The 71st Republic Day makes me reflect on the unfinished agenda for growth before the nation and a vision for the next decade. It is one thing to set a quantitative goal post and quite another to move higher on a qualitative agenda.
Such a qualitative goal requires more inclusivity and higher sensitisation than what we have at present.
As a citizen, I would like to dream of an India, where peace and tranquility prevail; where transparency in governance exists in all fields; where there would be 100% food security and 100% self-sufficiency for food; where market forces do not devour the poor and the weak in society.
India should be a country where better water and farm management would lead to better employment and least migration to urban and metropolitan areas from the rural areas; where population growth would not stand as an impediment for further growth of the economy; where all the employables get fully employed and the less employables would be endowed with appropriate skills and knowledge for full employment; where there is free entry and exit for firms in the economy with no parasites.
Also it should be a country where women can walk freely even at midnight anywhere in the country; where values of life fall in tune with the culture and ethos of the nation and where the digital divide between the rural and urban vanish; where information asymmetry and moral hazard do not exist and where all the sectors of the economy realize their mutual dependence to their mutual benefit and the growth rate of the economy would move to a double digit figure as a matter of practice.
I recall what Swami Ranganadhananda said once: “I look forward to the day when rural people stop easing themselves in public and start eating in public.”
The statement is profound and carries with it an agenda for action: provision of good sanitation, safe drinking water, crossing the caste and other societal barriers and food within the reach of all.
Fortunately, during the last few years, the Swachh Bharat mission has taken the open-defecation-free (ODF) areas close to 80-90% in several cities, although a lot remains to be done in many rural areas.
Aspirational Districts program would similarly make several lagging districts to come to the forefront. Still, a lot needs to be done for an ODF India and safe drinking water being universally available. This calls for a synthesis between social and economic budgeting.
The barriers to realising such a vision would be:
Fragmented political will;
Poverty and low level of literacy;
Weak financial sector mired in unrecovered corporate debts and frauds;
Improper structural plans;
Institutionalization and harmonization of legal aspects to set up monitoring systems.
Deficiencies in implementation.
Some of our strengths recognized worldwide are:
A middle class estimated at 350 million out of a total population of over 1.2 billion providing a stable market;
The second largest English-speaking scientific, technical and executive manpower in the world;
An abundant supply of raw materials;
An extensive rail and road network;
A stable political system based on parliamentary democracy;
A common legal system with English as the court language;
India is emerging as a major market and investment destination;
The dramatic economic reforms initiated in 1991 have left a wide canvas of positive thinking and affirmative action.
India is one of the top five in the world’s growing economies even after this temporary slowdown (5% of gross domestic product (GDP) at the end of FY2020).
The sweeping change from unorganized to organized ways of doing businesses with the introduction of the goods and services tax (GST), Real Estate Regulatory Authority (RERA) and the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC).
An ardent desire to pursue financial inclusion agenda and
Another major strength is India’s ability to respond to crises:
When there was a crisis in meeting the food requirements against the backdrop of colonial misrule, with severe famine and large patches of drought, we fought it out valiantly through the green revolution and made India self-reliant in food; we are now on the threshold of food exports. When we had a crisis in foreign exchange, we ably steered through.
Most of the natural calamities – recurring floods in several States or hard-hitting recurring cyclones in Andhra Pradesh (AP), Assam, West Bengal, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, earthquakes of Latur in Maharashtra or Bhuj in Gujarat; the Tsunami of 2004 in Tamil Nadu -- have been ably handled with domestic resources.
Gross inadequacies are noticed in terms of value addition due to inadequate attention to crop specific infrastructure and post-harvest technologies like pre-cooling, cold storages with assured power at uniform voltage, price hedging operations, and market reforms in the farm sector.
Some States have initiated special studies in this regard to prioritize their investments in these areas and deploy the needed resources. The impacts of these initiatives would be felt in due course. However, there is a regulatory overhang in India with more than twelve Union ministries, corresponding state ministries, laws framed by the Union government with rules framed by the state governments for implementing them.
Still, due to the several food control orders governing the production and trade of those commodities and crops into which the farmers would like to diversify, the farmer, rural industry and farm trade are virtually strangulated. While there is an awakening in respect of these areas, the speed of reforms and actions in these areas deserve urgent attention.
Farmers benefit from more accurate weighing, faster processing time, and prompt payment, and from access to a wide range of information, including accurate market price knowledge, and market trends, which help them decide when, where, and at what price to sell. E-NAM has not fully absorbed the e-Choupal model.
Farmers selling directly to ITC Ltd through an e-Choupal typically receive a higher price for their crops than they would receive through the mandi system, on an average about 2.5% higher. The total benefit to farmers includes lower prices for inputs and other goods, higher yields, and a sense of empowerment. The e-Choupal system has had a measurable impact on what farmers chose to do. The system also provides direct access to the farmer to information about conditions on the ground, improving planning and building relationships that increase its security of supply. Farmers Producers Organizations (FPO) are gaining ground, albeit slowly. FPOs need clusterisation to derive greater advantage.
Every Law should stand the test of the Constitution and stakeholder consultation a priori and should be subject to regulatory impact assessment at the beginning of the first Parliament session of the year.
Increased urbanisation during the last five decades has not diminished the rural space significantly. Comprehensive connectivity of village complexes providing economic opportunities to all segments of people remains unfulfilled.
The integrated method that will bring prosperity to rural areas envisages four types of connectivity: physical connectivity through quality roads and transport; electronic connectivity through telecom with high bandwidth fibre optic cables; knowledge connectivity through education, skill training for farmers, artisans and craftsmen and entrepreneurship programmes, where the future roadmap of economic growth lies.
It is not so much globalisation that is important as global competitiveness that is the need and healthy growth of manufacturing micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), empowering women and reordering the subsidy regime in all the fields. We have no room for complacence.
(The author is an economist and risk management specialist. The views are personal.)