To be sure the NDA regime has done some really good work that will allow the economy to grow faster in the coming years; the most notable initiatives are the rollout of the GST, the resolution of stressed assets under the IBC and the re-capitalisation of state-owned lenders.
Four years is too short a time for even the most zealous reformer. This is particularly true for India where responsibilities are distributed between the states and the Centre and where the federal nature of the democracy makes it harder to push through legislative changes. Not surprisingly then those that had believed the Modi Multiplier would catalyse the economy to new heights are disappointed. Indeed, thanks to the demonetisation exercise the economy has lost out on a few percentage points of growth significant at a time when the GDP is barely clocking 6.5%.
The NDA government may want to pat itself on the back for the recent rebound in industry and business but much of this comes off a low base; private sector investments remain sluggish, exports remain a drag, private consumption is tapering off, there is distress in the farm sector and very few jobs have been created. Indeed, there are many who believe the government failed to capitalise on the bonanza it reaped from falling oil prices of additional revenue of close to Rs 2.7 lakh crore. Industrial output in 2017-18 grew just 4.3%.
To be sure the NDA regime has done some really good work that will allow the economy to grow faster in the coming years; the most notable initiatives are the rollout of the GST, the resolution of stressed assets under the IBC and the re-capitalisation of state-owned lenders. Despite the initial disruption the new tax will help improve India’s tax compliance. Moreover, had the twin balance sheet problem not been tackled, the economy would have slowed sharply. However, the NDA hasn’t been able to help the corporate sector with amendments to either land or labour laws. And the tardy progress in agri-reforms has left the farm sector in distress. Possibly fearful of acquiring a ‘suit boot ki sarkar’ tag, the NDA has succumbed to populism.
Only labour-friendly reforms are being pushed through ahead of the elections (mandatory minimum wages, medical and pension benefits) but those would help industry are on the back burner; it has pulled back changes to the Labour Code on Industrial Relations—such as allowing companies with 300 workers to lay off employees without permission. That has left investments sluggish and the capacity utilisation rate at a relatively low—at 75%. In the last year before the elections, there could be more populism in the form of higher MSPs or similar price support schemes for farmers.
While FDI flows have been robust and the government has done well to open up and ease norms for more sectors—defence, railways, insurance—the bulk of the flows have come into the services space rather than manufacturing. The much hyped ‘Make in India’ is yet to take off at all and the share of manufacturing as a share of GDP remains more or less where it was in 2015.
The government has tom tommed India’s move to the top 100 countries for Ease of doing business. However, the moved up was due to the IBC, more rights for minority shareholders and electronic EPF payments. On important parameters such as starting a business or registering a property, India slipped. Exaggerated claims have been made by the government on how every village in the country has been electrified; the UDAY scheme, meanwhile, it yet to deliver results.
Where the NDA has surpassed itself is in taking forward the Indiastack initiative. IMPS transactions crossed the 100 million mark in March while there were 314.4 million beneficiaries of Jan Dhan accounts, at the end of March, 2018. DBT transfers numbered a staggering 1.9 lakh crore in 2017-18, up from 62,000 in 2015-16. Both the insurance schemes—PMSBY and the PMJJY—have seen huge enrolments. The “Ujjwala’ scheme, aimed at enabling poorer households to access LPG, must rank among the government’s best social schemes with 3.87 crore subsidised connections. So while not enough jobs may have been created in the past four years the several programmes targetting the under privileged will go down well with voters.