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Last Updated Tuesday March 31 2020 08:32 AM IST

Reform hopes, rollback of sops

Sachidananda Murthy
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Arun Jaitley Union finance minister Arun Jaitley (file photo)

Repeated rollback of government decisions under public pressure has made ministers weary of public opinion, even as prime minister is pushing them hard to go for tougher economic reforms. Two of the biggest reversal of policy happened in the realm of provident fund contributed by workers across the country. Finance minister Arun Jaitley had to withdraw the budget proposal to tax provident fund withdrawal at the time of retirement by workers.

Jaitley who is pushing hard for the success of the government's new pension scheme at the cost of PF had to beat a hasty retreat.  Now labour minister Bandaru Dattatreya  has revoked the new rule that said PF can be withdrawn only at age of 58.

Another minister who is planning a bitter dose of medicine is Smriti Irani. The human resource development ministry has already hiked the fees in IITs and IIMs, drawing complaints that these premier institutions are going out of reach of poor students.

But the next proposal under consideration would draw stronger protests. This pertains to increasing tuition and hostel fee in all centrally funded universities. In Delhi university, the tuition fee is so low that the university spends more money for collection. But the fee hike is in tune with prime minister's directions that hugely ballooning subsidies should be reduced and the subsidies should reach only the targeted population. Modi has pointed out the government has persuaded one crore Indians to give up LPG subsidy and how linking of Aadhaar has eliminated false beneficiaries of government schemes. But the government had found it hard to justify the cut in grants for drought relief works when the Supreme Court was hearing a petition challenging the cuts. The government has now assured that more funds will be available for helping the victims of drought across the country. 

Modi understands there will be resistance and protests even by BJP leaders. His attempt to reduce food grain supply to ration shops was planned so that waste and pilferage can be eliminated. However, it was feared states would cut distribution to those who deserved subsidised food grains. The prime minister has told ministers and officials that they must stick to their course of cutting flab even if some decisions have to be rolled back. But it would need both determination and persuasion to implement what could turn out to be unpopular decisions. 

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