Economy
The NDA Government’s Two Years
The fact that the Modi government is depending largely on the bureaucracy for bringing in transformation does not provide much hope
 
The current National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, led by Narendra Modi, has governed the country for two years. Assessment of its performance over this period is emerging as the biggest industry in the media. Every Tom, Dick and their mothers-in-law have an opinion, which they make no effort to keep to themselves. I see no harm in adding to the cacophony with my own take. 
 
Assessment of performance can be undertaken in various ways. We can have a wish list of things we would want the government to do and then tick off what has been achieved. That would be rather naïve. Alternatively, we could make a comparison with the previous government. Since the previous government was known for its somnolence and hardly did anything, worthwhile or otherwise, any government would find it easy to better that performance. We could compare the performance to the expectations that people had from the current government. That would be valid except for the fact that in a country as complex as India, actions take an inordinately long time to manifest themselves into actual outcomes. I believe we should evaluate the government in terms of whether a foundation has been laid for “Acchhe Din” in the future and whether a process has been established and an environment created for effecting structural changes.
 
While we need corrective action on many fronts, I believe the biggest problem holding India back is the regulatory control over transactions, commercial or otherwise. We are a ‘permissions and approvals’ country, which creates roadblocks in undertaking any activity we may want to engage in. The roadblocks are bureaucratic and structural in nature and prevent us from smooth running of business and leading our lives in a free and unrestrained manner. Nurturing, and not controlling, is required to get the best out of 125 crore Indians. 
 
Has that been achieved over the last 24 months? 
 
The current government has been a passionate advocate of the use of technology for improving governance and making it inclusive. The most critical action on this front has been what is popularly termed JAM, which has the potential to make a significant impact in the coming days. JAM, as we all know, stands for the Jan Dhan Yojana, Aadhaar and Mobile. Technology is being leveraged to ensure that the benefits of government schemes and subsidies actually reach the desired beneficiary directly and instantly in what is termed the Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT). 
 
It is a tribute to the people of the country that mass adoption of technology is something we have, usually, accepted with tremendous enthusiasm. In the mid-90s, crores of equity accounts in the stock market were converted to electronic form in a matter of two and a half years, something that has not been achieved at this pace, anywhere in the world, on such a large scale. Then, in the initial years of the current century, the country was ‘mobilised’ so to say, with telecom penetration reaching dizzying heights. 
 
The last few years have seen Indians being given a new number, in a way, through Aadhaar. All this has now culminated in the inclusion of a large number of hitherto excluded Indians in the banking system of the country. While this may not have not brought any instant benefit, its potential in the future is enormous. In this day of instant food and instant gratification, we crave for immediate dividends, conveniently forgetting that significant and lasting benefits accrue from structural changes. It is difficult, at this stage, to surmise the impact of JAM but it is likely to be a game changer.
 
There is, now, a direction to the economy, which had been rudderless for many years (quite ironically, under one of the most renowned economists India has produced). Inflation is under control, driven to a certain extent by a fall in oil and commodity prices, growth is now expected to pick up although it is taking more time than most of us expected and action on various other fronts is visible. The government has transferred significant resources to states in line with the recommendations of the Finance Commission. It has sought to set right the mess in the telecom and the coal sector, based on the decisions handed down by the judiciary. There is visible action on several fronts that were lying unattended. In some sense, governance seems to have made a definite comeback. 
 
It is indeed commendable that despite action on many fronts including sale of shares of some public sector units (PSUs), coal and telecom auction and purchase of defense equipment, there has been no corruption charge against this government. It is an incredible achievement given that the previous government was so scam-ridden and shows that even in the current environment of mud- slinging and suspicion, it is possible to take decisions, without succumbing to the temptation of the lucre.
 
However, the NDA government has to guard against the power that bureaucracy exercises and its innate proclivity towards maintaining status quo. While the need to free up markets, business and civil conduct is so urgent, no action has been taken on this score nor is there any intent manifest in government policies. The fact that the government is depending largely on the bureaucracy for bringing in transformation does not, in any case, provide much hope. We can only wait and watch, with apprehension. 
 
