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With less than a year to go for Lok Sabha polls, Centre turns focus on domestic policy

From announcing a bailout for the sugar industry to unveiling a new legislative architecture for higher education, the government pushed key measures. But it also faced setbacks, when it received no bids for Air India disinvestment.

india Updated: Jun 30, 2018 07:59 IST
HT Correspondents
HT Correspondents
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Lok Sabha polls,domestic policy,sugar industry
The most significant national development in June was the BJP pulling out of the Mehbooba Mufti government in J&K and the Modi government backing Governor’s rule in the state.(PTI)

June was a politically important month for the government. Kashmir remained the most crucial political issue — with non-extension of ceasefire and the introduction of governor’s rule. But with Lok Sabha polls less than a year away, the focus was also on domestic policy.

From announcing a bailout for the sugar industry to unveiling a new legislative architecture for higher education, the government pushed key measures. But it also faced setbacks, when it received no bids for Air India disinvestment.

As political competition intensifies, expect government decisions to acquire a sharper electoral undertone in the coming months. Here is a snapshot of developments in 10 ministries:

Ministry of external affairs
Minister: Sushma Swaraj
BIG ISSUE: During Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Indonesia, India received economic and military access to the strategic island of Sabang at the northern tip of Sumatra and close to the Malacca Strait. Sabang is located 710km southeast of Andaman Islands and less than 500km from the entrance of the Malacca Strait through which almost 40% of India’s trade passes.

SIGNIFICANCE: Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim country. And giving India access to the port marks a major shift in Indonesia’s attitude towards China and India. Until recently, Jakarta had been reluctant to seek a strategic alignment with Delhi and was in two minds about Beijing’s role in the region.

WATCH OUT: The Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) summit will be held in late July. With South Africa hosting the next summit, the grouping is a key vehicle for Delhi to advance its interests.
Jayanth Jacob
Ministry of defence
Minister: Nirmala Sitharaman
BIG ISSUE: India, the United States, and Japan deployed their naval assets off Guam in the Western Pacific for the Malabar exercise from June 6 to June 15. The three navies deployed a mix of aircraft carriers, submarines and warships in a variety of drills to sharpen their interoperability as China demonstrates a new assertiveness in the Asia-Pacific region.

SIGNIFICANCE: The drills were conducted at a time the US is realigning its posture in the Asia-Pacific by deploying more military assets, scaling up infrastructure and re-evaluating the scale and scope of exercises with its allies to counter China and its moves to militarise the region.

WATCH OUT: Indian stealth frigate INS Sahyadri is taking part in the US Navy-led multi-nation Rim of the Pacific exercise being staged around the HawaiianIslands through July.
Rahul Singh
Ministry of human resource development
Minister: Prakash Javadekar
BIG ISSUE: To improve academic standards, the ministry has prepared a draft Act to replace the University Grants Commission (UGC) with a new regulator for higher education. The task of providing grants, currently handled by UGC, will be taken away from the proposed Higher Education Commission of India so that it can focus solely on academic matters.

SIGNIFICANCE: For the first time, the proposed regulator will be empowered to crack down on bogus and sub-standard institutions. It will also have the power to revoke authorisation given to institutions to grant degrees in case standards are not maintained.

WATCH OUT: The government is likely to announce the list of Institutes of Eminence, with 10 government and 10 private institutions being provided greater autonomy.
Neelam Pandey
Ministry of home affairs
Minister: Rajnath Singh
BIG ISSUE: Jammu and Kashmir remained the biggest issue for the ministry of home affairs in June. It decided not to extend the suspension of counter-insurgency operations for Ramzan beyond Eid. The security of Amarnath Yatris became a key factor with the Centre ending the "unilateral ceasefire". The final straw was the killing of journalist Shujaat Bhukhari.

SIGNIFICANCE: While the Centre was prepared to relaunch operations against militants, voices urging the government to do so were amplified after Bukhari’s killing. On June 21, the BJP withdrew support to PDP, prompting CM Mufti to resign and pave the way for Governor’s Rule.

