M A I N   N E W S

PM tells SC not to get into policy formulation
n Says it’s not possible to give free grain to the poor
n Firmly rules out retirement, disconnect with Cong
n Hints at Cabinet reshuffle

New Delhi, September 6
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today told the Supreme Court not to get into “the realm of policy formulation”. In his first comments on the recent Supreme Court order directing the government to distribute foodgrains free to the poor rather than let them rot, Manmohan Singh said policy formulation should “remain the concern of the policy makers and the government of the day”.

“How can foodgrains be distributed free to an estimated 37 per cent of the population which lives below the poverty line?” Manmohan Singh asserted during an 80-minute interaction with a group of editors at his official residence here.

It was not possible to give free foodgrains to all the poor, he said, while answering a question on the order of the apex court which had directed Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar to distribute foodgrains to the poor.

Ruling out early retirement, the Prime Minister rejected suggestions of a “disconnect” between his government and the Congress party while making it clear that he would not ask every Cabinet colleague to “shut up”.

A characteristically gentle but firm Prime Minister made it clear that there was no “drift” in the government. Allowing people to express their views is not necessarily a sign of drift,” he said.

Singh indicated that he would “look at” options of a Cabinet reshuffle prior to the next Parliament session beginning November 7. “I would like to reduce the average age of my Cabinet.”

The PM's remarks came in the backdrop of perceptions in the media and political circles that there was a disconnect between him and the Congress and criticism that his ministers were openly airing their differences with each other. He saw nothing wrong in the expression of different points of view by his ministers and Congress functionaries because India was a democracy. Moreover, the Congress was a mass movement in which people express their views, he said.

Expression of differing viewpoints was “not necessarily a bad thing”. It was necessary, however, that the Cabinet and the government functioned with a “certain degree of cohesion”, the Prime Minister said.

He went on to underline that his Cabinet functioned with a “much greater degree of cohesion” than even the first Cabinet headed by Jawaharlal Nehru. There was almost daily exchange of letters between Nehru and his deputy Sardar Patel. There were differences between Indira Gandhi and her deputy Morarji Desai, he pointed out.

During Mrs Gandhi’s time, a group of “Young Turks” led by Chandrashekhar openly constituted a dissident group, the Prime Minister said during the interaction, which turned into a virtual press conference covering major domestic political issues, economy and foreign policy.

A questioner suggested that he gave “an impression of marking time with the issue of succession in your party” while Rahul Gandhi was “spreading wings” and that he may not complete his tenure. Manmohan Singh responded with a chuckle, “I think politics is a competitive game and some people or politicians feel that they should not be in the Opposition, but they should be in the place where I am sitting. I don’t think you can hold that against me.”

The Prime Minister answered questions on the Naxal problem, state of the economy, Kashmir situation and on foreign policy.

On Kashmir, the Prime Minister said a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) headed by him would be held later this week to discuss the issue “threadbare”.

About the Naxal problem, he said it was “more menacing than ever before” and required to be tackled in two ways— addressing valid economic and social issues and also enforcing law and order. “I think, quite frankly, there is no royal road to success in dealing either Naxalism or the intricate problems in Jammu and Kashmir,” he said. — PTI





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