In an energetic burst of speedy efficiency, unfamiliar in Indian politics, the union cabinet along with the cabinet committee on economic affairs cleared around 70 pending and new projects at a meeting on Monday within just over three hours. In effect, this meant that a proposal was cleared every three minutes.
While the decisions were obviously pushed through much scope fordiscussion, it is reported that the three-hour sitting proved a little too long for several of the cabinet ministers, who got bored and left well before proceedings were concluded.
The rush is on because the Election Commission is expected to announce the dates for the upcoming general elections at the end of the week, and once it does so, no new policies can be announced, under the 'model code of conduct' now in force.
The cabinet meeting, presided over by external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee, is likely to be repeated tomorrow, when more such projects will be cleared - some of which have been pending for months awaiting cabinet approval. Proposals from various ministries were pouring in throughout Sunday, all in an effort to beat the EC deadline.
Apart from constitutional propriety, investors may well wonder about the ad hoc nature of decision-making in India, where some projects languish for lack of necessary permissions while others are cleared almost without debate.
Railways the big gainer
The bulk of the proposals cleared on Monday were related to the ministries of health, railways and agriculture. After the meeting, home minister P Chidambaram announced a few of the decisions, like imposition of stock limits for sugar and clearance of Japanese telecom firm DoCoMo's acquisition proposals.
Other projects to be cleared expeditiously include setting up a rail coach factory in Sonia Gandhi's constituency of Rae Bareli and rail loco plants in Chapra and Madhepura - two Lok Sabha constituencies from where railway minister Lalu Prasad was elected in 2004.
Railways had found it difficult to find private partners for these units. On Monday, the union cabinet junked the old proposals, allowing the railways to pick up the Rs21,737 crore tab for the big ticket projects in VIP constituencies. ''Joint venture partners for the projects could not be found,'' Chidambaram said.
The CCEA also approved three petroleum, chemicals and petrochemicals investment regions (PCPIRs) at Haldia in West Bengal, Dahej in Gujarat and Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh, under the public-private model. ''This will be subject to the existing viability gap funding rules,'' Chidambaram said.
Some of the other decisions were extension of the second administrative reforms commission by one month, an amended right to education bill, amendment of the civil defence act to allow use of volunteers for disaster situations, and a central package of Rs821.88 crore for the tsunami-affected areas of Andaman & Nicobar Islands.