Narendra Modi’s interview to PTI

By M K Razdan
New Delhi

Hinting at opening up of more sectors, Prime Minister Narendra Modi today said areas with high employment potential and strong local talent will be the focus to woo foreign investment and expressed confidence that reform measures like GST and land acquisition bills will be passed in “a matter of time”.

On the land bill, which the government wants to push early but has now been referred to a parliamentary committee, he said the government will accept any suggestions that benefit “Gaon, Garib, Kisan (village, poor and farmer)”.

In a wide-ranging interview to PTI, Modi asserted that measures already taken in past one year have increased the attractiveness of India as an investment destination and investor confidence has improved.

He also dismissed suggestions of differences between finance ministry and Reserve Bank, saying the Central bank has its functional autonomy which the government will “always respect and preserve”.

“Wherever there is high employment potential and wherever we have strong local talent, for example, in research and development: those will be the areas of focus for FDI.

“We have created the National Infrastructure Investment Fund. This is a major step which will increase the flow of foreign investments into all infrastructure sectors, without needing separate sector-by-sector approaches,” he said.

Asked whether obstacles to reform measures like Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill and amendment to Land Acquisition Bill was hurting the economy, the Prime Minister said both the GST and the proposed Land Acquisition Bill are beneficial for the country.

“The core essence of these Bills should be appreciated by all the parties keeping aside political motives. Long term interest of the nation should be foremost.

“The fact that the States have agreed to the GST design, shows the maturity of our federal system and the GST Bill has already been passed by the Lok Sabha. It is a matter of time before these laws are passed,” he said.

To a question what kind of a message would it send to foreign investors if reform measures are not pushed fast, the Prime Minister said, “One of the peculiarities of Delhi is that the term ‘reform’ is associated only with passing of laws in Parliament.

“In fact, the most important reforms needed are those without new laws at various levels of Government, in work practices and procedures.”

Modi said the government has initiated a number of major reforms which include decontrol of diesel prices, direct transfer of cooking gas subsidy, enhancement of FDI limits, revamping of railways and many others.

“The truth is that reform has actually been pushed very fast and in fact as a result FDI has already witnessed an increase of 39 per cent in the period April, 2014 to February, 2015 compared to the previous year,” he said.

He also maintained that the success of steps that the government has taken and the positive response of the people to them in the first year “have encouraged us to do even more”.

“Our focus will be on P2G2, i.e. Pro-active, Pro-people Good Governance reforms. Another aspect we will emphasize and strengthen is that the State and the Centre are one team which has to work together for reforms to be effective,” he said.

Asked about reports of RBI and finance ministry on the same page on issues, Modi said, “I am surprised that an important and credible media agency like PTI is drawing an incorrect inference based on remarks made in different contexts. RBI has its functional autonomy which the Government and the Finance Ministry always respect and preserve”.

On the economic growth prospects for the current year, Modi said based experience of the last year and the enthusiasm of the people give confidence that all economic indicators will exceed the targets.

“I do not want to undermine the potential and the efforts by giving any figure which may turn out to be too low,” he said.

To a question about Opposition accusation that the government was pro-corporates while some in industry like Deepak Parekh say nothing is happening on ground, he said, “The answer is to be found in your question itself. If opponents are accusing us of being pro-corporate but the Corporates are saying we are not helping them, then I take it that our decisions and initiatives are pro-people and in the long term interests of the nation”.

On the issue of making progress on the BJP’s election promise on stringent action against back blackmoney, he said the very first decision of the Government after taking office was to constitute the Special Investigation Team to pursue black money.

“This step had been pending for years with no action and we executed it in our very first Cabinet meeting.

Subsequently, we have also brought a new Bill which will combat black money held abroad and it prescribes stiff penalties.

“Thanks to our efforts, an agreement was reached at the G-20 summit in November 2014 to curb tax evasion and in particular to exchange information between countries. This will help us to trace black money. These are very strong and concrete actions,” he said.

To a question on the agrarian crisis in the country, the Prime Minister said suicide by farmers has been a serious concerns for several years.

“Political point-scoring through comparing how many suicides occurred under which government will not solve the problem. For a government of any party, and for every one of us, even one suicide is worrisome,” he said.

Modi expressed “great sadness” that mudslinging between the ruling and opposition parties would be unproductive and, respecting the sanctity of Parliament, “we need to collectively find an answer to this issue.

“We need to find where we have gone wrong and why we are not able to solve this over so many years. I have asked all parties for their suggestions to bring contentment and security to our farmers. I want to assure our farmers that this Government will never be found wanting in doing whatever is needed for their welfare,” he said.

Stating that there has been a good beginning on bridging the trust deficit between Centre and states, Modi said the experience of Chief Ministers with the Centre over many years has generated an atmosphere of distrust.

“Doodh ka jala chhaachh bhi phook phook kar peeta hai” -once bitten twice shy. Even now there is a lot of mutual suspicion between the Centre and the States as a legacy of the previous decades.

“However, I can say that there has been a good beginning in building trust. The NITI Aayog is acting as a catalyst to build a vibrant Centre-State partnership to take the nation forward. This spirit of partnership and team work is gradually increasing and the fruits will be seen in the coming years,” he said.

To a question about criticism that powers are concentrated in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), he said the government has made major increases in the delegated powers of individual Ministries so that many decisions that earlier needed to come to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet can now be taken by Ministries themselves.

“The financial delegation for ministries has been trebled. Devolution to the states has been increased and states have become full partners in governance through the NITI Aayog.

