Suresh Prabhu, the Union Minister for
Commerce & Industry, taking additional charge of the Ministry
of Civil Aviation, in New Delhi on March 12, 2018. Jayant Sinha,
the Minister of State for Civil Aviation looks on.
The recently named Minister
for Civil Aviation of India Suresh Prabhu takes charge of the subcontinent’s
aviation portfolio as an add-on to his regular duties as Minister of Commerce
and Industry. Prabhu, considered by many, the ultimate government professional
assumed command of C&I after former chief Ashok Gajapathi Raju resigned
for political reasons.
While the new minister has started off making
the right noises, at least as far as air cargo is concerned, questions
are being asked whether his outwardly ambitious plans will be feasible
Also Prabhu has taken charge at a crucial
juncture as the government is finalizing the modalities for the strategic
disinvestment of Air India.
The Air Cargo
First, however, Minister Prabhu’s
plans for air cargo.
Minister Prabhu has unveiled a draft plan
to link aviation to agricultural hubs to boost farm exports.
Prabhu said that the draft policy has been circulated for inter-ministerial
“I have asked officers (of the civil
aviation ministry) to prepare a plan to provide this support with a view
to fast-tracking the movement of farm commodities,” Prabhu declared.
The Minister also noted that the aviation
sector is competing with other modes of transportation in the country
and that would bring down the cost of logistics.
Suresh Prabhu has had several different
stints as Minister since 1998.
In fact, Prime Minister Modi chose him to
be the Minister for Railways in 2014.
A Chartered Accountant by profession, Prabhu
is known as an advocate for reforms. He is also a man of integrity: he
quit as Railway Minister when three accidents happened within a span of
10 days in August last year.
There is also the lame duck factor.
With barely a year remaining for this government,
it remains to be seen how much Prabhu can achieve.
What air cargo stakeholders are looking
at is action on the ground – and that seems to be taking longer
It is, however, important to note that Prabhu
as Commerce and Industry Minister has chalked out plans in some detail
for India to boost exports.
This will primarily be accomplished by widening
the country’s export basket.
Prabhu said that he was keen to see India
exporting new products and opening new markets.
The plan includes among other things, driving
share of exports to 20 percent of the GDP.
According to Federation of Indian Export
Organization (FIEO), the current share of exports in GDP is 18 to 19 percent.
The Commerce Ministry has, meanwhile, come
up with a Logistics Performance Index (LPI) that will rank states in terms
of the logistical support they provide to promote trade.
The index will act as a signal to identify
the problem areas.
For example, while Customs Department function
smoothly in certain states, in other states, they do not and the index
would help in finding out why this was happening.
While the Minister’s words may have
struck a responsive chord, it will take quite a while to set up the proper
infrastructure, especially for the agricultural sector to boost exports.