Tuesday, March 21, 2023
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Before fixing economy, Modi govt needs to tell us the truth about what is wrong with it

Instead of the Budget revealing the bad news, the government should come out with a white paper on the economy, and let an independent economist produce it.

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The Indian economy is going through a phase in which it is difficult to spot a piece of good news. Economic growth is slowing. Exports continue to decline. Retail inflation is on the rise. Jobs are not growing. Bank credit growth has decelerated. Electricity use has dropped. Tax revenues are growing at a slow pace — much less than what the Budget had projected, making the government’s target for fiscal deficit in the current year unachievable.

The sentiment, a key factor in an economy, is also on a downswing. Of course, a few steps have been taken by the government in the past few weeks like the cut in the corporation tax rates and the announcement of packages for reviving housing, real estate, automobiles and exports. But there has as yet been no respite from economic distress.

What should the government do? Different proposals to revive the economy are reportedly under consideration. They range from a package of additional investment for infrastructure, changes in income-tax rates, policy reforms and privatisation. These measures will help, but their impact would not be immediate. Before even ensuring an improvement in the key economic growth numbers, it will be important to address the current downbeat mood in the economy. Economic sentiment is as important as the actual data on the economy. So, here is an attempt at listing out a couple of measures that the government should examine to start the process of reversing the downturn in the current mood.

The first big step that the government must consider is to come out with a white paper on the state of the Indian economy. Various members of the government and several other institutions, including think tanks and rating agencies, have made different comments on the nature of the problem and the challenges that the Indian economy faces at present. The markets and industry are not sure which narratives they must accept and which ones they can reject. This uncertainty has also helped fuel the negative sentiment on the economy.

Therefore, this is the ideal time for the government to come out with a status paper revealing what it believes to be the Indian economy’s actual condition and prospects. Such a document can be prepared quickly and its credibility will be enhanced if the task is given to an independent economist who could prepare a report with the help of government economists, experts and officials in the finance ministry. Remember the report by Vijay L Kelkar on the state of the economy during the winter of 2012! The Indian economy needs something similar.

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Such a report should help the government manage people’s expectations from the Budget, due to be presented in less than 11 weeks from now. These expectations are running high and it would be good to place these expectations in the context of the current state of the economy. A report on the economy by an independent expert will help present the current scenario and the challenges that lie ahead. The pre-Budget Economic Survey, to be presented just a day or two before the Budget, will be a bit too late for managing such expectations.

The report will also help the government to take the country into confidence as far as the problems its own finances are suffering from are concerned. Its revenue flows so far in the year do not inspire anybody’s confidence about the government’s ability to meet its fiscal deficit target of 3.3 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) for 2019-20. Different estimates on the government’s revised fiscal deficit number and the extent of extra-Budget borrowings are doing the rounds.

A status paper on the economy would be able to end all such speculation. Instead of the Budget revealing those numbers, it would be advisable to let the white paper on the Indian economy bring out the bad news. That will also allow the Budget to focus more on the policies that need to be reformed and the new expenditure packages that are necessary.

The finance minister could even supplement the efforts of the white paper by acknowledging the stress in the fiscal system and reiterating the government’s resolve to fix the economy.

The second step that the government must take is not to turn away from such data that indicate an economic downturn. Some months ago, a government survey showed that employment growth in the economy had seen a huge decline. The immediate reaction of the government was to describe the report as only a draft finding of the surveyors. A few months later, the government accepted the same report as final. That was a welcome step, just as the earlier attempt at denying the report was problematic.

A few days ago, the government decided to junk its own survey on consumer spending, which showed a decline, because of data quality issues. Such steps undermine the confidence of people and industry in the state of the economy. If there are data quality issues, the survey need not be junked, but supplementary efforts can be made to plug the data gaps if any.

An economic slowdown cannot be addressed only by increasing investments and introducing policy reforms. Equally important is the role of transparent communication to the people about the nature of the economic slowdown and the challenges arising from it. The goals of transparent communication can be achieved if the government comes out with a white paper on the current state of the economy and accepts economic data as well as survey findings.

At the start of the first term of the Narendra Modi government, Arun Jaitley, finance minister at that time, had dropped the idea of bringing out a status paper on the economy’s problems for fear that it would undermine the investor’s confidence in the Indian economy. That was a wrong move. Investors always like clarity and transparency about the state of an economy. Today, they will welcome any move that results in Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman producing a white paper on the Indian economy.

Also read: Modi govt plans to amend law to increase insurance cover for bank deposits from Rs 1 lakh


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  1. I am surprised to see Mr kelkar saying about transparent communication. His son-in-law Mr Nitesh Shetty, a Bangalore based builder never communicate with their buyers in transparent way. Mr kelkar should advice him before others. Nitesh Shetty has cheated 1000s of home buyers and invested their money for his luxury. He enjoys life and stay in Ritz Carlton, poor buyers which include senior citizens are on rented home waiting for their dream home. Mr kelkar if you are reading this please advice your son in law to be transparent and settle the buyers money or go to jail as per indian law.

  2. Here is some data (from IMF)
    Out of 193 countries India (6%) is 22 ranked in terms of Growth.
    The mean world growth is 3%

    I would not call it a disaster in objective terms.

  3. Mr Bhattacharya,
    Thank you for your mann ki baat, however, you will note with a sense of pride that your government has been working extremely hard to make every day a Acchhe Din for you, ever since it came to power way back in 2014. Take the year 2019 for example; we sorted Balakot to begin with, won a general election that soon followed, and then dealt with such urgent matters such as dropping Article 370 and securing Lord Shri Ram’s happy birthday place for you. Then there were a handful of elections to win. Maharashtra is taking far more time and resources than what was originally budgeted though. The year 2020 will be no different either; to begin with we have Bihar and Delhi elections to win. As soon as these pressing matters have been attended to, economy will be top on the agenda.
    Wishing you Acchhe din and Acche raat!

    • Most prosperous and happy European countries are socialist or welfare state economy . Government ownership of profitable companies are also very high there and they are doing just fine.

      • Hehehe….the problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money. And can’t generate anything yourself. Prosperity of Western Europe is built on capitalism.

  4. 1. I agree with views of the author: we need to know facts about current status of our economy. 2. Suggestion of author that the NDA government should come out with a White Paper’ on state of our country’s economy is a good suggestion. I wish to add something to that suggestion: NDA government should undertake a SWOT or ‘Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats” study, just as business undertakings undertake. 3. There are many political and non-political issues related to current economic slowdown. There are different views as regards reasons for the slowdown. Those who are in the opposition parties wish to say that everything is wrong with decisions taken by NDA government. Therefore, my view is that we need an independent apolitical review of progress of our economy during the period 2004-2019, which is a period of two terms of UPA govt and one term of NDA govt.

  5. If only they knew what is wrong, would you not believe they would have made some attempts to fix it, at least stop the bleeding? It is for a reason the axiom says defining the problem correctly is 50% of the solution. You expect definition from this group??? Sheesh.

  6. This news item shows that even after around six years in power, the Modi govt has not understood the problems in the economy and could not diagnose the causes for slowdown. If that is the case, when is it going to fix the problems? Economy needs experts for trouble shooting, I am afraid Modi govt, unfortunately, does not have them.

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