Mr Mani Shankar Aiyar, Hon’ble Union Minister for Panchayati Raj and Youth Affairs & Sports, visited Bangalore International Centre on 04-09-2006 in the evening and had a free-wheeling discussion with a group of Bangalore International Centre Members. Even though the Hon’ble Minister was delayed by about one hour and a quarter, the group of BIC Members waited patiently for the Minister and were amply rewarded by the scintillating interactive session which took place. Prof. S L Rao introduced the Members to the Minister and requested him to speak. The Minister responded by saying that he would prefer to respond to issues raised by the Members.
The Minister was first requested to explain as to why the oil importing countries in the world did not get together to form a negotiating group to obtain reasonable prices for the oil and oil products from the OPEC countries. In response, the Minister went into some details about historical developments and the Geo-political situations associated with the issue. He pointed out that the abnormal increase in the oil price in the recent years is not due to any scarcity in availability or supply of oil. He pointed out that even though there were apprehensions at various points of time about the possible disruptions in the production and supply of oil from the OPEC countries, such apprehensions have proved to be false. According to him the rise in the oil prices was primarily due to the speculation in the future markets in commodities especially oil. The Minister further pointed out that the historically the OPEC had their primary markets in USA and Europe. As a result they set up huge petrol bunks at Trinidad and Rotterdam and adopted the practice of transporting oil in bulk tankers to such bunks for supply to USA and Europe. The practice which they adopted was to ascertain the domestic oil price set by the principal oil producers in USA and Europe and pitch the FOB prices of the gulf supply of oil at a marginally lower level than the domestic oil prices of the primary producers in USA and Europe. The Minister explained that this pattern of oil pricing has not changed in its essence even though the demand pattern has shifted. So even though the demand for oil has dramatically risen in Asia, particularly China and India, the Gulf suppliers continue to supply oil at a discounted price to USA and Europe – a discounted price which is not available to other countries. The Minister therefore felt that the logic of the situation demanded that the Asian countries which are now the principal users of oil supplied by OPEC countries should demand the same discount what is being offered to USA and Europe. He stated that while there might be some logic in getting all the Oil Importing Countries under a common platform, there were logistical difficulties in organizing such a forum. On the other hand it would be entirely feasible to work out a Oil and Natural Gas Community in Asia. He pointed out that the current Geo-political reality demanded such a community. On the one hand it is not possible for the Gulf countries, notedly Soudi Arabia to withdraw the concessions they are currently offering to USA; on the other hand the same geo-political situation demand a proper Asian Oil and Oil Producing Community as the largest non OPEC oil and gas resources are located in Asia. The Minister pointed out in this context the efforts he had initiated to have a pipeline from Iran to India via Pakistan to provide greater energy security to our country and expressed the hope that such efforts should be continued and pursued vigorously.
In response to another question on the incapabilities of Panchayats to handle responsibilities entrusted to them because of lack of capacity, the Minister stated that it would be naturally fallacious to argue that there should be no devolution of powers and responsibilities to Panchayats until and unless their capabilities are established first. He pointed out that the same argument was being used by British imperialists in not transferring power to the Indians at the time when the struggle for independence was under way. He also decried the sneering attitude of both the bureaucrats and the public at the inexperience and naivete of elected political executives at the Panchayati level. He pointed out that under the democratic system it was necessary to accept that the ultimate decision making authority and power remained with the political executive and the permanent executive could play only a supportive role in the decision making process. Admittedly in the initial stages the level of experience and expertise of the political executive would be at a level lower than those of the permanent executive. However, effort should be made to make up the managerial deficiencies of the political executives with the managerial abilities available with permanent executive so as to improve the overall managerial capabilities of the Panchayati Raj system. He urged that serious efforts should be made in this respect instead of denigrating the system in its initial formative stage.
The question of politics and politicking in various sports bodies was raised by a Member. The Minister agreed that there was a lot of politics in the sports bodies but expressed his helplessness to deal with the situation because of the entrenched systems under which various sports bodies had complete internal autonomy to manage their own affairs. He noted that even though it was well-known that several such sports bodies have become pocket boroughs, there was nothing that was possible for the Government to interfere with the affairs of such bodies. He also lamented the fact that the allocation under sports in the Central and Stage budgets is so marginal that no proper attention could be paid to the development of sports in the country. He admitted that within the available allocations, it was not possible to give proper encouragements and support to the talented sports persons in a manner it is being given in other countries, notedly China.
In a strong attack against the increasing Americanisation in the urban life in our country, the Minister felt that greater emphasis should be placed on improving the life of the poor people in the rural areas and urban slums. He also pitched in for adequate rehabilitation of the rural people who are getting deprived of their means of livelihood through increased industrialization and urbanisation all around.
The interactive session which lasted for almost two hours came to an end with vote of thanks offered by Mr. P R Dasgupta, Director of Bangalore International Centre. Everyone present agreed with him that what one heard during those two hours was vintage Mani Shankar Aiyar stuff.