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Tuesday, 15 May 2012 03:14
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If our MPs stopped grandstanding, they’d realise India is no longer the flavour of the season
Anywhere between a fourth and a third of medicines sold in the country are reckoned to be spurious, and then comes a report from the parliamentary standing committee saying new medicines are being given approvals without even clinical trials being carried out in many cases, with doctors’ opinions on the medicines being the same, word for word, with just a fourth of sanctioned drug inspectors being in place .
In any Parliament, more so one where the Opposition is baying for the government’s blood and running to the well of the House protesting the lack of gunny bags if you please, you’d think this would cause a furore and have MPs asking for the health minister’s resignation, or at least the drug controller’s. It’s true no newspaper reports Parliament in the detail they did at one time, but if there was a furore, it would have been reported. And while some of the drug firms who’ve been named have denied this sort of thing happening, I’ve reported the case of a top drug firm selling anti-cancer medicines for pregnant women and for people with renal/liver problems when no clinical trials were carried out on these groups. Later, when the company was asked to withdraw the drug and re-issue it with correct literature, I bought that drug with the old literature. The fact that, when the BJP was in power, Sushma Swaraj proposed a death sentence for those selling spurious drugs suggests the BJP is well aware of how serious things are, but there’s been no furore over the report.
While it’s understandable that the BJP would like to train its guns on home minister P Chidambaram for his son’s alleged purchase of Aircel shares, surely some other vital issues can get a look in? The Air India strike is getting from bad to worse with the striking pilots not even worried by the threat of sacking, but nowhere do you have MPs asking the government some serious questions. After all, if Rs 30,000 crore of public money is to be spent on reviving an airline where, even five years after AI and Indian Airlines were merged, their pilots still behave as if they don’t belong to the same organisation, surely the aviation minister needs to be grilled. More so since he’s said that the merger was a mistake. Does he now plan to demerge the airlines? If not, what are his plans to make the merger work? And doesn’t he think it’s a lost cause if the training schedule of the airline has to be guided by a Supreme Court order — after one lot of pilots approached the SC, it ruled that half of those trained on the Dreamliner had to be from the AI stream of pilots and the other half from the IA stream! Interestingly, there was a Comptroller and Auditor General report on the merger not working, but then no one, not even the press, reads CAG reports when they’re not talking of losses of Rs 1.76 lakh crore or more. Maybe even that’s not enough — as former RBI Governor Bimal Jalan pointed out, a full budget was passed without MPs even scrutinising the proposals.
Parliament, in fact, appears to be lurching from one extreme to another, from refusing to pass any legislation to effusively congratulating the finance minister on his likely elevation to the “bada ghar” even though the Congress hasn’t officially announced his candidature. While this could be explained away as the impact of Pranab Mukherjee’s immense popularity or an attempt to embarrass the government — Yashwant Sinha used the occasion to congratulate the FM for his retrospective tax amendment while (incorrectly) lampooning the PM for assuring UK Prime Minister David Cameron that no retrospective tax was being levied — surely someone of Sinha’s stature recognises the retrospective tax amendment is economic suicide? With a current-account deficit that equals 4 per cent of India’s GDP, the highest in our history, and foreign investment drying up — why do you think the rupee is falling the way it is? — the need of the hour is to keep investors sweetened, not to kick them in the face. That’s why the FM decided to push back implementation of GAAR by a year, right? And with April-February FY’12 FDI at $41.9 billion versus $18 billion of FII, surely FDI should get priority?
And why is it okay to give Rs 5.3 lakh crore of tax breaks to Indian corporations each year for investing, but not okay to give tax breaks to Vodafone? Even if you assume, incorrectly, that Vodafone actually did have to pay $2 billion of taxes, keep in mind it has invested $15 billion in the few years it has been in India, not counting the $11.1 billion it paid Hutch. Oh, by the way, at 58 million, this big bad profit-sucking MNC has three-fourths more rural customers than the government-owned BSNL does, and that’s when BSNL has got tens of thousands of crore of subsidies.
As Parliament celebrated its 60th anniversary — the irony is it held a special session on Sunday when it has a problem working on even working days! — it needs to ponder over the way it’s going and whether it has any real relevance if it doesn’t even quiz the government on burning issues of the day.
The writer is opinion editor, ‘The Financial Express’

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