Business Today

Adding up to Zero

In its five years at the Centre, the United Progressive Alliance government persevered for just one goal: Survival. Here’s a rating for its key ministers.

Puja Mehra | Print Edition: April 5, 2009

Five years is a long time to transform a sector, give it a new direction. Manmohan Singh and P. Chidambaram had demonstrated this in the early 1990s.

How many sectors appear transformed since 2004? Not many. Aside from the notable exceptions—Lalu Prasad who had the Railways turned around and Praful Patel who pulled off a sea change in air travel—which too seem a result more of the ministers’ personal ambitions than the imperatives of good governance. The rest of the Dream Team, it appeared, did not even bother with step one: envisage blueprints for changes. The few to have one—Chidambaram unsuccessfully strived for some sensible policy push—failed to make any headway. Singh’s resolve and statesmanship was reserved exclusively for the nuclear deal.

UPA’s surprise over gaining the seat of power prevented a game plan for governance from falling into place. In the end, in terms of policy reforms, India is not poised any better than it was five years ago.

Raghuvansh Prasad
The Empowerer

The Rural Development Minister’s tireless efforts in pushing the rural employment guarantee scheme have lent voice and choice to the poor.

Hot stats: 1,81,000 kms of rural roads,19 million houses under the Indira Awaas Yojna, coverage under Total Sanitation Campaign increased from 21% in 2001 to 59%.

Hard task master: Routinely took stock, pulled up chief secretaries of states over lack of progress.

Master stroke: Nearly every state government was forced to revise upwards the statutory minimum wage rate for the first time in decades as the poor prefer the better-paying rural employment guarantee scheme.

Grassroots worker:
Computerisation of land record systems.

Legacy: A system of funds disbursement and supervision through 5.77 crore NREGA bank and post office accounts.

Dayanidhi Maran
The Raja Of The Rings

In three years as Telecom Minister, Maran fought his Cabinet colleagues and over-charging telcos to deliver tangibles.

Master stroke: Eased entry by dropping the entry fee for domestic long-distance telephone services from Rs 100 crore to Rs 2.5 crore. Cut the international long distance fee from Rs 25 crore to Rs 2.5 crore. Publicly goaded telcos to cut tariffs by five times to the lowest level in the world.

FDI Go-Getter: Bagged big-buck IT deals from Nokia, Microsoft and IBM. Battled the Left for 18 months to get the FDI cap raised to 74 per cent.

Grassroots worker: Helped lift rural teledensity from 1.5 to 6 per cent.

T. R. Baalu
The Show-Stopper

The minister for roads killed the momentum built by the NDA.

Cold stats: Not one project completed on time. Of the 32,939 km of the NHDP, barely 9,463 km is ready. Projects worth Rs 84,000-Rs 98,000 crore are held up.

Chained to Chennai: Dispatched disproportionate amounts of central resources for Chennai’s roads and flyovers that the NHAI had no mandate for.

Deadly stroke: Changed four NHAI chairmen in 20 months. No projects awarded during July-December 2008.

Son rise sector: Wrote repeatedly to the PMO for making gas available to companies owned by his son, which stirred fierce debates in Parliament.

Legacy: An acclaimed infrastructure initiative virtually brought to a halt.

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