Retail FDI: Over to the states
- Cong backs Lanka probe,govt abstains at UNHRC SHUBHAJIT ROY NEW DELHI, MARCH 27 A day after the Congress called for an inquiry into alleged human rights violations in Sri Lanka during the war with the LTTE, the UPA government did the opposite: India abstained on the Sri Lanka resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva. An international probe into the alleged abuses was an âintrusive approachâ that undermined Sri Lankaâs ânational sovereigntyâ, India said. New Delhiâs abstention did not come in the way of the UNHRCâs adoption of the US-sponsored resolution, which was passed by 23 votes to 12, with 12 abstentions. The resolution asked the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights to investigate alleged abuses âduring the period covered by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commissionâ (between 2002 and 2009). The Congress manifesto, released on Wednesday by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, said, âWe will work with other countries to prevail upon Sri Lanka to ensure a credible, objective, time-bound inquiry into allegations of human rights violations and excesses committed by the Sri Lankan forces during the concluding phases of the operations against the LTTE.â Asked about Indiaâs vote, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said, âYes, we have voted differently as this resolution is very different from previous resolutions on Sri Lanka. Unlike the resolutions in 2009, 2012 and 2013, this resolution imposes an international investigative mechanism. This is an intrusive approach that undermines national sovereignty.â The spokesperson said that as a close neighbour, India could not remain untouched by the developments in Sri Lanka. âWhile significant steps have been taken, much more needs to be done by the Government of Sri Lanka.â He said that international efforts should aim to enable Sri Lanka to investigate the allegations of rights violations through a comprehensive, independent and credible national mechanism. âAn external investigative mechanism with an open-ended mandate to monitor national processes is not a constructive approach. In our view adopting an intrusive approach that undermines national sovereignty and institutions is counterproductive,â Akbaruddin said. Sources in South Block said the resolution includes a series of prescriptive elements, which call for a national reparation policy, lay down guidelines on how truth-seeking processes should be designed, and who should be involved. It also stresses the responsibility of states to âprosecute those responsible for gross violations of human rights and serious violations of international humanitarian law, constituting crimes against international lawâ.
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FDI in retail marks the first of a series of policy decisions where the states from now will have to decide how they want to run with the issues. Hitherto, on major policy measures having national implications, the character of India's federal structure has almost always thrust the onus on the Centre to take a final stand, with states largely staying out of the operative decision-making process.
Instead, they have largely confined themselves to the task of implementing the policy decision taken by the Union government. The ongoing debate on allowing FDI in retail, however, marks a clear exception and throws the spotlight on states. The policy decision, by putting the veto power in the hands of the state governments forces each ruling dispensation to come clean on where they stand on the issue. The option of an ambiguous stand is not available any more, thereby accounting for the discomfort of a number of state governments, especially those in the northern hinterland.
Blaming the Centre for the decision will prove an exercise in futility. Assume for instance, that a state changes its Shops and Establishment Act to allow FDI in multi-brand even for towns with less than 1 million people. Vegetable mandis usually have significant presence in these towns and are likely to get hammered but farmers in the surrounding villages will end up better. These are the sort of comparative changes few states have equipped themselves to handle. While the debate in Parliament has largely been an aseptic exercise, mostly in line with the stated ideological stands of the mainstream national political parties, the smaller parties focussed on state level politics will have to sort out these problems with little useful guidance from the Centre.
But just as politics moved to the states in the late eighties as regional parties grew, the balance of economic decision making is now following suit. Reforms in state electricity distribution companies, land acquisition for industry, working of water allocation and finally the biggest of them all, developing urban centres that can hold business interests and act as employment generators will need policy making on a scale that states have never done. Each of them also needs them to take a call on foreign investment.
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