It is in the non-economic areas that the government’s report card scores poorly. Ours is a democracy and we profess to be a liberal democracy. While a democracy is characterised by a government elected by the people, a liberal democracy is one, which ensures that all citizens, irrespective of their political affiliation, ethnicity, religious beliefs and caste are treated equally. All citizens must have not only property rights and political freedom, but are also entitled to civil liberties. Ever since the NDA government took charge, minorities and those opposed to the current dispensation, have been apprehensive in this regard. The government and the ruling party have been advocating and promoting a religious based agenda that has raised temperatures many notches. In a country as diversified as India, the government must stay away from religious and other personal matters. A modern India cannot be a divisive India and if we are to progress, we need to ensure that divisive tendencies are firmly rooted out. It is imperative that we become a meritocracy based nation rather than a divisive one.
 
The government has also worked in a manner that has destroyed the independent fabric of institutions. Our constitution is not based on a committed civil service but a permanent one. Similarly, the heads of various institutions hold their positions based on merit and not on their advocacy of the governing party’s ideology. The government has done grave disservice to various eminent institutions by interfering in their functioning and, at times, unceremoniously, removing their heads. Delhi and Mumbai Universities, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Nalanda University and Indira Gandhi National Centre of Art, are some institutions that come to mind although there are many others.  India’s future is predicated on a strong, vibrant institutional framework. It takes ages, and probably an exceptional person at the top, to build an institution. Destroying it is an easy and quick process. It would be an invidious legacy of this government if it continues to undermine well-known institutions in the country.
 
Since independence, India has experienced rather weak governance. The action, or inaction in most cases, of various governments betrays lack of courage in standing up for what they possibly believe in. Things happen due more to serendipity than anything borne out of ideological convictions does. The liberalisation of the Indian economy in 1991 was practically forced upon us, the alternative being a default on our external borrowing commitments. Since then, the culture of reforms has been practically non-existent. Even minor steps taken are rolled back at the slightest hint of opposition, as we witnessed in the recent rescinding of provident fund (PF) reforms. A set of people can hold the government to ransom in Haryana, looting property, killing people and raping women, with their punishment being a promise of reservation. A liberal state needs strong governance, which ensures basic rights to all citizens and protects them from more vocal elements. A government that cannot establish rule of law is a worthless government.
 
In the initial enthusiasm of the Modi government assuming power, there was a hope that this government will be different, with the courage to implement what it stands for and not be held to ransom by a set of people, behaving as hoodlums. That hope is being increasingly belied with its failure to protect the fundamental rights of the silent citizens and its pandering to the demands of the vocal and physically intimidating sections of the population.
 
It is a popular practice to give marks out of ten to the performance of the government. I would refrain from doing so since nation building is a continuous, ongoing process. All I would say is that it has undertaken some structural measures on the economic front whose outcome may not be immediately visible. On the non-economic front, its actions have been divisive and mischievous, with the potential to cause damage to the basic social framework of the country. The next two years are going to be decisive and I do hope success of some of the measures taken by the government whets their appetite to do more and at the same time, they do not create further structural frictions. We can only wait, and hope, with apprehension.
 
(Sunil Mahajan, a financial consultant and teacher, has over three decades experience in the corporate sector, consultancy and academics.)

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COMMENTS

RAVI RAM PV

1 year ago

"The government and the ruling party have been advocating and promoting a religious based agenda that has raised temperatures many notches..."
....." removing their heads. Nalanda University ...."

Moneylife.in is the last place I expected to find pseudo-secular leftist rants.

Now onward, I will skip reading non-financial articles altogether.

Suketu Shah

1 year ago

We have been promised minimum govt,yet to see any signs.Our FM says 70,000 people wl be added to IT when IT offices shd be closed and bank transaction tax is what is the perfect solution to India's chronic "tax avoidance" problems.