WATCH OUT: MHA will have a key role in improving the law and order situation under Governor’s Rule through better coordination between paramilitary forces and state police and instilling confidence among people.
Azaan Javaid
Ministry of agriculture
Minister: radha mohan singh
BIG ISSUE: The government has delayed announcing minimum support prices (MSPs) for 23 crops for the ensuing Kharif or summer-sown season. Sowing for summer crops is already under way and, so far, about 11.6 million hectares have been planted with crops such as pulses, rice, cotton and oilseeds.

SIGNIFICANCE: Analysts say absence of timely knowledge of support prices could hamper crop choices of farmers, leading to losses in income. MSPs constitute a key farm price policy, also serve as a so-called "price signal", meaning farmers tend to shift to crops with higher MSPs.

WATCH OUT: The government is expected to announce MSPs that are set at 1.5 times the cost of production so that farmers get 50% returns overcosts in the first week of July.
Zia Haq
BIG ISSUE: The government spent the month dealing with fallout from the absence of any bids for Air India as the deadline to submit them ended on May 31. The divestment of the debt-ridden national carrier was aimed at reducing the financial burden on the government. The lack of response came as a major setback to the privatisation bid.

SIGNIFICANCE: The move was billed among the biggest reforms of the government. The ministry believes market conditions and general stateof the industry explains the lack of response. Critics blame it on the conditions in the bid. The ministry will have to think of reviving AI.

WATCH OUT: Notification of the passenger charter, opening more routes under UDAN scheme, and finalising a drone policy are a few priorities for government.

Faizan Haider
BIG ISSUE: The Union women and child development ministry has finalised fresh amendments to the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986, widening the scope of the law to make indecent portrayal of women on the internet and over-the-top services andapplications punishable with a ~2 lakh fine and three years of imprisonment

SIGNIFICANCE: The move is significant as the old law did not cover indecent or obscene portrayal of women in digital services. The amendments will cover WhatsApp, instagram, and other over-the-top services.

WATCH OUT: The Cabinet may clear proposal to empower DMs to give approval in adoption cases. Adoptive parents presently have to go to civil or family courts to get a nod.
Faizan Haider
BIG ISSUE: The government in June announced its biggest package of incentives yet, worth Rs 7,000 crore, to bail out the sugar industry,where surplus output has led to a plunge in prices. The government has decided to build a 3-million tonne sugar buffer stock and grantsoft loans worth Rs 4,440 crore to help millers

SIGNIFICANCE: With profitability of mills hurt, owners haven’t been able to pay farmers, leading to arrears of more than Rs 22,000 crore. Sugar prices have dropped to their lowest in two years. Cane farmers are an influential lobby and could sway elections in UP, Maharashtra.

WATCH OUT: The food ministry is due to hold consultations with states to review prices of essential commodities during the monsoon season.
Zia Haq
BIG ISSUE: The ministry of information and broadcasting has decided to review its proposal to set up a social media hub that was to be set up for data gathering to help the government monitor social media platforms to carry out sentiment analysis, track down influencers and be aware of the mood building around important issues.

SIGNIFICANCE: The project was to be carried out by Broadcast Engineering Consultants India Limited (BECIL) and turned controversial after Opposition alleged the government would use this hub to snoop on people. There was pressure on ministry to explain the rationale.

WATCH OUT: The ministry has extended the last date for submission of bids for supply of software for hub that would collect and analyse digital and social media content.
Smriti Kak Ramachandran
BIG ISSUE: Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said no trees would be cut by either NBCC or CPWD in the process of redevelopment of seven colonies in South Delhi. Both agencies implementing the redevelopment project have been directed to re-work the design and plans for remaining redevelopment of the seven General Pool Residential Accommodation (GPRA) colonies.

SIGNIFICANCE: NBCC’s move to cut trees to make way for more space for colonies had met with protests from residents who opposed the decision on the ground that it will reduce the city’s green lungs.The ministry said more than a million trees will be transplanted.

WATCH OUT: The country’s first-of-its-kind liveability index that will rates 113 cities on various social, physical, economic and governance indicators will be released next month.
Moushumi Das Gupta

First Published: Jun 30, 2018 07:30 IST