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Government has done more work in 60 days than UPA did in six Parliament sessions: Nirmala Sitharaman

Author: Dilasha Seth, Vinay Pandey & Deepshikha Sikarwar, ET Bureau
Publication:  The Economic Times
Date: August 8, 2014
URL: http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2014-08-08/news/52593977_1_peace-clause-nirmala-sitharaman-upa-government

There is a deliberate attempt to create a perception that the Modi government has not met expectations, says Nirmala Sitharaman, minister of state (independent charge) for commerce and industry, finance and corporate affairs. In an interview to ET, Sitharaman said the government has done more work in 60 days than previous government did in six Parliament sessions. Edited excerpts:

Q.: Congress has blocked the FDI in insurance sector bill. How do you plan to progress on it?
A.: The finance minister has the strength of the argument when he says that the government is not doing anything different from what the Congress had proposed. Why do you have to play a spoiler? They must express where their difficulties are and explain their logic. We are willing to take on pointed questions. But don't do shadow boxing.

Q.: Do you see it as a strategy to block reforms before PM's visit to US?
A.:  Undoubtedly, it is. There is a deliberately-cultivated perception that Modi has not met with expectations in the market, society or political expectations. You say it's a lacklustre performance. Be realistic! It is just 65 days. They are reiterating the same charge — we want to shut the Parliament before 14th and that they are not allowed to speak.

 Congress has adopted a strategy of raising an issue even when there is none. Throw newspaper in front of the Speaker, still she goes on with business; so make your leader go to the well. Parliamentary affairs minister comes and gives assurance of an allparty meeting and we are not ignoring you. Then your vice-president says only one man's voice is being heard. We're willing to be thrashed and questioned. But, come up with an issue please.

Q.: The first budget by the BJP government did not get a great reaction.
A.:  Budget gets presented after 45 days of taking charge, when seven months of the calendar year and four months of financial year were already over. We also need to take into account the fact the way in which the outgoing government utilised the advanced collection of revenue, having to some extent pushed subsidies to oil marketing companies' books, which showed less expenditure and more of income, not due to that phase of the fiscal.

 Those who have not gone into the details of the budget are calling it a lacklustre one. It is midcourse and has its limitations from so many different angles, but still it has given a lot of window of hope.

Q.: The UPA government harped of a victory at WTO in December, claiming that they got a peace clause. Now India had to veto the global trade deal...
A.:  Anand Sharma came back and told Parliament then that he has got the deal, a peace clause. The fact is that you didn't get a peace clause for perpetuity, but only till 2017, after which you will be taken to arbitration every time you cross (subsidy) limit. I am only doing a course correction. I don't want bad blood flowing by saying that he signed a faulty agreement.

Q.: What will be the way forward?
A.: At the pace they are moving, they are not going to have permanent solution come up by 2017. Yes, we used TF (trade facilitation) protocol signing as a bargaining bait as we had no confidence that developed countries will come back to WTO after the trade facilitation. They would have no incentive to come after they have got access to your market.

 The fact is, from the beginning they are talking about it as trade distortion subsidy. We are not buying the entire stock but a large enough necessary for 60 per cent-65 per cent population in a drought prone country. And how can you base it on 1986-88 prices? Which economist will do that? We are pinning hopes that by September we will be able to talk to them and get a permanent solution.

Q.: It has been over two months since you took over, but no action on FDI in multi-brand retail yet. Anything coming?
Q.: No action yet. Status quo remains. Since no application has come there is no hurry for us to address the issue.

Q.: What about opening up of e-commerce sector to foreign investment?
A.:  As of now, FDI in e-commerce is not moving. We are watching developments but haven't spent much time on deciding whether we need to address it with a great intensity.

Q.: There has been a turf war over the FDI issue between the finance ministry and DIPP for the last 10 years. Are you planning to address it in some way?
A.: The fact that one minister was put to bridge the two was in itself a positive step. Hopefully the issue will be resolved. We can leave aside the debate of whether the increase from 26 per cent to 49 per cent is sufficient but movement on FDI has started. That is because it has been facilitated by someone doing the bridgework. I have a minister (Arun Jaitley) who is open minded about things.

Q.: USTR officials are visiting India this week. Also their 'out of cycle review' of the Special 301 report on India's IPR regime is expected in a month or two. How do you plan to deal with the bully attitude of US?

A.:  That could have been the case earlier, at least six months ago. But now, though issues remain and have to be sorted out, the roadmap has been clearly laid for greater understanding and cooperation after John Kerry's visit. Irrespective of irritants, both countries are going to work out ways to sort them. I must credit Penny Pritzker, who said that they wanted to move forward and talk about the pestering issues with a problem-solving approach.
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