At the close of the UPA’s last term in April, BT rated its top economic ministers. Our conclusion: the good, the not-so-good and the bad individual performances collectively drew a zero. Still, voters handed it another—stronger—mandate. Here’s where the new ministers stand for earning a 10 for UPA’s second tenure.
Experience & knowledge: Moderate. She presided over Rail Bhawan for a year-and-a half in the NDA government. The tenure was lacklustre.
Openness to reform: low. She assumed office unconventionally in Sealdah, West Bengal and on an overtly populist note promised freebies.
Circumstances: Tough. The slowdown has hit freight, while passenger trains are chock-a-block. Lalu’s nowfamous restructuring lifted the Railways’ finances, but passenger experience is pathetic.
Scope: Immense: New routes, private participation, freight corridors, safety— several heads need focussed attention.
Probability of success(on the scale of 10): 3
COMMERCE & INDUSTRY
Experience & knowledge: Good. He will draw from the network of Indian missions and his relationship with Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee— his former senior in the ministry of external affairs.
Openness to reform: High. He wants exporters to be more competitive than their Chinese rivals, but, unlike his predecessor, not through mindless lobbying for tax incentives.
Circumstances: Tough. He doesn’t expect the rate of growth of exports to reverse its downward trend before September.
Scope: Moderate. Global demand is shrinking, the developed world is still in recession. He has said he won’t let exports fall below last year’s $64 billion.
Probability of success(on the scale of 10): 6
RURAL DEVELOPMENT & PANCHAYATI
C P Joshi
Experience & knowledge: Moderate. He handled the same portfolio in Rajasthan and is a doer with a feel for the rural, but his short fuse could be a spoiling factor. Will have to show an ability to conceive delivery mechanisms and move from a state-level perspective to a national view.
Openness to reform: Good. Is unlikely to be excessively populist.
Circumstances: Fair. The sector is already on a growth trajectory after the UPA’s big-buck rural push. His upright, tireless predecessor Raghuvansh Prasad Singh left a tough performance benchmark to emulate.
Scope: Very high. Since even after decades of relentless social spend, India’s poor remain impoverished. He can choose from programme restructuring, leak-proof delivery, stringent monitoring and real empowerment of the people.
Probability of success(on the scale of 10): 7
ROADS & HIGHWAYS
Experience & knowledge: Good. As Commerce Minister of UPA 1, the five-time Cabinet minister extracted concessions from the Finance Ministry. His SEZ experience will come in handy in getting states to speed up land acquisitions for roads.
Openness to reform: High, though he can be fairly populist too.
Circumstances: Fair. PM has put roads on high priority so mustering support, incentives and resources will be easy.
Probability of success(on the scale of 10): 8
PETROLEUM & NATURAL GAS
Experience & knowledge: Good owing to his last stint and his effective corporate network.
Scope: Immense. Critical decisions are pending: Decontrol of petrol and diesel prices (at least within band); pricing norms for gas, targeting of subsidies on kerosene and LPG, tax concessions for gas exploration, national gas highways and taking LPG to rural India.
Openness to reform: High. He wanted to decontrol petrol prices when global crude hit a low in March ’09.
Circumstances: Favourable since the Left is gone and PM is open to oil-sector reforms.
Probability of success(on the scale of 10): 7
Experience & knowledge: Excellent. He is hardworking and bright and understands the requirements of the portfolio. He worked with the PMO on behalf of the Congress party for thrashing out a policy agenda for this government.
Openness to reform: Very HIGH. PM chose him as delays in environment clearances impede infrastructure projects.
Circumstances: Challenging. Among businessmen, this ministry is known more for bureaucratic delays than for environmental protection. He will have to tread his way through the years of pending cases of environment clearances. This is essential to help his colleagues in infrastructure ministries and private players to push projects through. India’s position on the global warming and environment-related issues still do not enjoy much support.
Scope: Immense. Scores of roads and power projects are pending due to delay in environment clearances. The critical subject of climate change is also very close to the PM’s heart.
Probability of success(on the scale of 10): 9
IT & COMMUNCATIONS
Experience & knowledge: Deplorable. As the Telecom Minister in the UPA’s last stint, he cost the exchequer about Rs 50,000 crore with his dubious handling of the sale of new 2G licences. More than once hedefied the PM and the finance ministry’s advice on it. His dilly-dallying also put India far behind the rest of the world on 3G telecom services. He’s likely to be more sensitive to the DMK party’s politics in Tamil Nadu than policy making in Electronics Bhawan.
Openness to reform: Low. Instead of finding ways of auctioning the 2G licences and the spectrum that went with them, he used all sorts of excuses—from an outdated NDA-prescribed guideline to non-existing recommendations from TRAI—for being arbitrary.
Circumstances: Not so bad. Mainly as telecom is a success story of the private enterprise.
Scope: Immense as number portability, rural penetration of broadband, privatisation of BSNL and MTNL and 3G services are all on the agenda.
Probability of success(on the scale of 10): 1