Junk GDP, adopt gross progress indicator


The GDP is growing. The rate has been differing with different agencies. All, however, remains, around 7 percent – plus minus 0.25 to 0.5 percent. The latest central statistical office (CSO) figure of 7 percent is within the range.
It is better not to link it up with demonetization. The figures show an inherent strength of Indian economy on the one hand on the other raises certain questions about the concept of GDP itself. Possibly GDP is not the complete indicator though broadly it provides a path but does not exactly tells all about the bumpy road conditions.
The data generation in India is largely considered credible. But the query can be whether GDP figure could have been better if demonetization was not there. Even the Economic Survey 2016 (ES) is not sure about the impact of demonetization but does not rule it out either.
But the “eight interesting facts” mentioned in the ES tell a lot. It says annual work-related migration has doubled since 2011 to about 90 lakh people. This shows that despite MGNREGA, people have to move out to look for jobs. The Labour Bureau stats also indicate fewer job creations than targeted.
The credit rating of China to AA in 2010, despite fall in its growth shows international bias, ES says. India despite improvement in its indicators has remained unchanged at the lowest BBB-.
The peak of the growth boost due to the demographic dividend is fast approaching with southern states peaking soon and the hinterland states peaking later.
The weaknesses are weak targeting of social programs. Welfare spending suffers from misallocation, the districts with largest number of poor people suffer from the greatest shortfall of funds. The districts accounting for the poorest 40 percent receive 29 percent of the total funding.
India, ES says, has “weak tax base”. There are only 7 taxpayers for every 100 voters ranking the country 13 among 18 democratic G 20 peers. It says property tax potential is also unexploited.
This perception of the ES is incorrect. It only speaks of income-tax. It should be noted that average income of Indians as per various reports, including the Arjun Sengpta panel, is extremely low. The inflationary situation from 2009 to 2014 had further eroded the income value. While calculating tax base the indirect tax payment is not included. Indirect taxes –excise, customs, cess, profession tax, local levies, tolls etc – are approximately over 40 percent of one’s income. It is repeatedly said that even a beggar in this country pays at least 40 percent as taxes. It has thus a tax base of over 47 percent and not 7 percent as the ES stresses.
The tax one pays on property registration is often over 20 percent of the base price. The ES arguments need correction.
In many cases there are multiple taxes. Take the example of automobiles. Apart from various taxes, road tax, bulk parking charge levied at the time of sale a cess of 2 percent per litre is realized on the sale of petroleum fuel ostensibly for highway construction. But as one moves onto the highways again hefty toll, said to be the highest in the world, is charged.
Nobody has studied the impact of multiplicity of taxes on prices and inflation and growth. Besides, one also does not understand why when large chunk of the road or kisan vikas cess remains unutilized, why one is made to pay the toll.
In fact, it begins with capitation fee at nursery school admissions and continues till highest medical education.
The GDP increases with every levy but that does not mean the country is progressing. The world over it has been observed that GDP growth does neither mean a comfortable situation nor progress of a nation and its people.
This country also has possibly the world’s biggest illegal income system. It is just not by businesses. Many business houses are forced to do some of it by those people who the government employs to check it. Various trade associations unofficially state that small and medium business units’ profit is limited to the unpaid taxes. In hushed tones, they also say they have to shell out “doles” to various kinds of enforcers.
India can be more robust if the travel can be seamless. It is not just hampered by each toll gate, where waiting time is 10 to 50 minutes, causing delays and wastage of fuel. Every state boundary calls for levying of an additional road tax and road barriers giving the impression one is entering from one enemy territory to another. In Europe (EU) one smoothly crosses nations.
Apart there are police barriers almost everywhere adding to further delays and inconveniences. Of course, these also “add” to GDP as it is common knowledge money exchange hands. There are official beggars who would not stop without extorting. This also leads to higher prices and is virtually a direct tax on the consumer. Does it add to the progress?
The Narendra Modi government initiated many processes to free the country of corruption. It has achieved a bit of it through measures like direct benefit transfer.
But it has not changed the functioning of state police and other agencies, including property registration or tax authorities. Demonetisation many would vouch for had been windfall for many officials and some were caught too.
Every district border is a potential point of extortion by the policemen for all commercial vehicles, including taxis, which are extorted even in NCR be it Gurgaon, Jhajjar in Haryana or places in UP, MP or Rajasthan. No truck can pass a state border without paying the gratification fee, for which “receipts” are also issued.
Again for all this GDP may increase and so may be income disparity but as a nation little could be done to free it of the blatant illegal and unethical operations. Can any digitization stop the official extorters in various enforcement agencies?
Yes, the country has the potential to move faster if these illicit barriers across the nation are removed. Stringent rules will not solve the problem. It adds to more illicit ways and higher gratification.
The nation needs to discuss these issues threadbare at all fora and ensure real progress. It needs to do away with all barriers to create a new gross progress indicator (GPI) and junk the GDP.

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