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Panel set up for innovation in government projects

Economic Times:  October, 2015

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who got a ringside view of the transformative power of technology during his recent visit to Silicon Valley, wants to spark a similar revolution in India. But the government doesn't want the initiative to fizzle out in a reiteration of the usual platitudes.

To this end, the Prime Minister has put together a team that will decide how government projects can be executed using cutting-edge technology and processes "in the best public interest of the nation," a top official said. The empowered committee for innovative collaborations was set up by the cabinet secretariat last week with a powerful mandate to incorporate the very latest solutions that science and technology has to offer.

The committee will consider projects in areas such as infrastructure, manufacturing and science and technology involving investments of Rs 2,000 crore and more. It's the trickle-down theory speeded up with a hefty dose of tech magic--change that will enable the country to achieve rapid economic growth, the benefits of which won't just be restricted to urban India but also flow to farmers and the country's weaker sections.

It's also a recognition that investment, which the government has accelerated, will need to be augmented with the power of ideas in order to leapfrog the usual evolutionary steps toward broader development. "This cannot be achieved by investment alone--it also requires innovation," said the official cited above. The committee, headed by Niti Aayog vice chairman Arvind Panagariya, will have the power to suggest changes in concession agreements, procurement procedures and the overall structuring of project proposals. In case any ministry differs with its recommendations, the matter will be directly taken up by the cabinet.

Other members of the panel are former central vigilance commissioner P Shankar and former cabinet secretary KM Chandrashekhar. The secretaries of economic affairs and the department of industrial policy and promotion (DIPP) will also be on the panel. Invitees will include the concerned secretary of the ministry or department and the relevant state's chief secretary.

The government, which is facing criticism for its seeming inability to get projects moving, has taken the step to ensure better implementation.

The committee has been formed keeping in mind that government procedures are time consuming and cannot keep pace with the rapid progress of technology and innovation, said the official cited above. The committee can recommend the relaxation of policy and tax rules for any proposal seeking exemption depending on employment and revenue potential besides other social and economic benefits that may be generated.

It will meet at least once in 15 days and advise government departments and agencies such as the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) on converting concepts into implementable projects. All proposals will be routed through the DIPP, which will scrutinize and prepare a list of pros and cons for each project.

The empowered committee will also prepare guidelines for evaluating private sector offers in terms of price competitiveness, as well as technological and environmental considerations.

The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) has said that stalled projects declined to 6.6% in the quarter ended June from 8.4% of gross domestic product ( GDP) in the quarter ended March 2014.