a peace dialogue with separatist leaders.WATCH OUT: Home minister Rajnath Singh sent feelers for talks with separatists, who sought clarity on the proposed dialogue, indicating that an environment conducive for talks must be created one step at a time.
MINISTRY OF DEFENCE
Minister: NIRMALA SITHARAMANBIG ISSUE: The defence ministry ordered the opening of closed roads in military cantonments to civilian traffic. The decision was taken after defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman met MPs and the elected vice-presidents of 62 Cantonment Boards. The ministry said standard operating procedures will be issued to address the needs of public and military.SIGNIFICANCE: The decision spawned a backlash from several quarters including the families of soldiers and veterans who said it would compromise the security of cantonments. The wives of army officers launched a signature campaign on social media against the decision.WATCH OUT: The government is under pressure to withdraw the order. The army says the decision on opening or closing the roads will be taken after feedback is received from military authorities.
MINISTRY OF HUMAN RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT
Minister: PRAKASH JAVADEKARBIG ISSUE: The University Grants Commission (UGC) approved regulations allowing universities and other educational institutions to offer certificate, diploma, and degree programmes online from this academic session. Institutions will be able to offer only those programmes that they have already been offering at the undergraduate level.SIGNIFICANCE: The move is aimed at achieving the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) target of 30% by 2020. The GER in 2016-17 stood at 25.2%. The government wants to provide flexibility to professionals and students to opt for higher education through online programmes.WATCH OUT: The government is likely to come out with a list of institutions under the "Institutes of Eminence" scheme. Under this, 20 higher educational institutions would be given greater regulatory freedom.
MINISTRY OF CIVIL AVIATION
Minister: SURESH PRABHUBIG ISSUE: The ministry has come up with a draft passenger charter, which will offer benefits to passengers. Once notified, the charter will help flyers cancel tickets free of charge as long as they do it within 24 hours of booking and at least four days ahead of the scheduled departure. They will also be allowed to make corrections in names without paying a fee.SIGNIFICANCE: The charter also has provisions for passengers with physical disabilities; it instructs airlines to provide fresh food to passengers if a flight has not taken off after 60 minutes on the tarmac. Taken together, it has the potential to qualitatively change the flying experience.WATCH OUT: The deadline for submission of expressions of interest (EoI) for Air India is May 31 and the Request for Proposal document could be issued after June 15.
MINISTRY OF CONSUMER AFFAIRS, FOOD AND PUBLIC DISTRIBUTION
Minister: RAM VILAS PASWANBIG ISSUE: The government took a key decision to provide a production subsidy to sugar farmers amounting to Rs 5.5 a quintal. The Centre fixes cane prices for farmers each year, called fair and remunerative price (FRP), at which mills must buy from farmers. This subsidy will be part of the FRP or the cost that sugar mills pay.SIGNIFICANCE: The sugar sector is currently roiled by a glut. Millers suffering losses owe Rs 20,000 crore to farmers. Annual output will likely be 30.3 million tonnes in the 2017-18 "sugar season" that comes to a close on September 30. This subsidy will help millers pay off farmers.WATCH OUT: Interministerial consultations have now begun on the next course of action, which includes prosposals for a sugar cess on the GST, minimum selling price and buffer stock.
MINISTRY OF WATER RESOURCES
Minister: NITIN GADKARIBIG ISSUE: The Cauvery water-sharing issue between Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry seems to have been resolved after the Supreme Court approved a Centre-offered scheme. The Centre also formed the Cauvery Water Management Authority--which will implement the February 16 SC orders and recommendations by the Cauvery Tribunal.SIGNIFICANCE: The scheme is aimed at ending a 150-year-old dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu on the sharing of Cauvery waters. If implemented, the scheme is likely to ensure adequate water for Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry.WATCH OUT: The focus of the ministry is Ganga rejuvenation. The minister for water resources, Nitin Gadkari, has promised an 80% clean Ganga by next March.
MINISTRY OF SOCIAL JUSTICE & EMPOWERMENT
Minister: THAWARCHAND GEHLOTBIG ISSUE: The ministry has written to the department of personnel and training to ensure that the reservation policy is followed even in hiring of personnel on a temporary basis and even for work that is outsourced. As per the reservation policy, 15% of government jobs are meant for SC candidates , and 7.5% and 27% are set apart for ST and OBC candidates.SIGNIFICANCE: The ministry said a significant number of jobs for which government departments and ministries have hired people are on a term basis. But the reservation policy has not been followed in such hiring, denying jobs to many SC, ST and OBC candidates.WATCH OUT: It has to be seen if the ministries implement the quota policy for all recruitment to ensure candidates from the reserved categories are not denied jobs.
MINISTRY OF INFORMATION AND BROADCASTING
Minister: RAJYAVARDHAN RATHOREBIG ISSUE: A row erupted at the National Film Awards ceremony when some winners boycotted the event, saying they weren’t told that President Ram Nath Kovind won’t hand over all the awards. The President’s office clarified that under the new protocol, Kovind did not give more than an hour to any event and this had been communicated to the ministry.SIGNIFICANCE: The issue led to the Rashtrapati Bhavan conveying its ‘deep distress’ to the PMO over the manner in which the office of the President had been dragged into a controversy. It also led to public criticism of the ministry for its mishandling of the issue.WATCH OUT: May also saw a change in the ministry, with Rajyavardhan Rathore taking charge of the portfolio. Over the next month, all eyes are on the minister’s policy moves.
MINISTRY OF RAILWAYS
Minister: PIYUSH GOYALBIG ISSUE: Train delays have emerged as the biggest issue for the railways as safety becomes the main priority. Railway punctuality figures show that almost 30% of trains ran late in 2017-18, the national transporter’s worst performance since 2010-11. The Railway Board chairperson admitted that there are delays, but attributes them to ongoing safety work.SIGNIFICANCE: Of the 17 zones, trains running in the North Central Zone, which includes Kanpur, Tundla, Agra and the stretch till Mughalsarai, were the least punctual. While 60% of trains run on time across Indian Railways, the figure was about 40% in April in the North Central Zone.WATCH OUT: A section of the dedicated freight corridor is likely to be opened in June. The railways are likely to issue a tender for new signalling systems on this route.