Jyoti Dua

1 year ago

A reasonably good assessment. I disagree with author on certain issues such as changing head of certain institutions. The changes on social front is a long drawn process. The control corruption is of the issue which needs urgent attention of Govt, including that of state governments.

Why all politicians are trying to muzzle the RTI Act
RTI is exposing their arrogance and hence they try to discredit the Act by often talking about its misuse. If RTI Act is muzzled, soon we may have to provide reasons even for speaking. We must defend our democracy
 
There is a very disturbing news reports about the entire political spectrum agreeing that Right to Information (RTI) Act is misused and some constrictions should be developed to muzzle it. This is indeed a sad state of affairs. Samajwadi Party’s member of Parliament (MP) Naresh Agarwal has levelled a charge that the Indian Parliament passed the RTI Act under US pressure! I would have imagined that other MPs would have raised a breach of privilege motion against him. Unfortunately, such a derogatory remark about Indian Parliament did not result in any protests by other MPs. Praful Patel of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) made a remark, which was still worse. He had objections to the poor- paanwaala and chaiwaala- seeking information under RTI. He then genuflected before the most famous chaiwaala of India Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and said the PM is an exception. His implication was that if you are a chaiwaala who is not the PM, how dare you a low down person seek information from the government? The government appears to have been willing to go along that path. Rajiv Shukla of the Congress party also went along with this, almost repudiating his own party’s biggest achievement. I remember former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s poem (slightly modified by me): 
 
कौरव कौन, कौन पांडव, टेढ़ा सवाल है;
दोनो ओर, शकुनी का फैला कूटज़ाल है,
धर्मराज ने छोडी नही, जुए की लत है,
हर पंचायत मे, पांचाली अपमानित है, 
बिना कृष्णा के आज महाभारत होना है,
कोई राजा बने,  रंक को तो रोना है.
अब उठ और अपने   RTI   की रक्षा कर,
वरना तेरी लोकशाही निवस्त्रा हो जाएगी,
गांडीव  उठा अगर भारतकी रक्षा करनी है.
 
Citizens must get together and give an effective message that they will not tolerate a retrograde attack on their fundamental Right to Information. If they shackle RTI by labelling some applications as ‘misuse’ they will refuse most information which reveals corruption and arbitrariness. As an Information Commissioner who dealt with over 20,000 cases, I had the opportunity of interacting with a large number of RTI users and Public Information Officers (PIOs).
 
Generally, PIOs would refer to most applicants who filed RTI applications regularly as blackmailers, harassers and those who were misusing the Act. I would broadly divide those who filed a large number of RTI applications in the following categories:
  1. Those who filed RTI applications with the hope of exposing corruption or arbitrariness and hoped to improve and correct governance.
  2. Those who filed RTI applications repetitively to correct a wrong, which they perceived had been done to them.   
  3. Those who used RTI to blackmail people. This category largely targets illegal buildings, mining or some other activities, which runs foul of the law. 
All these categories together comprised around 10% of the total appeals and complaints. This represent persistent users of RTI and those who are generally knowledgeable about appeals and procedures. Nobody will deny that the first category deserves to be encouraged and is growing steadily.  In the second category, there are some who have been able to get corrective action and some whose grievance may defy resolution. Generally, most of us have a strong aversion for the third category who are making it a money-earning racket. This category certainly does not exceed 5% of the total.
 
I would argue that in the implementation of most laws some people would misuse its provisions. The police often misuse their powers to subvert the law, and so criminals too misuse our judicial system to prolong trials. The misuse of laws is largely dependent on the kind of people in a society and whether the justice system has the capability of punishing wrongdoers.  There are people who go to places of worship with the sole objective of committing theft or other crimes. But society does not define these as their main characteristic.  Is it reasonable to expect that only angels will use RTI?
 
I would submit that the powerful finds RTI upsetting their arrogance and hence try to discredit the Act by often talking about its misuse. I have often questioned government officers how the blackmailers operate.  They state that the RTI blackmailer threatens an illegal action with exposure and thereby extorts money. I wonder why society has such touching empathy for the victims who have committed illegal acts.  If RTI is muzzled by asking people to define why they want information, soon we will have to provide reasons for speaking. We must defend our democracy.
 
