Plus & Minus

“A weekly column: Plus&Minus will be published in Hindustan Times, Jaipur Live. This will speak to the ordinary reader on contemporary economic issues in a simple format”.

    Converting Intent into Reality
    Hindustan Times Jaipur Live, August 31, 2009

By Pradeep S Mehta

There are good tidings for Rajasthan’s investment scenario. A study by business chamber, ASSOCHAM shows that Rajasthan has emerged as the leading state in northern India for attracting the largest planned investment in 2008-09. It has cornered Rs 69,052 crores for upgrading and modernising its infrastructure in nine areas. Now is the time to take stock of the planned investments and see how the same can be realised on the ground.

The fact is that the investment is coming into the infra area, which is an acute necessity. If we can improve our power situation; if we can upgrade the road network; if we can bolster connectivity; if we can expand housing; and most crucially if we can reduce hurdles in getting myriad permits and approvals, such as conversion of land etc, we can turn much of the intent into a reality.

I am not a skeptic but a pragmatist, hence will be happy if the state government can tell us what these investments are, where do they stand as on today, and how will they be materialized over what period of time.

In May, when I started writing this column under the story title of Double Whammy (https://pradeepsmehta.com/Articles-PlusMinus), I had pointed out that it takes twice the time to start a business in Rajasthan as against other states. The State Government is addressing this issue, and hope we can see some quick wins. We do have an advantage over other states, such as proximity to Delhi, law and order and so on. Most importantly, we have a stable government at the centre and the state with the same party, and that should help seamless policy immersion.

One important step forward is the setting up of a single window service, which the state government is committed to. That needs to be institutionalised, rather than be kept under an ad hoc arrangement. It will need teeth and that would also mean changes in the rules of allocation of business.

There will be some turf issues, but the Chief Minister, Ashok Gehlot can and should tackle them. In his earlier term as CM, Gehlot was heard lamenting that the bureaucracy in Rajasthan is of two types: firstly, honest officers who are scared of dealing with investors and thus keep passing the buck around. The second, the dishonest ones, who fleece the investor who then runs away. Gehlot’s desire was that Rajasthan can do better than Gujarat if only the officers started working sincerely.

This can be done, if the government identifies enterprising officers within the state bureaucracy and put them into key positions. He should not hesitate to work with good officers just because they were close to the earlier regime. Prejudices and biases will not help. After all they were close because they knew how the system works and how to deliver within the system. Having identified them through a public scrutiny process, they should be given predictable tenures and targets with a carrot and stick. Aberrations took place and will continue to do so. Whatever maybe the shortcomings within the civil service system, it still works. What it needs is a clear direction and political whip to deliver. That’s the challenge for Ashok Gehlot.

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