India on growth path
By Shivaji Sarkar
India is on a growth path. Latest quarterly figures say it touched 8.2 per cent in April-June, beating the Reuters figures of 7.6 per cent or IMF projections of around 7.3 per cent. This is the highest since 9.2 per cent growth registered in January-March 2016. Besides, the RBI report is also buoyant and finds manufacturing and agriculture growing, with infrastructure adding to it.
However, the RBI stops short of saying that the rate of growth would be sustained. During past sometime, the economy has grown in few quarters but overall annual figures have remained around 7 per cent. As very few economies are growing at this rate, this is bound to help the NDA government in an election year. And, while the RBI notes that the government’s policies are on a correct path, it warns against any complacency.
The four years of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government apparently has a clean slate by and large and is not strictly sullied by any scam or poke-marked deals. While the Congress is going to town over the Rafale aircraft deal, it has yet to come out with any tangible proof. So far, the people seem to have faith in Modi, though that view is not uniformly true about many of the State governments. For example, in Assam the people feel Modi cannot do any wrong, but the Sonowal government is reportedly not functional.
This should mean that political economy is favourable to the NDA. But to turn the people into voters, the government would have to take a number of drastic steps and correct many wrongs done by the UPA government.
Let us start with the 431 programmes that the NDA government launched during the past four years. While separately they are doing well, the public does not have a clear cut perception. They are not even aware that so many programmes exist and have begun in such short time. Clearly, the people cannot be blamed as the numbers are big and public memory has its limitation. If the government wants to take its benefit, then it has to repackage the programmes in bunches – perhaps 10 or so.
Inflation, even around 5 per cent, is hitting the people as it is over accumulated 60 plus per cent since 2010. The NDA government has to take careful steps so that people know they are getting what they want.
There are few other aspects, which are being obfuscated by some not so intelligent approach. Development is happening in the railways, ports and Sagarmala, gas connections, road sector, skill development and many others, as these are delivering. But the apparatus is unable to take the message to the people. And thus some faults here and there are creating an impression which is contrary to the reality.
Let us take for example the railways. Because of severe operational mismanagement there is a perception that trains are running late, dynamic fares are fleecing people, cancellation charges are atrocious, etc. Profiteering, in people’s perception, seems to be the motive of the new railway system and the Railway Board is also aware of it. Why then don’t the officials tell the government that most of these are unethical and should be corrected? They are unable to advise why a pilgrim train to Katra (Vaishno Devi) should have premium dynamic fare structure, given that such pilgrimage is undertaken mostly by citizens with below average incomes. Obviously, when this hurts the people, it will reflect in the ballot boxes too.
Even the slightly better off (India doesn’t really have a class that is rich) rue why they would pay atrociously high fares for travelling in Rajdhani, Shatabdi or many so-called premium trains. Besides, the rationale of high cancellation charges, where people lose up to 100 per cent of the fare paid, is difficult to understand. More so, as the number of travelers is so high, that no train even during the non-peak season has a single empty berth.
The obvious question then is why a cancellation should cost that high — almost equivalent to a tatkal ticket. It is a people’s government and they want it to understand that one, they are paying quite high fares and two, if they are not travelling then they should be refunded the entire amount, barring minor clerical charges of Rs 10 to 20 per ticket. A simple thing like this is not happening and the angst is growing.
Additionally, railway finances are a difficult number game. Most of its policies were drawn by Congress-led governments. Citizens wonder why Modi’s people-friendly government has not corrected it and worse why should the people be punished for bureaucratic idiosyncracies.
Then there is the ‘Ujjwala’ gas connection, which is another puzzle. The publicity itself stating that the connection is free is not correct. Charges for the first cylinder and hot plate were to be collected in six monthly installments and these is now a feeling that they have been cheated. Further, the subsidy that was to be refunded to their banks has not reached in many cases, except in some big cities like Delhi. The credibility of the supplier itself is thus at stake. There are rumblings and many a kitchen today is finding it tough to have a refill.
Notwithstanding the road sector being the fastest growing and connecting places, it does have a high cost for the users. There are multiple taxes and tolls for travelling even between adjacent villages, leading to innumerable disputes. Plus, the fuel cess of Rs 8 per litre is a huge cost and all put together adds to inconvenience, inflation and irritation.
In the West, there are parallel roads and it is not a must to pass through the toll roads. It needs to be done here too or ideally abolish tolls. Besides, instead of reducing tolls as costs are realized, the system is based on a faulty concept of linking it to inflation. This must change.
Banks too are causing enormous problems and irritation apart from the NPAs. In the past, transfer of an account used to be done on a simple application between any two PSBs, but now repeated demand for a KYC (Know Your Customer form) is tormenting. Losing out to irrational fees, charges, even for a cheque book or an ATM card and TDS reduces deposits, thus breaking hearts, where instead people need care.
Similarly, GST on house tax, water, electricity, gas and what not is adding to growing discontent. Why should there be a tax on tax? Also, why should employment generation remain a government responsibility? Corporate should be told to create quality jobs and be model employers.
If all the above issues are remedied, the dynamics of politics can change. There are tremendous expectations from Prime Minister Modi. Even if a fraction of this is accomplished or done, it would bring about a phenomenal change. As the idiom goes-well begun is half done!—INFA