Reform support: Coal monopoly gone; defence, space sectors opened up

New Delhi, May 16 (IANS): In a mega push to boost mining, defence, civil aviation and power distribution sectors, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, on Saturday announced deep structural reforms under the Rs 20 lakh-crore economic package for the 'self-reliant India' programme, announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently.

The Minister detailed makeover initiatives for eight key sectors, to be supported and promoted via structural reforms.

The biggest reform measure, ending one of the last great central monopolies, was announced for the coal sector, where mining has been deregulated.

The Minister said nearly 50 blocks would be offered for auction immediately, and in a departure from the tradition, there will no eligibility conditions, only upfront payment with a ceiling.

The Rs 50,000 crore infrastructure development will be instituted for evacuation of coal to help Coal India's (CIL) achieve the 1 billion tonnes output target by 2023-24, plus the coal produced from private blocks.

The coal-based methane gas reserves will also be auctioned and incentives be provided for conversion of coal into gas.

A new regime for seamless composite exploration-cum-mining-cum-production will be introduced, and joint auction of bauxite and coal blocks for the aluminium industry will be conducted.

Similarly, a major set of reforms has been announced for the defence manufacturing sector. The foreign direct investment (FDI) limit for the industry will be raised from 49 per cent to 74 per cent under the automatic route.

Sitharaman spoke of time-bound defence procurement process and faster decision-making under the new policy. The Centre will also set up a project management unit to support contract management.

It has also been decided to notify certain weapons and platform that would not be imported and efforts would be made for local production of spares.

The Centre will also go for corporatisation of the Ordnance Factory Board to improve autonomy, accountability and efficiency in ordnance supplies.

Six more airports have been identified for the second round of bidding for operation and maintenance on the public-private partnership (PPP) basis. The air space availability will also be eased to allow airlines save cost and passengers, the flying time.

For the power distribution business, the Minister said discoms in the Union Territories would be privatised. A Rs 8,100-crore revamped viability gap funding scheme was also announced for social infrastructure projects.

The government will encourage the private sector's participation in the space sector through collaboration with the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and a liberal geo-spatial data policy.

A medical isotope producing research reactor will also be set up under the PPP mode.

These announcements have been made under Prime Minister's mega stimulus package amounting to 10 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Besides, the day's mega announcements, the FM also gave details on industrial clusters upgrade along with releasing rankings of industrial parks in 2020-21, ranking of states on investment attractiveness to compete for new investments and making information available on Industrial Information system with GIS mapping.

India Inc welcomed the announcements which it said will give the required push to boost the domestic economy.

"The fourth tranche of announcements by Hon'ble Finance Minister today was focused on investment promotion in a big way in key sectors of the economy. The announcements give shape to the Prime Minister's vision of Atmanirbhar Bharat for localised manufacturing, reducing imports and boosting employment", said Chandrajit Banerjee, Director General, Confederation of Indian Industry(CII).

"Overall, in the last four days, the government has introduced a set of major reforms, be it agriculture, MSME, or power. The eight sectors where reforms were outlined by Hon'ble Finance Minister today represent core sectors such as coal, mining and power as well as emerging sectors of defence production, aviation, space, and atomic energy and add up to substantial incentives for new investments."

Industry body Ficci President said: "The government is turning the crisis into an opportunity for India and we have seen that in a matter of just a few days some of the long-standing reform measures that FICCI was pushing for have been announced by the government."

"The measures announced today were in the same direction of creating more opportunities for Indian industry and leveraging the strengths of both large business houses as well as start-ups. These measures will lay the foundation for long term growth and provide impetus to sectors that can help share the future of India."

According Secretary General Deepak Sood: "You need grit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to announce far-reaching reforms like increasing FDI limit in Defence production from 49 per cent to 74 per cent, allowing commercial coal mining for private sector, privatising Discoms in the Union Territories and, above all, reposing confidence in India's private sector to commercially use the country's space capabilities."

PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry's President D.K. Aggarwal said: "Boosting private sector investment in social infrastructure through revamped VGF scheme with an outlay of Rs 8100 crore, introduction of tariff policy laying out reforms in consumer rights, promote industry and boosting private participation in space sector and atomic energy related reforms are highly appreciable and growth provoking...."


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Title: Reform support: Coal monopoly gone; defence, space sectors opened up

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