India UnInc: Crushed by the State but can't be brushed aside! –Book Review

According to Prof Vaidyanathan, soon we would have to strengthen and facilitate our small business that contributes a huge 45% to the Indian economy and this would help in better employment and society

R Vaidyanathan, the professor of Finance at Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore (IIM-B), in one-of-its-kind and in-depth well researched study, delves into India Unincorporated by presenting a persuasive case on this sector’s single largest contribution of 45%. This contribution comes from national income, savings, investments and taxes that are ignored even though it exceeds three times the corporate sector’s contribution of a mere 15%. The official guestimates of its contributions in manufacturing and services sector are inaccurate, flawed and outdated, making the India Story incomplete when this real engine of growth story is thus wrongly disregarded.


“The growth of the economy in the nineties should be attributed to the partnership and proprietorship (P&P) firms in service activities and not due to the reforms carried out by the government or the miniscule contribution of the corporate sector... ironically this remarkable contribution of the P&P sector has not been documented and appreciated.” The wealth of information presented is adequately backed by facts and figures of P&P firms or “the unincorporated economy” that comprises small entrepreneurs in India’s growth and development of over the years…governments control and regulate an economic activity that it does not understand it and tax it if it is growing fast...this gargantuan appetite of the government goes against the grain of our civilization ethos and negates the entrepreneurship of the non-corporate sector designated mini, small and medium enterprises. Its contribution to national savings hasn’t received the recognition because the aberration is due to it being wrongly labeled “household sector, though many of them notch turnovers running into hundreds of crores… Nirma was once a group of partnership firms…. Incremental capacity created is based on its ingenuity like many passengers travelling by bus are outside the bus (by hanging on to the widows or door rails taxis in Bihar, UP and Bengal carry a couple of passengers more and a barber needs two more hands to shave an extra person rather than four more chairs… The concept of capacity is cosmic and unlimited unlike western notions of limited capacity and possibility of increasing output only by increasing capital.”


The best part of this book is Prof Vaidyanathan’s masterly analysis that discusses at length the “FDI in Retail Trade - Fact and Fiction”. The learned Professor dispassionately analyzes that “Retail trade (in India) is currently dominated by P&P firms… the retail revolution that is applauded by planners, encouraged the government and eagerly talked by experts… but not many seem to be worrying about the millions of retail traders, who will get marginalized. There is not much debate [let alone informed debate] among academics and other policy-makers about the far reaching implications that the entry of global retailers has on our economy, where the level playing field argument is meaningful and significant too. Next only to agriculture’s 17.5%, wholesale and retail trade contributes 16.6% and manufacture 14% of the GDP, their growth rates have been 3.6%, 9.2% and 8.4% respectively in the national DP of 8.3%... Livelihood of 30 million, including children and others, is involved in retail trade; 120 million will be directly impacted by the so-called retail revolution, when real estate sharks will corner prime land to construct large malls by evicting retailers.


Many householders will then create small retail shops inside their homes with the help of surplus self-employed in-house labour with mini refrigerators to store just-in-time stock of cola and bundles of toilet paper rather than a major retail revolution with the razzle-dazzle of shopping in comfortable surroundings, computer generated unreadable printouts as a panacea for all problems. The arguments that the new outlets will remain open for longer hours unlike those in the West where they close early and on Sundays falls flat as the local next door mom-n-pop kirana shops manned by the efficient owner knowing and his family the customers’ tastes, requirements, price considerations offers free home deliveries and also extends credit. He opens at 7am and closes at 10pm every day for 365 days, but labeled ‘unorganized’ by our experts and the national income data to diminish his contribution. The customers don’t need to blow up fuel to drive miles away to go to the malls. The footfalls in these shops cannot be measured using western models [since there is no place to keep anybody’s foot inside his shop!] and so he is derided and abused. It is like clubbing housewives with prostitutes in our Census data to showing them that they are involved in ‘unproductive’ activities. This is indeed a great tongue-in-the mouth apt simile. He considers these economic constraints imposed by the west to be terminological terrorism mouthed ad-nauseam by economists and policy planners without understanding their implications, they want to open it up to global sharks in the name of liberalization and kill the fast growing, productive, efficient and effective retail trade.


In this trade, the weak are marginalized due to the denial of adequate lines of institutionalized credit at reasonable rates. The other is the difficulties faced by them in opening Core Banking Solutions bank accounts – KYC [Lord Megnad Desai terms it “KILL Your Customer”!] requirement on insistence of proof of residence more particularly the migrants with no fixed residences. The just-retired governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) was unable to open a bank account at Hyderabad because he couldn’t provide proof of residence in that city! While large corporates obtain large lines of credit with highly suspect credit appraisals, at prime lending rate (PLR) or base rates, soft loans and exotic facilities, a poor flower vending girl cannot open a No-frills account. This too at times she may be borrowing from a usurious money lender at 180%, or getting Rs45,000 up front for a loan amount of Rs50,000. More than 70% of the retail working capital requirements come from such non-bank sources.


The phenomenal bribes extorted by police, municipal babus and their minions are ‘organized dacoity’ as much high as Rs20 on a daily income of Rs200. That is 10% of gross income.


The arguments that the multi-national companies (MNCs) bring in ‘funds, efficiency and cost effective solutions is totally mirage, and failed models, they only access funds in our domestic financial institutions by brandishing their parent company’s ‘letters of comfort’, which fetch them funds even below prime rates because they are ‘global’. Enron promised to bring in Rs10,000 crore, but our institutions now hold more than Rs6,000 crore of worthless paper now turned into non-performing assets (NPAs). Enron CEO Rebecca Mark claimed that they’ve “spent millions to educate Indians a part of the project.” The so-called ‘technology and knowledge base’ sought to be brought with them is “just “to dumb down India” as was done by Wal-Mart in the US. The French have their Loi Royer Regulations to protect ‘Centres of French towns and villages and living of small shopkeepers’ and Germany with similar legislative constraints on outlets exceeding 1200sq.m. Other Asian countries, like Korea and Japan have the well-developed regulations and local competition to protect community based local establishments by excluding overseas companies in any ‘distributional aspects in petroleum products, rice, tobacco, salt, alcoholic beverages, fresh foods, milk and fertilizers.


Indian laws are being amended a thousand times to facilitate the grand entry of global malls and hypermarkets, some to permit the retail giants to procure directly from farmers at the agricultural market yards and not to trade in commodities, the transparency doubtful. Indian brands like Reliance have encountered opposition in states like UP. In India, with mounting pressure presently 100% FDI is permitted in single brand and up to 50% in multi-brand. Wal-mart faces US Congressional investigations into allegations of bribery and corruption in India. Today it is a hot election issue with the principal opposition parties Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Aam Admi Party (AAP) stoutly opposing the entry.


Prof Vaidyanathan sums up the chapter by saying – “The sooner we strengthen and facilitate our small business, the better for employment and society.”


This must-read-by-all has a lot to say on a variety of tropical matters like Taxation and Bribery, Social Security for the Self-Employed and the role of gold, role of the stock markets, Caste and musings on other matters like the NGO sector, Art of giving – Warren Buffet to be told, Sports and Bollywood as UnInc that I commend the readers to pick up from the book itself.


India UnInc

Author R Vaidyanathan

Publisher: Westland Books 2014

372 pages

Price: Rs395



Snehal P Dani
9 years ago
Listening to Prof. R. Vaidyanathan is delight beyond imagination. His clarity of thoughts and innovative ideas are path breaking.The way he conveys in simple narration complex economic and social issues makes him eligible to be the Policy Advisor to The Government of India at hightest level of PMO or Finance Secretary.
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