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India Inc happy with new laws in 2013, expects further reforms

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A recent World Bank study ranks India at 134th position among 189 countries in terms of ease of doing business. A recent World Bank study ranks India at 134th position among 189 countries in terms of ease of doing business.
SummaryCorporates expect much awaited bills on GST, DTC and insurance to pass the muster soon.

The Indian industry was pleased with the government pushing through key legislations on Land Acquisition, Lokpal and Companies Act in 2013 and expects that the much awaited ones, including the GST, DTC and Insurance Bills to pass the muster soon.

"We would have liked to see faster progress on Goods and Services Tax (GST), infrastructure regulation, and ease of doing business reforms," CII President Kris Gopalakrishnan said.

Besides, the government took major decisions on establishment of National Investment and Manufacturing Zones, kickstarting of stalled projects by opening up foreign direct investment in various sectors like telecom, defence, initiating steps to boost exports and to check unwanted imports such as gold.

Also, greater clarity on GAAR rules and issuance of safe harbour norms for transfer pricing were positive moves.

However, the industry felt that the Direct Benefit Transfer scheme to plug subsidy leakages should have started much earlier, not in the penultimate year of the government.

Meanwhile, macro data releases through the year indicated that downside risks continue to dominate. The much talked about green shoots were at best visible in parts, and appeared to be deceptive, even as no major steps were taken to spur demand and ameliorate investments.

"The scorecard on reforms front has been rather below expectations," Assocham President Rana Kapoor said.

Moreover, little was done to make business environment in the country more conducive, industry leaders said.

A recent World Bank study ranks India at 134th position among 189 countries in terms of ease of doing business.

Describing this as a "cause of worry", Ficci President Sidharth Birla said: "We should prioritise areas that would have maximum impact in terms of improving ease of doing business and give quick attention to these in a stipulated time frame.

Faced with the daunting task of lowering stubbornly high inflation, the Reserve Bank too did little to lift growth keeping interest rates tight and maintaining its hawkish monetary policy stance.

High cost of borrowing had a negative impact on demand and increased level of stressed assets, proving to be a major impediment to new investments and overall growth.

"Flagging demand due to inflation has hit industry hard. The administrative and bureaucratic procedures need to be time-bound and fast-tracked so that investments can be rapidly stimulated," Gopalakrishnan said.

The upcoming Lok Sabha elections mean policy actions will be muted, with decision making moving at a snail's pace. The window for economic reforms, at least in the first half of the year, is rather small, he added.

"The main problem in 2013 has been the inability of the government, in the wake of several factors such as adverse court rulings, perceptions of scams and lack of political consensus to take decisions which could have pulled the industry and the economy out of the slackness," Kapoor said.

"In the process, decision making became a major casualty as honest officers were not willing to stick their neck out," he added.

Increased cost of capital, high inflation, adverse global scenario and indecision at home kept plaguing the industry even as even as big-ticket investments continued to shy away.

As we enter 2014, the key challenge in front of policymakers is to revive the domestic investment cycle. Though CCI has cleared several large projects, it is equally important to ensure implementation of these on the ground. Further, clarity in policy formulation and greater certainty in rules and regulations is critical.

"It is imperative to remove procedural hassles and to tap the unexplored potential for offering tremendous avenues for investors for sustainable and environment-friendly economic growth.

Besides, the manufacturing sector growth remains volatile and reviving the same is an absolute imperative as the sector has a huge potential of generating jobs.

"In the year of general elections, the corporate sector maintains a cautious approach as policy machinery inherently tends to slow down. We did see some bold policy moves over the last few months, but some major reform measures like GST have not seen progress," Birla said.

Going ahead, new programmes and strategies should be planned to bridge the yawning skill gap and a more liberal attitude is required to facilitate entry of private and foreign players in the education sector to impart quality education and link it with employment.

However, the real game changer could be the improvement in the quality of governance post General Elections, something that is being keenly anticipated by India Inc, and which separates success from failure in economic development.

"Good governance is at the very heart of economic growth and poverty reduction, and even political legitimacy is one of the undisputed lessons of development experience from around the world. In our own country, we have seen vast differences across states in development outcomes from out of the same mix of development policies," PHD Chamber of Commerce President Sharad Jaipuria said.

With hopes riding high on the outcome of the upcoming General Elections and their positive impact on the country's business environment, the next government will clearly have its task cut out to meet the challenges for the promotion of industry, trade and entrepreneurship to achieve higher and all-inclusive-growth and fulfil massive expectations.

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