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Draft transcript of PM's on-board media interaction enroute to Delhi from Frankfurt

Onboard from Frankfurt to New Delhi
Q : On slowing down of world economy, concerns among G 20 countries about state of global economy and what could India do about it?

Ans- Well let me say, the world economy is an increasingly inter- dependent entity. Fuel of trade and technology and capital inflows influence the growth path of a large number of countries today. And if those economies which are the locomotives economies of the world, The United States, Europe, Japan are in trouble there is bound to be some effect on us. But we have so far managed to protect our economy in a manner that has earned us the admiration of the world. In the year 2008, when the global economy bought into problems, our economy still managed to grow @ 6.7 percent. Later on we were able to raise the rate of growth to 8.1/2 percent and even in this troubled year the projection of Indian growth rate would still be between 7.8 to 8.5% and that would be a remarkable performance. Let me say that we can do more in India, if all political parties of our country work together, if Government is allowed to do its essential task, which is maintain a growth path of about 9 percent, which is possible for us to do so. Despite what is happening in the world, if only we could step up investment in infrastructure in our economy, we would be on a strong wicket, and that’s what I would like Government to do.

Q: On political challenges in the near future, agenda to handle political situation in country and to get more support including from opposition parties.

Ans- Well, we would like to appeal to all political parties who have the good of the country in their heart to work together. Politics will continue to divide, but there are limits to which we can carry these political dissensions and I do believe the time has come, when all political parties should forget their differences, concentrate on essential pieces of legislations, like the passage of a bill to raise the foreign investment in the insurance sector. We need to pass a bill with regard to pension rights, we need to pass a bill with regard to goods and service tax, we need to pass a bill with regard to Lokpal, we need to pass a bill in public procure policies reforms. There are a number of bills, well structured bills in the field of education held up in parliament. If we concentrate on all these things, I am quite sure the Indian economy has the capacity to weather the storm and come out of it successfully.

Q. On global economic crisis and what can India do to insulate itself?

Ans- Well, I think let me say we are not that helpless, though I would not say that we will not be affected by what happens in the outside world. We have savings rates of about 34 or 35 percent. Our investment rate in recent years has been about 37 percent of the GDP. With saving rates of even of 35 percent, we can maintain a growth rate of close to 8.5 to 9 percent. Now if we spend this savings well, if our infrastructure is well managed, if social sector programmes leakages can be curbed, I think that’s the path which would keep India afloat and afloat handsomely even the world is in dire trouble.

Q: On media reports of HM’s offer to resign and perception of rifts in Government.

Ans- I think this rifts that you talk about, I find reflected only in the media. I am not aware of such any rift. We are a cohesive Government. We shall remain a cohesive Government. So let there be no confusion on that score. There is no dissension in the cabinet. Having said that, let me said that in all cabinets when we debate, we debate with an open mind on issues, ministers can have a different perspective and that is not I think, something which can contribute to the divisiveness. That's in a way healthy but there is nothing of that sort which is being written for the last few days in the media, about the differences between Mr. Chidambaram and Mr. Mukherjee.

Q- On letter on spectrum pricing to PM written by Mr. Maran leading to amendments of TOR

Ans.- Well, that was way back in 2006. At that time licensing of what took place in 2007 or 2008 was not on the horizon. The real concern of the government at that point was that we should persuade that Defence Ministry to vacate spectrum and that spectrum should be made available to the civilian economy. In the process we will make lot of money and also the economy would gain efficiency. And it is certainly true that one draft that was prepared did include spectrum prices and Mr. Dayanidhi Maran did object and he said spectrum pricing is a bread and butter and integral part of the rule of business of his department, and any case he said that a large group like GOM that we are setting up, is not going to be able to deal effectively with the complicated technical aspects involved. And further more it was pointed out to me that there was a cabinet decision of 2003, which said that spectrum prices is a matter which should be discussed between the finance ministry and the telecom Ministry. And in the light of all that I came to the conclusion that my agreeing with Mr. Maran’s point of view would not amount to sacrificing anything, which is essential and integral to the success of the process.