(Shailesh Gandhi served as Central Information Commissioner under the RTI Act, 2005, during 18 September 2008 to 6 July 2012. He is a graduate in Civil Engineering from IIT-Bombay. Before becoming a full time RTI activist in 2003, he sold his packaging business. In 2008, he was conferred the Nani Palkhivala Memorial Award for civil liberties.)

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COMMENTS

Mathew Thomas

1 year ago

There is no question of RTI being misused. Blackmail is a crime and if attempted or done the "law should take its course" as the politicos are fond of saying when caught up in their vices. The transgression of any law may be used for blackmail. The solution is not to dilute the law. In RTI the solution lies in suo motu disclosure and honesty in government procedures. Politicians must remember that they are representatties who have come through a not foolproof selection process. They are not rulers.

S.S.A.Zaidi

1 year ago

Very well written and articulated article. Hamaam mein sab nangey hain. there is a food for thought--Are we electing right people

Mahesh Khanna

1 year ago

I fully agree with Shaileshji, no one can blackmail an honest person with clean hands. Why are the MP' crying for those who have unclean hands are being blackmailed.

b. bharathi

1 year ago

The statement is 100% true. We support it. Corrupt politicians, IAS, IPS and civil service officers are against it.

B. BHARATHI

1 year ago

The statement is 100% true. It is a fundamental right of a citizen to get information from the public authorities. It exposes corruption. So, corrupt politicians, IAS, IPS, civil service officers and police officers are against RTI applicants. They are ready to murder rti applicants.

Peruvemba Subramanian Ramachandran

1 year ago

Please take this up as PIL and we are all solidly behind him.

D S Ranga Rao

1 year ago

In the hindsight, we, the people of India, have to feel sorry in electing such law-breakers or those who have little respect for the rule of law as our law-makers. Drunk with power and steeped in arrogance, they think that their perks and privileges last forever and they are immortal. Oh, God, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.

Ashok Sharma

1 year ago

कौरव कौन, कौन पांडव, टेढ़ा सवाल है;
दोनो ओर, शकुनी का फैला कूटज़ाल है,
धर्मराज ने छोडी नही, जुए की लत है,
हर पंचायत मे, पांचाली अपमानित है,
बिना कृष्णा के आज महाभारत होना है,
कोई राजा बने, रंक को तो रोना है.
अब उठ और अपने RTI की रक्षा कर,
वरना तेरी लोकशाही निवस्त्रा हो जाएगी,
गांडीव उठा अगर भारतकी रक्षा करनी है.

Not all loan defaulters are thieves: Gadkari
New Delhi : As Indian agencies step up efforts to bring industrialist Vijay Mallya back to the country and recover much of the Rs.9,000 crore his companies allegedly owe banks, a key member of Prime Minister Narendra Modi cabinet cautions that every defaulter mustn't be labelled a defaulter.
 
"Judicial proceedings are going on about the default of Vijaya Mallaya. Steps will be taken on whatever will be right," said Road Transport, Highway and Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari in an interview to ETV News Network, the transcript of which was provided by the channel.
 
"Earlier, his companies were giving interest to banks regularly. At that time, people were rating him good. Consultants were considered good, their managers were considered good. When one company faced difficulty, then all are termed as thief," he said.
 
"Government is taking action as per law."
 
Giving a macro picture, Gadkari said, when there was an overall global slowdown, especially in the Chinese economy, a host of industries have not been performing well in India. But the government's intervensions have helped areas such as infrastructure, steel and cement industries. 
 
"We are also accepting that everything is not in good position. But we are trying to improve the situation. Banks' positions are also not in good terms. But we cannot term every defaulter as thief. We have to see if default is bonafide mistake or malafide mistake," he said.
 
"Overall, we have to take a positive, development-oriented approach. We should help the bonafide defaulters. Actions should be taken against malafide defaulters."
 
Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.

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