Friday, December 28, 2012

Coffee is bad

What does Ramamritham have against coffee ? I would have thought the caricature of Ramaritham included a cup of coffee and The Hindu. Yet here's this venerable gentleman having an angst against coffee . Why ?

I am referring to IKEA's application to open retail stores across India. You may recall that the move to allow foreign owned retailers to set up shop in India is a recent one (Didi notwithstanding).  IKEA has been one of the first to submit their proposal, willing to bring it no less than Rs 10,000 crores of investment. You would have thought that they would be welcomed with open arms  - it is difficult to see boxed furniture being a threat to national sovereignty. But what they got was not a red carpet - instead they were treated with the full attention of Ramamritham. (in the guise of the Foreign Investment Promotion Board - FIPB)

I am no fan of IKEA stores. If you've been to one, they are all predictably the same format. You are forced to walk along one km of winding corridors that entirely destroy your sense of direction. You have to gaze at their full force of merchandise even if you want to buy a safety pin. After all those wanderings you are dying to sit down and rest your aching legs. Dutifully at the end of the trail you can buy a cup of coffee. Their format world over is the same.

Its the cup of coffee that has aroused Ramamritham's ire. Believe it or not, Ramamritham has turned down IKEA's application saying that they could not have a coffee shop - it appears that would become multi brand retail as the coffee is not IKEA branded coffee and hence would fall foul of the rules. Never mind the Rs 10,000 crores investment. FIPB is disallowing the proposal objecting to the coffee shop.

Finally the Commerce Minister had to intervene and suggest to Ramamritham that this is utterly nonsensical. He has asked IKEA to submit their proposal again and has promised them that he is partial to coffee.

Long long ago, when P Chidambaram was still a starry eyed reformer , he summoned a character called the Controller of Imports and Exports ( a terror those days) and asked him what he did. The worthy launched an impassioned plea as to how important and onerous his role was. PC's riposte was that he could perhaps understand that he had a role to play regarding imports, but pray, what was he doing trying to control exports ?? Within a few months he simply abolished the post.

I suggest he does a similar hatchet job on the FIPB. They perform no useful role. Open up investment in every sector barring maybe defence (even there there are arguments to  opening up for investment). Remember opening up for foreign investment does not mean that they can violate the law of the land. That provides the country ample protection against misbehaviour.

The only way to deal with nonsensical behaviour of objecting to the coffee shop is to abolish Ramamritham entirely.  Can Anand Sharma, the Commerce Minister, take a leaf out of his old predecessor and abolish the FIPB ?

PS :Newcomers to this blog who may not have been introduced to Ramamritham may get acquainted here.

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