It has been customary for the Prime Minister to present in his Independence day address a report on the performance and programmes of his government. Narendra Modi, bolstered by the stability of his government, has been looking ahead at major reforms and announces new schemes in his Independence Day addresses. Last year, it was the Ayushman Bharat, a bold, much-needed healthcare system that promised Rs 5 lakh for surgery covering 50 crore population. This year with the much more assured mandate that also ensures a majority for NDA in the Rajya Sabha, the Prime Minister has outlined even more ambitious reforms.
Understandably, Modi dealt at length with the abrogation of the special privileges extended to Jammu & Kashmir and more fully integrating the state with the nation. The ‘one nation, one constitution’ mantra has also been extended to one election. His government succeeded in no small measure in bringing about a one-tax system for the nation. With the humongous wastages of the legislators getting pre-occupied with an endless stream of elections and by-elections, the one election objective should be welcome for the citizens except for parties in opposition.
The Swachch Bharat initiative to provide toilets for all the households has made significant progress. The new scheme of Jal-Jeevan Mission with an outlay of Rs 350,000 crore and designed to provide piped water to the entire population is one of the mega plans. After the severe water stress experienced by several states, this appears a timely and most welcome efforts; luckily the abundant rain in several parts of the country augured well for launching this initiative. One could expect the PM’s appeal for water conservation, augmentation of supplies through desalination and economising the nation’s water use would be heeded.
The quit-plastics movement suggested by Modi also needs to be backed by adequate and affordable availability of biodegradable alternatives. Plastics products are elegant, strong and cheap. Jute and paper lack these qualities. Tamil Nadu and several other states have prohibited single-use plastics, but find it difficult to enforce this.
Dream needs to be realised While the Prime Minister has indicated several welcome measures, the depressed state of the economy, resource crunch and uneven development of the states are deterrents. The Prime Minister’s reference to a high-jump approach to growth is welcome, but this dream needs to be realised by a massive step up in country’s expenditure and through stimulants to investments.
It was nice to hear the Prime Minister’s appreciation of wealth creators. He should follow this by encouraging entrepreneurs to produce to global scales as did China and backing it up with suitable policy changes. IE suggests the government selecting a dozen projects with potential for exports for scaling up to global levels and another dozen industries like electronic hardware to bring down massively the import bills on these. Look at the tragedy of keeping Sterlite Industries in Tuticorin closed for 15 months and in the process losing production of 40 per cent of copper consumed in the country, to the lack of policy on textiles that has contributed to enormous loss of opportunities.
Vietnam and Bangladesh are exporting double India’s volume of exports of textiles even entering late. The reason: for 50 years and more the Indian textile policy has been weighted heavily in favour of the unorganised sector – the handlooms and the power looms. This resulted in the demise of the large players – the Tatas, Birlas, Mafatlals, Wadias – who were large producers of quality fabrics. There is a proliferation of spinning mills, which flourish through exports. The production of materials of quality, especially synthetics, suffered severe neglect and textile exports, especially garments, missed out on the vast opportunities available on the global market. Look at the tragedy of apparel exports of India that are half of Bangladesh’s and an eighth of China’s.
The solution is to incentivise Indian manufacturers to scale up production through tax policies like liberal investment allowances, cheaper credit… and encouraging the ease of doing business. Modi should walk the talk in his appreciation of wealth creators. Communist China has done it to great effect. Look at the flourish of a Baidu, an Alibaba or a Tencent, which are at the top of global companies.