There may be no ‘big bang’ reforms, but the new government has set a clear roadmap to put India back on eight per cent plus growth trajectory, business leaders from India and abroad said today.
Reposing faith in the new government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and its agenda to move forward with policies and reforms, the business leaders also said that a “new energy” is evident from its functioning.
The views were expressed by them, including domestic conglomerate Mahidra group’s Anand Mahindra and Etihad Airways CEO James Hogan, on the last day of India Economic Summit here today.
The three-day summit, organised by Geneva-based World Economic Forum (WEF) and industry chamber CII, also discussed the ‘performance and promises’ of the new government, whose ministers on their part promised better days ahead for both corporates as well as poor in the country.
“There is effective leadership from the government and commercial sector. I leave convinced that there is a very clear roadmap moving forward,” UAE-based Etihad’s Hogan said.
“The government came across as having new energy,” said Mahindra during the closing session.
“People sensed that there is a new agenda as well – a business-friendly agenda. This is a government that has business in its blood. It is ready to listen and knows what it has to do. Paralysis is not something you can use to describe it,” he added.
Noting that there may be no “big-bang” reform programme, CII Director General Chandrajit Banerjee said the policy-making is moving forward and there have been several incremental steps across the spectrum with the objective of doing business easier.
The business leaders also observed that there are many challenges ahead and the government’s extensive agenda for action includes infrastructure, land, labour, trade facilitation, infrastructure, particularly the power sector, subsidies and the allocation of natural resources.
They also called for steps to address social issues such as gender and the social norms that impede women from advancement and security.
“Women in India are moving,” documentary filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy of Pakistan’s SOC Films said.
“But unless mindsets change, women will not be able to be equal partners in society,” Chinoy added.
Earlier in the day, BJP leader Meenakshi Lekhi defended the government in the face of India’s slide to 114 out of 142 countries ranked by the WEF’s Global Gender Gap Report 2014.
Questioned during a session on gender equality on the role of quotas in promoting female political participation, Lekhi said, “I am all for reservation within the party system, because then you’re empowering women to contest elections.”
Lekhi emphasised the need for women’s representation at every level of politics down to panchayat, where women can receive a five lakh grant to take part in the panchayat political process.
Arun Das Mahapatra, Managing Partner of executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles, India, said that corporates do not see reservations as the solution.
“There is a desire among corporates to bring in more diversity (but) corporates are not talking about quotas,” he added.
Speaking on the rape cases reported from India over the past few years, Lekhi countered that “the rape capital of the world happens to be New York, not Delhi” and complained that the cases were over-reported compared to similar cases in the West.
Rebecca Reichmann Tavares, representative for the South Asia Office for UN Women, said that “when you see statistics of rape rising, we should see that as a positive sign, because women are coming forward.”
Film director Shekhar Kapur, however, said that “in India, a woman is seen as a man’s property” and this is an idea that needs to be expunged.
He said that Bollywood reinforces gender stereotypes and called on everyone in media, including film and advertising, to take greater responsibility to challenge these stereotypes.
Of his own experience he said, “For me, making the Bandit Queen was a completely liberating experience because I managed to shed the burden of masculinity.”
Over 700 business, government and civil society leaders, including five heads of state or government, participated in the summit, which was convened under the theme Redefining Public-Private Cooperation for a New Beginning.
In the opening plenary, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had stressed the government’s commitment to wide-ranging reforms.
Other ministers, including Power Minister Piyush Goyal, stressed the government’s determination to unblock bottlenecks that impede India from returning to the higher growth level that the economy had achieved before the global crisis.
In a session on the infrastructure deficit, Nitin Gadkari, Minister of Road Transport, Highways and Shipping, reiterated the government’s pledge to build 30 kilometres of roads and highways a day within two years, up from the current rate of three kilometres a day.
In a session on India’s growth outlook, business leaders expressed confidence in the Modi administration but called for patience to allow reforms to work through.
“This government’s policy is continuously to make changes in all areas,” said CII President Ajay Shriram.