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Tuesday, 18 July, 2017, 09 : 52 AM [IST]

Reforms, at what cost?

It seems that the government has decided to push the reforms button with all its might as it came out trumps in the state elections. There has been a renewed momentum in converting words (the government has no business to be in the business of airlines and hotels) into actual deeds (disinvestment). Reforms are always good to take the society forward on a path which is less travelled. But, the word reform is the most misinterpreted one in the Indian context. Here, reforms have always been understood as selling national assets. Those who pave the path clear for such sale, known by the pet name, disinvestment, are always extolled as brave reformers. Reports by international news wires on the stake sale news of Air India are a perfect example of this perception even in the media. “If Mr Modi can pull this (AI disinvestment) off, it will buttress his credentials as a reformer brave enough to wade into some of the country’s most intractable problems,” is how Reuters reported. But, do we have the tradition of calling somebody who sells the family silver a reformer? I doubt so!

Reforms should mean removing inefficiencies from the system and make it work effectively and competitively for the public good. But our consecutive political ‘reformers’ always tried to add to the inefficiencies and condemn national assets as a national waste and then offload them at throwaway prices. This is the second attempt by the government after 2001 to divest the national carrier. The first attempt to bring on board a strategic partner with proven expertise had to be shelved mid-way as bidders backed out because of stringent clauses. Considering that the stakes are quite high, various interest groups are bound to pull the strings in different directions this time too. Therefore, it is premature to say how the whole reform agenda will pan out in the coming days and months.

The intention is not to criticise all types of reforms. We appreciate and applaud the well-intentioned reform processes with open arms. Most of the reform agendas for India Tourism that the government spelt out through the NITI Aayog Agenda paper are quite appropriate. The Prime Minister and the government is believed to have seized upon the inefficiencies accumulated over the years into the Indiatourism overseas marketing offices and are in the process of setting it in order. Therefore, all the Director/Regional Director appointments are on hold for more than a year to the utter consternation of the officialdom. But, what are the alternate arrangements being thought over - Leaving the task to India High Commissions abroad or outsourcing it to private representation companies? Let’s hope the suspense will blow over soon!

The reform agenda to earmark a specific percentage of the Visa fee for tourism marketing and sharing the marketing resources between the government and the private industry on an equal footing is appreciable. This will help in creating a corpus fund beyond the annual budget allocations for international and domestic marketing. What remains to be seen is the ground reality in implementing these reforms in the right earnest and a time-bound manner. Let’s wait and watch!

PKrishna Kumar
Bureau Chief, New Delhi
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