“All successful and transformational administrations need close coordination across different Ministries and there is nothing unique in it. We have not made any changes in the Business Rules of Government and decisions are taken by those authorised to take them,” he added.

Hitting back at Sonia Gandhi for her sharp attacks on him, Prime Minister Narendra Modi today suggested that she had been an “unconstitutional” authority exercising “real” power over the PMO during the UPA rule whereas power was now wielded only by constitutional means.

Dismissing the Congress President’s accusation that NDA government was showing “obstinate arrogance” in Parliament and that it was a government by “one person”, Modi said, “Perhaps, she is referring to the fact that earlier extra-constitutional authorities were the ones really wielding power”.

He went on to say that power was now “wielded only by constitutional means”. If the charge is that “we are working through constitutional channels and not listening to any extra constitutional authorities, then I plead guilty to that charge.”

His sharpest attack yet on both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi came in the course of an interview to PTI during which he also answered questions on “concentration” of power in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), minorities, NGOs, land acquisition and GST bills, economic reforms and a wide variety of other topics.

Asked about the criticism that all powers were concentrated in the PMO, Modi responded, “Your question is loaded. It would have been better if this question had been asked when an unconstitutional authority was sitting above the constitutional authority and exercising power over the PMO”.

He emphasised that “the Prime Minister and the PMO are very much part of the constitutional scheme, not outside it”.

Countering Rahul’s “suit-boot ki sarkar” jibe, Modi said that the Congress had not been able to “digest” its crushing defeat in Lok Sabha polls even after one year.

“The people have punished them for their sins of omission and comission. We thought they would learn from this, but it looks as though they are proving right the earlier saying that if con is the opposite of pro, then Congress is the opposite of progress,” he said.

Countering the charge of concentrating powers in PMO, Modi said that increased powers had been delegated to individual ministries with the result that many decisions that earlier needed to come to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet can now be taken by ministries themselves.

He said that the financial delegation for ministries had been trebled and devolution to the states had been increased.

“We have not made any changes in the business rules of the government and decisions are taken by those authorised to take them,” he maintained.

On land acquisition bill on which he has been charged by the opposition with favouring the corporates, Modi said that while he did not want to get into political mudslinging, the subject of land was not with the central government which did not require lands. All rights relating to lands are with the states.

“The 120-year-old Land Acquisition Act was amended by the previous government without even 120 minutes of discussion in Parliament. Thinking the bill was good for farmers, we also supported it at that time.

“Later, many complaints came from the states. One should not be so arrogant as to avoid correcting mistakes. So we brought the bill to rectify the errors, that too in response to the demands of the states. Anyone who looks at our proposed amendments without politically-tinted glasses will give us full marks,” he said.

Asked if the government was open to suggestions on the bill, the Prime Minister replied, “Gaon (village), Garib (poor), Kisan (farmer)-if the suggestions are favourable to these downtrodden groups and are in the interest of the nation, we will accept those suggestions”.

Modi said that the bills on land acquisition and Goods and Services Tax (GST) were beneficial for the country and “it is a matter of time before these laws are passed”.

On the agragrian crisis and suicides by farmers, the Prime Minister said that the suicides have been a concern for several years and “political point-scoring” would not solve the problem.

“I want to assure our farmers that this government will never be found wanting in doing whatever is needed for their welfare,” he said, adding that he had asked all parties for their suggestions to bring contentment and security to the farmers.

Answering a question on attacks on minority communities and their institutions, Modi said any criminal act against any individual or institution in the country is to be condemned.

“The attackers must be strongly punished as per law. I have said this before and I say it again (that) any discrimination or violence against any community will not be tolerated,” he said.

Defending the Centre’s action against NGOs which has been widely criticised, Modi said the steps taken are only to enforce the law as passed by the previous government. “There has been no action taken contrary to law. No patriotic citizen can object to this”.

Dismissing opposition criticism of his frequent foreign trips, Modi responded by saying that 17 years without a visit by an Indian Prime Minister to Nepal was not a good situation.

“Just because we are a large country, we cannot be arrogant and think that we can ignore others. We live in a different era. Terrorism is global and can come from several remote countries.

“International summits and organisations like WTO take decisions which will bind us and if we are not present in such summits, we may be hurt by the decisions taken,” he said.

Modi said that ever since he had taken office “my friends in the opposition have been levelling baseless allegations about my foreign trips” but “all recent surveys show that the highest approval rating is for our foreign policy”.

The Prime Minister, who entered the second year in office today, spoke about programmes like Swachch Bharat, toilets for schools, Jan Dhan, insurance for poor and pensions schemes launched by his government.

He said that the future focus of his government would be on women, farmers, the urban poor and on employment. “Whatever we have started, needs to be taken forward and into the villages and municipal areas”.

Modi said that when he took over, “the civil service was totally demoralised and afraid of taking decisions”.

The Cabinet system was also in “disrepair due to the operation of extra-constitutional authorities from outside and groups of ministers from inside”, he said, adding that changing the atmosphere of gloom was a very challenging task.

He had faced “many difficulties in rectifying the situation and bringing back confidence and hope”, the Prime Minister said.

Asked if he had “understood Delhi” by now, Modi replied that when he assumed office, “I found that the corridors of power in Delhi were littered with lobbies of various kinds.

“The task of cleaning the corridors of power(or cleaning the lobby of lobbies) was important so that the government machinery itself is improved. This process of correction and cleaning took quite some time but it will provide long term benefits in the form of clean and fair governance,” he said.

He went on to say, “One thing I fail to understand in Delhi is how the same parties which as state governments seek amendments to the land acquisition law suddenly become opponents of the amendments when they are sitting in Delhi”.


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