Q- On note sent by Finance Ministry to PMO and possible culpability of HM?

Ans. – Let me say that, what particular note you are talking about I read about that. This note is designed to set out a record of what took place. All these matters now are in the public domain. They are being looked into by the courts and therefore, it would not be appropriate for me to comment one way or the other what is good and what is bad in these notes. They are the properties of the public. They are now being discussed in the courts. As far as Mr. Chidambaram is concerned I have said it while I was on my way to New York that he continues to enjoy my full confidence, when he was Finance Minister and now as Home Minister and that applies to him and that applies to Finance Minister

Q: On change in thinking about benefits of globalization?

A: When the world changes we have to take note of those changes. We cannot be static in a world that is fast moving and there is no doubt that there are immense changes that are taking place. Globalization has a lot of potential to do good, but if globalization is not properly managed and if misused by big powers, it can also hurt the poorer countries in the world.

Q: on reports and concerns about diversion of Brahmaputra waters by China?

Ans : Well we have been discussing the issues relating to the trans border river system with China, for number of years. I have myself raised this issue with both the President as well as the Prime Minister of China on number of occasions. They have assured us that they are not doing anything which will be detrimental to the interests of India. And so far the evidence we have supports their statement that nothing is happening on the ground which we should be worried about.

Q – On why opposition parties which were amenable earlier are playing hard ball now?

Ans – Well I think, the opposition is getting prematurely restless. I think I have said this in the Parliament that we have a mandate from the people of India to govern and to govern well. And that the opposition should wait for two and half years. The opposition feels that they have got hold of some weak points of our government and therefore by focusing attention on that they can force an early election. It is not going to happen. This govt. has a mandate for five years which will stay its course. And we will do things, when you look back, might well surprise the country.

Q- On approval rating of UPA II and its performance in comparison with UPA-I ?

Ans.- I think in UPA-I we were new comers, we were innovators, now we have I think, programme of implementing some of the important flagship programmes, which we placed before our country and which won the approval of the people of India. Now as far as the approval rating of the UPA-II is concerned, I should be asking you. because the issue on which the Government is now being judged, whether it is 2G or some thing else, it happened way before the last election, since then, we have had an election in which the Congress party was successful, therefore I think I suspect, that there are other forces that work which want to destabilize our polity. This is not simply in the concern about our performance. But I would be the last man to say that. There are reasons for example, that we are not able to control inflation as effectively as possible. But if you look at China today with its successful economy the Chinese food inflation rate in the month of August is as high as 13%. This is global phenomenon. We have to sail and sail successfully in these difficult times and nothing should be done to weaken the self confidence of the nation.

Q- On impression that growth would dip to below 7% and sense of urgency was missing?

Ans: I don’t buy that argument. What ever we can do without legislation, will be done with speed and with efficiency. What requires legislation, of course requires the collaboration between the Government and the opposition parties. We have made efforts in the past. We will continue and make efforts in the future. But even under the most adverse condition the growth rate of Indian economy will not fall below 7.5 to 8 percent. That's my analysis. In a world where the US growth rate is 0.7% a 7 - 7.5% growth rate is a real marvel which the world still respects India for.

Q- On failure of government to manage public perceptions?

Ans. – Well it is quite possible, I think perceptions are important. Perceptions can be changed. We are not very good in public communications. I keep telling our people, may be we should focus more sharply on changing the perceptions. You are right, I think.

Q- On perception that government faces instability due to scams.

Ans. I don’t see it that way. You look at what happned in 2008. Te world was collapsing. The world banking system was in deep trouble and yet we managed to keep afloat. Our growth rate is respectable and it will remain respectable by global standards. Inflation has been a problem but that is also because all factors beyond control. If international prices go up there is no way in which we can keep domestic prices untouched, unaffected. But I also feel that we have now reached a plateau. Food prices are by and large stable. What are not stable are prices of vegetables, fish products, cold drink etc. And that is the demand - supply gap which is not a failure of our policies. It is a measure of success of our policies that incomes of people are rising in a manner that they want more and more eggs, fruits and vegetables.

