Panel to be set up to fast-track clearance of infra projects; Land Bill approved; 2G base price cut by 30% in 3 circles; Urea policy to incentivise fertiliser firms setting up plants
A week after winning in Parliament the vote on 51 per cent foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government on Thursday gave a big push to its reforms agenda. The Union Cabinet cleared the much-awaited proposal to set up the Cabinet Committee on Investment (CCI) and amendments to the Land Acquisition Bill.
The Cabinet also approved re-auction of the 1,800-MHz band spectrum in three telecom circles at a base price 30 per cent lower than that fixed for the recently concluded auction. The proceeds from the re-auction are likely to support the government's dwindling finances.
|DECISIONS AT A GLANCE|
|LAND ACQUISITION BILL|
Besides, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) approved the new investment policy for urea, which might help garner investments worth Rs 35,000 crore. The new policy will incentivise setting up of new fertiliser plants and expansion of existing ones, aimed at cutting import dependence.
|CUT IN 2G BASE PRICE|
The proposed CCI would speed up clearances for infrastructure projects above Rs 1,000 crore. The body, to be chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, is being set up at a time when the Planning Commission has envisaged investments to the tune of Rs 56,14,730 crore in the infrastructure sector over the 12th Five-Year Plan (2012-13 to 2016-17). Later, the body might take up other mega projects as well.
Earlier, a proposal to this effect was deferred by the Cabinet after Environment & Forests Minister Jayanthi Natarajan protested against the move to set up an investment panel, as she feared her ministry's powers might be curtailed. On Thursday, she said: "All concerns have been addressed. I am satisfied."
After Natarajan raised the banner of revolt and Tribal Affairs Minister Kishore Chandra Deo said he feared tribal rights might be jeopardised, the prime minister seemed in no mood to take chances. In a departure from past practice, every Cabinet minister present was asked for an individual opinion and endorsement of the new body. "Ultimately, the decision was unanimous," a Cabinet minister told Business Standard.
Recently, Finance Minister P Chidambaram had said there were over 100 projects, each involving an investment of Rs 1,000 crore or more, that were delayed.
"Our problem is not conceptualising projects. Our problem lies in getting the numerous clearances and getting the project off the ground within reasonable time," he had said. For example, there are NTPC projects of 11,000-Mw capacity stuck due to delays in various clearances.
The Cabinet also cleared amendments to the Land Acquisition Bill, though in a diluted form. The cleared Bill requires the consent of only 70 per cent of land owners when the government acquires their land for a public-private partnership (PPP) project. For all other types of projects, 80 per cent consent would be required. It also refers to those who would get compensation as land losers. Where absentee landlords are involved, those actually tilling the land would be entitled to compensation.
In its original form, the legislation, the Right to Fair Compensation, Resettlement, Rehabilitation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Bill, had required 80 per cent consent not just from landowners, but also from dependent farm workers. This provision was removed after protests from industry and infrastructure lobbies.
Earlier, the high base price for 2G services had prevented telcos from bidding in the Delhi, Mumbai and Karnataka circles. This had forced the government to go for a re-auction, this time at a substantially lower price. The three circles are crucial as these account for a substantial portion of the auction revenue for the government, as well as its future earnings from revenue share.