Modi address a wake-up call for banks: Venkaiah Naidu

RICHA MISHRA MEENAKSHI VERMA AMBWANI New Delhi | Updated on January 12, 2018


The last few days of the 2016 saw senior Ministers of the Narendra Modi government indulging in a massive communication campaign talking about the November 8 ‘demonetisation’ drive.

Asked if it was a well-planned strategy, M Venkaiah Naidu, Union Minister of Urban Development, Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation and Information & Broadcasting, said: “the Opposition has started a systematic disinformation campaign... We thought we should go to the people and explain. People have shown immense patience despite facing some short-term difficulties. So, we have decided that we should explain to the people what are the positive sides and the after-effects.”

In conversation with BusinessLine, Naidu shared his thoughts on the Prime Minister’s New Year address, demonetisation, the challenges before his ministry and the way forward. Excerpts:

The Prime Minister’s address to the nation is being seen as a ‘mini union budget’, as he has unveiled some government schemes. Some also see it as a balm for soothing the after-effects of demonetisation. How do you react to it?

No (it is not a mini-budget), it is a major relief to the people. There are benefits of demonetisation to the poor, middle classes and the honest tax-payers.

The PM will not rest till the last reform is implemented.

Demonetisation is part of the grand strategy to address the issue of black money and corruption. For example, there are other issues of benami properties, registration process, real value of land versus real estate prices, among others.

Should we see the Prime Minister’s address as also a wake up call for the banking system, which is seen as the weakest link today?

Yes, it is a wake-up call for the banks to be more pro-poor, pro-small businesses. It has been reported that bank credit so far has been extremely concentrated and only 300 companies were getting it. The announcements by the Prime Minister will seek to rebalance this and encourage loans to small businesses.

The extensive communication campaign launched by the government seems well-strategised. Was there any mandate from the PMO?

We have to reach out to the people...Without educating people and getting adequate support, one will not be able to succeed in the reform process. An important component of any reform is taking people into confidence, educating them about the benefits, how it will improve their living standards, and why it is important for the country.

It was a conscious decision to communicate. There is a background to ‘demonetisation’ decision. It was part of the BJP manifesto and a major issue in the campaign. For corruption, one of the major contributors is black money. Suggestions and talks about curbing (checking) it has been taking place during the previous regime as well, but we implemented it.

What we should ask the Opposition (Congress) is that what have you done? We will try to tell the people that the PM has taken steps from day one. Secondly, he gave ample opportunity (to come clean) before this announcement. With a parallel economy running, every system has been influenced by black money, including elections and political parties. The worst affected is the common man.

But, there are fears that the Income Tax department will haunt...

People need not fear. With this, everyone is under the tax system. There will be no harassment as everything is now accounted. Besides, everyone will be part of the digital transformation.

What has been the progress so far under the Prime Minister Awaas Yojana? When dealing with housing/real estate, registration, which is mainly a state subject, is also an issue. How do you deal with States?

“Housing for all” has been a priority for us. As regards dealing with States (sanctions or registration), all I can do is generate public opinion.

I have sanctioned 14 lakh plus houses till now. Selections are done by States...whichever State is proactive, they have got the desired approvals under the programme. For example, Uttar Pradesh did not give a single proposal, despite number of letters written both by my ministry as well as me. Then, we decided to use the Information & Technology Ministry’s Common Service Centres — asking people to apply from there. Thousands of applications came in. It is then that the State government woke up. Today, every MP is after their respective state governments to work on it. So, will be the case with registration issues.

It is alleged that when selecting Smart Cities, you have opted for cities which are already better positioned. For example, Visakhapatnam...

There is no involvement of the Centre. This is all through competition. Cities are proposed by the State government after internal competition. See, developing a city is different from the concept of smart cities.

These cities are to be lighthouses so that others can learn from their experiences. For other city development, there is the AMRUT scheme.

Criticism was that Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were discriminated when selecting smart cities, but I had told them that even Prime Minister’s and several key cabinet ministers’ constituencies were not there. Selection for smart cities was based on certain parameters.

Besides cable TV digitisation and FM radio auctions, Cinematograph Act is an area which the Information & Broadcasting Ministry has been working on. Have you decided to accept the recommendations of Shyam Benegal Committee?

We are in advance stage of discussions on these recommendations. The Shyam Benegal Committee has made good suggestions. We are also taking other suggestions. I am planning to introduce a Bill in the forthcoming Budget session.

Corporate ownership of news channels is also much debated. What is your view on it?

Newspapers and channels were started keeping the public service in mind. Today, you are seeing a new breed entering into the media; they are propping media channels to promote their own business.

But, in a democratic country, this needs to be widely debated. We will throw it open for a wider debate and see what consensus emerges before taking a call.

Published on January 01, 2017

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