Q- On likelihood of major reshuffle?

Ans- I am not thinking in terms of any Cabinet reshuffle. If there is time, you will hear about it. But right now, I have no such idea in my mind.

Q- ON foreign armed intervention in Libya and other countries?

Ans – Well I was referring to the situation as it has developed in Libya. My worry is that despite what the western powers are saying about Libya, that they their success in getting rid of Gadaffi, there are still signs that Libya may well be entrapped in civil war like Somalia. And if it goes in the Somalian way it will be in nobody's interest.

Q- On India’s Permanent Membership of UNSC

Ans: I think that at UNGA we can count on the support of about120 members already. As far as the permanent members of UNSC are concerned you heard President Obama, when he came to India. You heard the Russian leadership. The Chinese leadership is somewhat hesitant but not totally unsupportive. So I am not predicting that it will fall into our lap tomorrow or the day after. But I think the climate of global opinion, is certainly in favour of a country like India being made a permanent member of the reformed UNSC.

Q- On death Sentence for Rajiv Gandhi assassins

Ans :- Well the law of the land will prevail

Q- On FDI in retail trade?

Ans : The FDI in retail is under consideration, of the government, for quite some time. But there are worries in certain circles like the trading community. It is our task to go about it in a manner, in which the nation enjoys the benefits of more FDI in retail trade, without hurting our domestic interests. I can assure that we will do nothing which will hurt the essential interests of the small Indian trade community.

Q- On Kudankulam civil nuclear project?

Aans – It is my honest expectation that sooner or later the world would recognize that there is no alternative but to rely on atomic energy, as an essential component of the energy mix of a country, any country that seeks protection of its environment that wants to protect itself from excessive carbon emission. I have no reason to believe that the leadership in Tamil Nadu will be an exception to this rule. There are anxieties. Some vested interests are playing on that. I have spoken to the Hon’ble Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu myself before coming. We will sit together with all the enlightened leadership of Tamil Nadu to find a practical and pragmatic solution because, Tamil Nadu is today the fastest industrializing state in the country. I feel very proud, when I go to Tamil Nadu, when I see the way industry is expanding. But quite honestly, this industrialization can become a casualty if Tamil Nadu is not self sufficient in the field of energy. I am sure that leadership of all shades of opinion will recognize, that a healthy mix should include an element of nuclear energy for safely and for security. We will protect all the people of India. Our safety standards will be second to none. And if we have any doubt we will be the first to tell our people that we will not move forward.

Q- On murder of Prof. Rabbani murder, security situation in AfPak and Gen. Mullen’s views on complicity of ISI

Ans In my speech at UN, I joined the rest of the world in offering my condolences to the people of Afghanistan on the killing of Prof. Rabbani. There is now growing awareness of the groups which indulge in these nefarious activities and we have to take notice of that. And what Gen. Mullen has said with regard to the role of certain forces in Pakistan, is also something which is nothing new to us. In fact when we were the first to flag this issue earlier, the world didn’t believe us. I am glad that at least the world recognizes the truth of what the government and the people of India had been saying about the activities of ISI for many many years.

Q. On harnessing demographic dividend and five pressing economic issues that need to be addressed by the Government?

A. First and foremost is that we must step up agricultural production, agricultural productivity. The second most important thing is that we should devote more resources to education. The third - more resources to health. Four, we must devote more resources to skill development so that the young labour force will be seen not as a liability but as an asset. And finally, with regard to infrastructure – railways, ports, airports – for all these activities we have to spend more money, we have to pay more attention to the development and modernization of our infrastructure - power, energy, roads railways, sea-ports and airports. These are the four or five things that are high on our agenda.

Q. On concluding the Teesta Agreement with Bangladesh?

A. We would seek the help of West Bengal Government and of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, to create an environment where a meaningful and viable solution to this issue can be found.