My January 2014 paper titled “National Reform Agenda for Growth and Welfare” proposed a reform agenda for the five years of the Government that would be formed after the General Election in May 2014.[i] At that time, a number of pre-election Pols predicted that the BJP-NDA could be the largest party-coalition in the Lok Sabha, there was far from consensus on how far they would be from a majority. Thus the paper can be taken as an objective assessment, given the data and information available till that time, on what needed to be done.
A recent paper, titled “National Reform Agenda: Year One of Modi Government,” by the author, Evaluates the actions taken on the issues reaised and suggestions made in the January 2014 paper.[ii] There were three main sections in the Agenda(January 2014)[iii]: The Broad Objectives and aims, Reviving Growth by correcting the mistakes made in the previous four years, with particular reference to Governance, and Economic & Institutional reforms for putting growth on a sustained fast growth path. The paper, uses the same format and headings as in the earlier note, and considers each of the 15-16 sets of issues and suggestions. In each case the action taken by the Modi government is listed and commented on, followed by further suggestions. The first broad suggestion and the conclusions are reproduced here to give a flavor of the paper:
Objective: Closing Welfare Gap
Issue: Welfare Gap It is the gap between our per capita GDP (at PPP) and the World average, which (along with corrupt governance systems) results in our having higher poverty ratios and worse social welfare indicators than those of better off countries. The fundamental objective of any Indian government must be to close the welfare gap of the Indian people with the rest of the World. This will require a restoration of per capita growth to 6.5% (~ 8% GDP growth) and policies to sustain this growth rate. If we can sustain such growth for two and a half decades, Indian welfare levels will equal the rest of the world by 2040.
Action Taken: This government seems to understand the critical link between economic growth, employment generation and public welfare. This is reflected in the change in focus from “poverty alleviation” to “poverty elimination” and economic & technological development and employment creation as the principle instrument for achieving it. Another indicator is that it has adopted, as its principle foreign policy objective, the need to close the economic and technological gap with the rest of the World.
The other issues and suggestions range from reform of laws passed in the last few years, to Governance and corruption issues and Policy and Institutional reforms to put economic growth on a sustained low inflation fast growth path. (for details see policy paper).
The January 2014 paper suggested that, “It is not necessary to accomplish all the listed reforms within three years, though it may be opportune to take the politically sensitive steps within the first few years. It is however essential to outline the broad direction of reforms and to take credible steps to implement them.”
The government has taken action in virtually all the areas suggested by the paper. Thus we can say that it has taken credible steps to implement the suggested reforms. There are undoubtedly a few areas in which action has not been initiated, but this is to be expected from any government. Good progress has been made in a majority of areas, with one exception. The performance on income tax reform issues has been dis-appointing. Government has, however shown responsiveness by responding quickly to widespread protests on what were seen to be backward steps.
Inflation has declined sharply from 11% in Oct-Dec, 2013 to 5.3% in Jan-Mar 2015 (CPI2012). Both food (weight 0.39) and Core (weight 0.54) have contributed to this decline, with food inflation down from 14.7% to 6.4% and core inflation from 8.7% to 4.5%. CPI Fuel (weight 0.68) inflation has actually risen from 1.6% to 2.3% because of lags in pass through.
Economic Growth has accelerated by 0.4% to 0.6% in 2014-5 relative to 2013-14: 0.4% in the case of GDP which approximates what was earlier called GDPMP and by 0.6% in terms of Gross Value Added(GVA) which approximates what was earlier called GDPFC. This is a little lower than what the author had projected, based on the old GDP series.[iv] However, the decline in Inflation is much greater than any analyst (including the author) had forecast. Thus inflation as measured by the Private consumption deflator has declined from 8.5% in 2013-4 to 4.6% in 2014-15 and inflation as per the CPI2012 base has declined from 9.5% to 6.3%. The global factors that have aided the fall in inflation are the same ones that have slowed the recovery of World GDP and World demand for tradable goods and services and thus contributed to the slower recovery of the Globalized part of the Indian Corporate sector. Thus to the extent that success in inflation control can be attributed to global developments, the same developments also resulted in slower recovery of GDP growth.
[i] Virmani, Arvind, “National Reform Agenda for Growth and Welfare,” Policy Paper No WsPP 1/2014. https://sites.google.com/site/drarvindvirmani/policy-papers
[ii] Arvind Virmani, “National Reform Agenda: Year One of Modi Government,” Policy Paper No. WsPP 5/2015: https://sites.google.com/site/drarvindvirmani/policy-papers
[iii] Virmani(2014) op cit FN 1.
[iv] We had projected an increase of growth rate of GDPFC of 1% +/- 0.25 ie between 0.75% & 1.25%. Thus the actual increase in GVA is a little below this range.