By Sarkaritel January 19, 2015 12:31


Progress Impeded


By Shivaji Sarkar

Indian economy is going 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 past eight months, even interest rate cut, there remain too many impediments. It needs course correction.

For instance, the dreams of a digital India are being hampered by none other than the biggest Government entities such as Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) and the postal department. The BSNL unfortunately rarely connects 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. Sadly, these are belying Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s efforts, as 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 these would scale down. The first was affected because the Railways were “losing” but the second has not been so because as Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu says the 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. The Railways, once the leveller, is ensuring the increase in the rich-poor gap!

The UPA Government has left the poor man’s LPG in a mess. Every family whether having an unwanted “aadhaar” 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 is it actually 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?

Government entities, be it a transport corporation, electricity boards or municipal corporations were created by for 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 truly uncomfortable. The concept of a Welfare State has been sadly given a go by. It has to change now.

Every aspect cannot be left to the corporate. Even the most corporate savvy US does not do that. Various laws and anti-trust mechanism force 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 its economy. And, that is the secret of the strength of its dollar.

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

Once again, the people remember Vajpayee for easy availability and removal of controls. It was an easy era indeed. But the UPA representing vested interests brought the worst dreams of the age of controls back. Now people want the NDA II to trudge on Vajpayee’s footsteps.

Agriculture has taken a back seat during the UPA regime. 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 such as Kannauj, the constituency of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and his Member of Parliament 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. 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 the Indian economy. It is an undeniable 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 such as 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. Remember, elimination of small farmers has affected the European economy. India has to learn from it. Can we expect a red carpet for the farmers in the Union Budget?

The NDA II has to sit with its many adjunct groups of farmers, workers and other think tanks for 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 just 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. — INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

By Sarkaritel January 19, 2015 12:31