'Governance reforms are even more important than economic reforms'

Gurcharan Das, Author, Commentator, and Public Intellectual, spoke to Kailashnath Adhikari, MD, Governance Now, during the webcast of the Visionary Talk series

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Updated: Sep 20, 2021 8:40 AM
Gurcharan Das - Kailashnath Adhikari

In a freewheeling conversation with Kailashnath Adhikari, MD, Governance Now, Gurcharan Das, Author, Commentator and Public Intellectual has said that the notion of economic V shape recovery is an exaggeration and the informal economy and poor have been terribly hurt during Covid-19 period.

“V shape recovery is an exaggeration. The informal economy and very poor have been terribly hurt in the process (Covid-19 period). They will take longer to recover.”
Das was speaking during the webcast as part of the Visionary Talk series held by the public policy and governance analysis platform.

He however said despite the Covid-19 challenge, recovery is happening and once the growth starts happening all boats will be eventually lifted. In UPA 1, he said Rahul Gandhi would feel ashamed of jobless growth. But when the figures came out they showed actually wages had gone up during the high growth period between 2003-2011 or so for all types of people - urban, rural, formal, informal, unionized or non-unionized. “If you have jobless growth, wages don’t go up. These slogans are not fair because then people lose confidence in growth and market. Instead, we need to sell reforms to the people” he said adding “I don’t believe in the rhetoric of jobless growth. You can have labor-intensive growth.”

Das said during his discussions with PM, Narendra Modi, he said why his (Modi’s) government should do reforms stealthily at night. People, he said, believe that reforms make the rich, richer, and poor poorer.

“Blame goes right back to the time when reforms took place during Narasimha Rao govt and all the fine people at that time- Manmohan Singh, Montek Singh Ahluwalia who should have been selling reforms every night telling people about reforms, their meaning that competition lowers costs and prices and improves the quality of products …. and people don’t even know the difference between pro-market and pro-business. In fact, Licence Raj was pro-business as people cornered licenses those days. No businessman likes competition. But that is what the liberal economy is” he said.

On being asked how the govt will achieve its target of USD 5 Trillion economy for India, he said the government needs to focus and emphasize on reforms and growth consistently. India needs to get back its growth and return back to the 7% growth momentum witnessed between 2000 to pre- 2020. He added that the time target for achieving a 5 trillion dollar economy may not be achieved and the fundamentals and demographics of India are still right.

He said that UPA 2 missed the great opportunities it had but this govt despite demonetization and other setbacks has commendably done significant reforms and so far not backtracked on agricultural reforms.

Speaking further on reforms, Das said that reforms should be executed and not merely for policy announcements. “ .. they should be intelligently executed and not allowed to get into the hand of bureaucrats. PM Modi has tremendous faith in bureaucracy but most bureaucrats are not trained and behave like district magistrates. We make them regulators of our enterprises, heads of PSU’s with a nice cushy job and then they fail. What training do they have to run an economic enterprise? We have very few successful regulators. It will take a lot of effort for Mr. Modi.”

He added that 20% of bureaucrats are keeping the country afloat when 80% are the biggest obstacles for reforms. On being further asked how to ensure that policies are actually implemented, the public intellectual gave the example of Mumbai Municipal Commissioner, Iqbal Singh Chahal who he said saved thousands of lives through his inspired leadership during Covid. He also praised former district collector, Nandurbar, Rajendra Bharud for setting up inhouse oxygen plants in anticipation of 2nd wave in addition to setting up preemptive infrastructure in the tribal district. “The stories of these heroes hide failures of institutions. You shouldn’t have to have heroes in good nations when institutions should quietly do their jobs” he said.

While responding to a question on PM Narendra Modi’s of minimum government, maximum governance, and its importance in the Indian context he said governance reforms are even more imp than economic reforms, and the inability of the state to deliver to ordinary people what they expect is very discouraging and sad.

India is a story of private success and public failure; private success after 1991 reforms and public failure because we have not done governance reforms he said. 1 out of 4 parliamentarians have criminal records he said giving the example of the judiciary saying that an average man is questioning why should it take judiciary 15 years to settle his case when half his adult life is over. With 4 crore pending cases in lower judiciary, lakhs of undertrials are languishing in jails when their cases are not even been heard and their terms are already over, he said.

Further speaking about anomalies Das said that a bureaucrat who works 14 hours a day and does tremendous work keeping the state afloat gets promoted on the same day as his batchmate who works only 2 hours a day and time passer. “The reality of state capacity is a big problem when we should be continuously working on improving the capacity of the state. Bureaucracy below the district magistrate is very mediocre and callous. Unlike China which is a top-down success, India is a bottom-up success. It has been a weak state and a strong society, unlike China, which has been a strong state and weak society. The fact is you need both.”

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