By Vivek Pattanayak in Singapore, March 28, 2019: In the heat of election campaign, from the politicians to journalists, from citizens to civil servants and from corporate executives to members of civil society, all attention has been distracted from the long term interest of the country particularly in the context of rapidly changing global ecosystem both socio-economic, and political.

Electorate in India is complex. Religion, caste, even sect, linguistic affinity, loyalty, money, publicity, 24/7 TV channels, social media, truths, post-truth, hype, fake news and rumors will all play their part in the election. This time apart from the large number of senior elderly citizens there will be a huge population of first–time voters. No matter what will be the results with surprises or no surprises India will remain? What will be the state of things in next five years can be anybody’s guess.

After trade wars, uncertainty over Brexit, rising intolerance, senseless violence, there is grisly scenario of decline in global economic growth, apprehension of a recession, in the backdrop of expanding inequality. Interestingly, at this juncture, China’s premier in the annual legislative session has shown some courage to bring in a major course correction. Reduction of corporate tax for manufacturing, transport and other sectors, instructions to the State owned banks to provide credit to small private sector enterprises, promise of less interference with private businesses in particular foreign companies, reduction of bureaucracy, lessening of undesirable regulations, no discrimination between state and private enterprises etc. and care and comfort for children, women and elderly.

The global economy has suffered because China’s growth has slowed down. At the same time because of trade war it has affected China’s growth showing signs of internal unrest. India’s economy although much smaller in size has shown consistent growth for more than a decade and half, and is often compared with China. With the clouds of stagnation hovering around the world India is seen as the sweet spot. If China is adjusting its policy to respond to global necessity, should not India make a holistic review of its programs and policies to remain relevant as rising power and emerging market if it has to become the fifth largest economy by 2030 without ignoring socio-economic disparity?

Impactful Action Plan

What should worry us most is what government should do in next five years. The issues before us are job creation, fiscal balance, reduction of trade deficit, increase of export, preventing outflow of capital, increasing of investment, reduction of distress in the rural sector, improvement of economic well-being of agricultural laborers, marginal and small farmers, urban poor, slum dwellers, increasing effectiveness and delivery system of administration at all levels, imperative necessity of strengthening of defense and internal security and the much needed robust and mature foreign policy.

Priority should be program for job creation in the government, public sector and private sector while encouraging self-employment. Number of vacancies in the government is huge and they should be filled up. In the light of security situation recruitment to military and paramilitary should be stepped up. In the States, employment of police personnel should be augmented. With deteriorating crime situation throughout the country this measure is absolutely essential. Number of courts should increase. Judicial magistrates, executive magistrates and civil judges should be appointed for early disposal of criminal cases and resolution of civil disputes. In public sector there are huge vacancies which should be filled up.

To increase efficiency in the Banks jobs should be created. While computerization and digitization should be given fillip in the banks, there should be recognition that the number of customers needing personalized service is huge. India has not reached that level of digital literacy as in the West to do away with human touch. Experience during demonetization should be an eye opener. Private sector can provide huge employment provided regulations are less and regulators are less coercive. Fear of doing business must go. The government coming to power in future must create that ambience.

Decentralize Governance

Civil servants should be encouraged and left to take decisions. Type of centralization that is seen today must go. Political bosses must yield place to professional bureaucracy. Confidence of civil servants must be restored. Too much of investigation, vigilance and audit has sapped the decision making ability.

Decentralized constitutional local bodies like Panchayats, Panchayat Samities and Zilla Parishads and urban bodies should have both financial and administrative power. Interference must stop.
Banks must be well capitalized. They should resume lending. The RBI must regulate but not at the instance of the central government. Distance between the government and central bank must be healthy.

Make Statutory Bodies Autonomous

All institutions whether CAG, EC, CIC, PSC, CVC and other statutory bodies must be made more autonomous and made to work independently. Persons who are appointed to these positions should be free of political attachment. They should be people of probity, integrity, and efficiency. Image of these institutions must be restored. The Supreme Court and High Courts should be given due respect and appointment of judges should be left to the collegium.

Media should be given freedom and allowed to function independently. There should be no interference. They should not be given allurement to toe line of the government in power. Government advertisements should be given with no bias, prejudice and ulterior motive.

Whoever comes to power make conscious effort to create an environment of tolerance? Our country is multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multilingual and multicultural society. Media can take a proactive role in reminding the government of its obligation.

Agricultural sector needs credit. Cooperative banks should be strengthened. Institutions of microfinance should be restored. The rural sector can become vibrant and distress reduced through agro-based industries, promotion of rural tourism, and creation of infrastructure like cold storage, chilling plants and pasteurization units.

State Finance Corporations and SIDCs must be revived to become veritable viable non-banking financial institutions. Banks are threatened by technological obsolescence yielding place to Fintech. Promotion of this new and rising institutional model should be encouraged by the government. Harnessing blockchain, big data, and smart data should be the new approach. This will assist in assessment of credit worthiness of clients in particular MSME sector. Like Fintech, in the insurance sector for risk management new models are growing up as in Singapore and Dubai.

Strengthen Social Sector

Health and social sector should be strengthened to look after children, women and elderly. Child and adolescent health cannot be neglected. This constitutes a major public health challenge. Apart from their health, empowerment of women should be given the priority it deserves. Aging population should not be considered as a burden on the society. Retirement age should be extended. Even after mandatory superannuation date they should be utilized to be productive as long as they are willing and healthy. Skilling if necessary should be provided to this category. Japan has many elderly people almost close to hundred years who are still working and contributing profusely to the society. World Health Organization (WHO) has recommendations as how to make aging population more healthy, active and productive.

Development of culture of safety is a big priority in the country whether it is road safety, railway safety, industrial safety, mines safety or air transport safety or safety of children and women or safety in hospital and schools. A government aspiring to take the country to ten trillion dollar economy can ill afford to ignore this.

Foreign policy should be aimed at increasing friendship with countries in the Asia Pacific, Latin America, Africa, Middle East and Central Asia. Military should be strengthened with modern equipment and technology to face possible aggression from west, north, east and south with seas and ocean encompassing the peninsula.

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