Thursday, April 7, 2011

Indian Standard Time

No society understands the theory of relativity better than India - At least those elements of the theory of time. That time is not absolute , but is indeed relative. That's why the concept of Indian Standard Time is commonly used to explain the Indian's mastery of this subject.

That strange introduction is meant to draw attention to the Cairn Vedanta deal, which is again held up by government indecisiveness. Cairn Energy, a UK listed company wants to sell its 62% stake in Cairn India to Vedanta. The balance shares are held by the state owned ONGC. Some time ago Cairn had signed an agreement whereby it need not pay any royalties out of the oil drilled - instead ONGC would pay the royalties. Now ONGC wants to renegotiate this contract as a precondition to a government approval of the sale of Cairn's stake to Vedanta.

This post is not to discuss the merits of ONGC's stand. But one of the unintended consequences of the 2G scam is that nobody in the government is now brave enough to take any decision, lest he be accused of corruption. The easiest way now is to get as many expert opinions, have joint committees, etc etc and simply not take any decision .

The Cairn Vedanta deal has been going for some 8 months now.The shareholders approval for the deal had a deadline of April 15 for completion. Two days ago the government has deferred the decision on approval to a "ministerial panel", which is yet to be formed. The saga goes on.

Time is a precious commodity in business. The government is well within its right to reject the deal. Or approve it. But decide, it must, one way or the other. The fear of scandal cannot paralyse it into inaction. Speed of decision making is not mutually exclusive with good governance. There is an example inside India itself to follow. Gujarat offers the role model.  The state decides, and decides fast. There is no dithering. The results of its action is there for all to see. There isn't much whiff of scandal and the extent of progress is Chinaesque.