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Wheat signals

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Journalists tracking the wheat import story are a bit confused; they cannot make out whether the Agriculture Minister, Sharad Pawar, jumped the gun when he prematurely announced duty-free wheat imports by the private sector or that he wields such a clout in the Cabinet that he can take a decision on import duties without the concurrence of the Finance Minister. While Pawar told the media about the supposed-to-have-been-taken decision on Monday, the Finance Minister, P. Chidambaram, said the next day that only a request had come from the Agriculture Ministry for the duty waiver. In fact, it was only on Tuesday that the Prime Minister had a meeting with Pawar and Chidambaram on this issue.

So, how come Pawar let it slip to the media about the impending decision? Was he doing some loud thinking, sure that he would have his way, or was it a slip on the part of the veteran politician? He further compounded the situation by saying that he had forgotten to convey the decision to the Central Board of Excise and Customs, which issues tariff notifications. But, then, Pawar is not supposed to communicate decisions to the CBEC; it is for Chidambaram to do so.

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(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated September 8, 2006)
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