Drawing flak for economic growth slipping to a nine-year low of 6.5 per cent in 2011-12, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government on Tuesday appealed to both allies and the Opposition to support it in opening the multi-brand retail sector to foreign direct investment (FDI). It also sought their support for other reforms to help boost the economy.
Commerce & Industry Minister Anand Sharma said those who did not want implementation of the Cabinet decision on FDI in multi-brand retail should be respected, but added those who supported the move should be allowed to do so.
He said parties across the political spectrum should help in the growth agenda. When told some UPA allies were also opposing FDI in multi-brand retail, he said, “I am appealing to them as well... The time has come to convert major economic reforms into policy initiatives," he added.
The minister said he would continue with “consistent political persuasion, since more than half the states are keen (on FDI in retail). Mamata Banerjee (Trinamool Congress chief) has strong reservations. I do respect (these)”. However, he said some chief ministers had conveyed their support and wanted to open the sector to foreign investment.
Sharma joined the chorus against subsidy on diesel used in luxury vehicles. “If I can afford...Should a BMW or a SUV (sports utility vehicle) owner get the same (subsidy)? My answer is no," he said, adding subsidy on diesel should be provided only to the poor and weak sections.
When asked why the government wasn’t permitting FDI in domestic airlines, he said the decision to list the proposal for the Cabinet rested with the Cabinet Secretariat.
Sharma also pitched for lowering of rates by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to spur growth. “I would urge them (RBI) to look at the depressed investment climate and the disturbing numbers in manufacturing core sectors and the IIP (index of industrial production),” he said. He added though it was difficult for the central bank to balance growth and inflation, economic activity had to continue.
When told the foreign trade policy did not have provisions to help those reeling under a huge import bill due to the depreciating rupee, he said that was the central bank’s domain.