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Across the Aisle: India at 70 – The Economy

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From: Indian Express By: AFP Published at: August 12, 2017
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Freedom, a written Constitution, parliamentary system of government, and rule of law have several purposes and objectives: one of the foremost is that they will lead to the social and economic progress of the people of a country.

Imagine taking responsibility for the governance of a country in 1947 when 83 per cent were illiterate, life expectancy at birth was 32 years, per capita income at current prices was Rs 247, and per capita consumption of electricity was 16.3 kWh per year. Lesser mortals would have concluded that India was ungovernable. The Father of any other Nation would have seized absolute power and done his best — or worst — to run a government according to his whims.

Not Mahatma Gandhi, who did not aspire to be in the government and preferred to serve the people in his own way. Not Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel and others who bravely shouldered the awesome responsibility of governing a vast and volatile nation.

Markers of Success

India has come a long way since August 15, 1947. Only the blind — and the bhakts (no intent to disrespect) — will argue that nothing, absolutely nothing, was accomplished in the last 70 years. They refuse to acknowledge —

the rise in life expectancy at birth to 68.34 years;

the rise of per capita income (at current prices) to Rs 1,03,219 per year;

the rise in literacy to 73 per cent;

the reduction in the proportion of people living in poverty to less than 22 per cent;

the self-sufficiency in food grains and the avoidance of famine;

the conquest of plague, kala azar, small pox and polio;

the advances in science and technology, especially space and atomic energy, with limited resources.

Every major political party of India had a role to play in the development story. The Congress was at the head of the Central government for nearly 55 years. Non-Congress parties ruled for 15 years; of these, the BJP was/is at the head of the Central government for nine years (Mr Vajpayee and Mr Modi).

Governance of India is not by the Central government alone. State governments have an equal responsibility. Matters directly affecting the lives of the people fall under the authority of the state governments (See Constitution, Seventh Schedule, List II). Because governance at the state level is so uneven, development at the state level is also terribly uneven. As on March 31, 2017, the per capita income of Delhi was Rs 2,49,004 and of Goa was Rs 2,42,745, while the per capita income of Bihar was Rs 31,380 (base year: 2014-15).

Who has been in the government in the poorest states of India? The Congress has not been in power in Uttar Pradesh since 1989; in Odisha since 2000; in West Bengal since 1977; and in Bihar since 1990 (it was a minor partner for 20 months until July 2017). The Congress can therefore be hardly blamed for their poor governance in recent decades. On the other hand, the BJP was in power in UP during 1997-2002 and again since this year; the BJP shared power in Odisha during 2000-2009; and the BJP shared power in Bihar during 2005-2014 and shares power again now.

Five Indicators

It is time to do a health-check of the economy as free India completes 70 years:

Jobs: There is more evidence that we have jobless growth. According to the Centre for Monitoring of Indian Economy (CMIE), between January and April 2017, the economy shed 1.5 million formal sector jobs.

GDP growth: There is a steady decline in the growth rate of Gross Value Addition (GVA) since Q4 of 2015-16 and, correspondingly, in the growth rate of GDP.

Investment: In the 12-month period from Q4 of 2015-16 to Q4 of 2016-17, Gross Fixed Capital Formation at constant prices fell from 30.8 per cent to 28.5 per cent. It was 32.6 per cent in 2013-14 and had touched a high of 34.31 per cent in 2011-12 (base year: 2011-12).

Credit Growth: 2016-17 ended with a credit growth rate of 8.16 per cent, which was less than one-half of the average annual growth during the last 10 years. Industrial Production: In the last three years, the Index of Industrial Production has moved, sluggishly, from 111 in May 2014 to 119.6 in June 2017.

Celebration without Joy

These are the five indicators that should be on the dashboard of the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister but, apparently, they are not. Both talk on everything under the sky except on the economy. The Prime Minister has the talent to turn attention away from a catastrophic economic situation to political issues. The Finance Minister is happy to throw out some inconsequential statistics that carry no credibility with economists of repute. There is no more than one person in the government who will speak truth to power at least occasionally.

Yet the government will lead the ‘celebration’ of India at 70. Who will join them? Not the 22 per cent at the bottom of the pyramid, not the farmers, not the manufacturers of goods or their workers, not the lenders or the potential borrowers, not the young job seekers, not those denied education loans and higher education, not women, not the Dalits, and not the minorities. It will be a celebration without joy.

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