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Govt entities impede progress, stress needed on people-centric planning

By Shivaji Sarkar

Indian economy is through a crisis. Despite fall in global oil prices, some moderation in inflation – not fall, small 2.2 per cent increase in industrial production during the last eight months, even interest rate cut, there remains too many impediments. It needs course correction.

The dreams of a digital India is being hampered by no other than the biggest government entities like Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) and the postal department.

The BSNL does not connect even in the National Capital Region (NCR) areas of Ghaziabad, Noida, Gurgaon and Faridabad. For weeks and months broadband connections and telephones remain out of order despite innumerable complaints. Postal department does not deliver important letters, documents, magazines sent through the ordinary post. They are belying the efforts of prime minister Narendra Modi. It seems their aim is to “disconnect” India. Even private service providers are no better.

Tax on bank deposits, another major impediment, hits the poorest the most. It erodes his income and must be done way.

Prices in real terms have not come down. The benefit of oil price cut is yet to be transferred to the people by the corporate and government manufacturers or service providers. The statistics of inflation and market conditions are different. Prices of food items, including vegetables, mutton, chicken, eggs, milk as also textiles, medicines, health continue to soar.

Highway tolls linked to wholesale price index, despite its fall to zero level, have not been reduced. It leads to high fares and travel cost. People travel less and help grow disconnect.

Railways fares were linked to FCA – fuel component adjustment. It meant as prices go up fares would be increased and also as it comes down it would come down. The first was effected because the railways were “losing” but the second has not been because as railway minister Suresh Prabhu says railways need money. So the poor passengers have to satiate and suffer cut in facilities and services. Poor people’s trains have taken the biggest hit for the rich man’s fast trains. Railways, once the leveller, are ensuring the increase in rich-poor gap.

The UPA government has left the poor man’s LPG in a mess. Every family whether having an unwanted “adhaar” or not needs fuel to cook its food. The dual pricing – subsidised and non-subsidised – has virtually led to a thriving black market. Direct benefit transfer (DBT) needs a study as to who it is benefitting. The market gets convoluted with a dual mechanism. It is accumulating commotion.

So are the issues of electricity and many other services. People want to know why they should have to pay fixed charges when they are paying a high tariff. Are the service providers specialising in evolving ways to create maximum discomfort for their profits?

The government entities be it a transport corporation, electricity boards or municipal corporations were created by the people to care for their needs at affordable prices. Somehow during the years of Manmohanomics it changed to profiteering. People do not grudge small profits but the way they are being fleeced makes them uncomfortable. The concept of welfare state has been given a go by. It has to change now.

Every aspect cannot be left to corporate. Even the most corporate savvy US does not do that. Various laws and anti-trust mechanism forces the corporate to serve the people. India also needs that. They cannot have profits and more profits despite fall in input costs. The US takes care to keep consumer prices at the affordable lowest. That is the strength of that economy. That is the secret of the strength of its dollar.

Investment is necessary. It also requires a climate. It comes with the people’s capacity to pay. It has eroded at a fast pace during the past ten years. People still recall the days of former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s NDA for this reason. That had given the economy a push. It was brazenly eroded by an extreme pro-corporate, less people-friendly UPA. People want those dreamy days back.

Once again people remember Vajpayee for easy availability and removal of controls from. It was an easy era to leave. But the UPA representing vested interests brought the worst dreams of the age of controls back. People want the NDA II to trudge on his steps.

Agriculture has taken the back seat during UPA. Prime arable lands were transformed into SEZ, factories and real estate. It has led to loss of over 25 million hectare area of farm land into non-producing profit generating entities.

Food security is at stake because land is becoming scarce even in prime farm areas like Kannauj, the constituency of UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav and his wife Dimple.

The smaller farmer is being edged out. It is benefitting the corporate farm bodies and not bigger farmers as is often being touted out.

Without the farms and independent farmers, food security would merely remain on paper. Over 70 crore (700 million) or 54 to 58 per cent people subsist on farms and farm related activities, according to government statistics, on a small GDP contribution of 14 per cent. No corporate or any amount of monetary investment has the capacity to employ so many people.

Agriculture remains the base of Indian economy. It is a brazen fact. The perspective has to change to empower agriculture so that the entire rural hinterland’s economy grows at the pace of the biggest metropolis like Delhi. Higher GDP growth at the behest of farmers and their families would transform India. The past decades of negligence has created the divide and slowdown. Elimination of small farmers has affected European economy. India has to learn from it. Can we expect a red carpet for the farmers in the budget?

The NDA II has to sit with its many adjunct groups of farmers, workers and other think tanks for the course correction. A vibrant economy needs to come with a low affordable cost.

It requires a holistic look. Niti Ayog – the new decentralised planning body needs to do that. The country’s needs have to be enumerated for an overall development. The people, the work force, the last man, as per vision of Deen Dayal Upadhyay, need succour. Planning has to be people centric. That would be the first step to stave off the crisis as also the problem of government’s fiscal deficit.

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