There are red lights flashing on key indicators on the economic dashboard, P. Chidambaram, former union finance minister and Congress leader, said today. He was speaking at a panel discussion on "Which way is the economy headed - North or South" at the Tata Literature Live ! Festival in Mumbai.

Every finance minister, PM, or RBI governor must have a dashboard, he said, while adding that the key indicators such as gross fixed capital formation and private sector investment, credit growth and loans to SMEs and jobs -- both macro and anecdotal data, that he monitored, are all flashing red. He quoted CMIE numbers to say that in the six months from January to June 2017, about 19.60 lakh jobs had been lost. 'The anecdotal evidence is even more compelling. No one whom I have met in the last few months says that they have created even one additional job', he said. He pointed out that in centres such as Tirupur, Moradabad, Agra, Jalandhar and other places with SME industries, it has been the same story. Campus placements are down 40 per cent this year and we cannot afford so many young people without jobs, he said. He also urged the government to fill up existing vacancies at various levels (panchayat and state government level), which run into millions of jobs.

While not disagreeing with Chidambaram's summation, retired banker Naina Lal Kidwai, said though the situation was still dire, she was more optimistic given that we have hit what looks like the bottom. She complimented the government for its 'Swachh Bharat' and Jan Dhan initiatives. "We have not seen a national movement like this", she said about the focus on cleaning and sanitation. These issues are important because 1,600 kids die of diarrhoea every day in India and this is a matter of shame, she said. She added that this is the equivalent of 6 jumbo jets of people going down daily and yet doesn't make front page news.

Dr Y.V. Reddy, former Governor, RBI, in his closing remarks, cautioned that the biggest problem was in the external sector and asked the government to constantly keep it on its radar. No lobby is interested in it, so that may not get the necessary attention, he said in a lighter vein. Geopolitical risks are very important and the government would do well to keep this in mind, he said. He also said after the passing of Rajaji ( C.Rajagopalachari) there has been no right wing ideology, hinting that there was a certain level of consensus among all parties on economic matters.

He clarified during the question and answer session that the earlier reform efforts were consensus based while now it is more agenda-based reform. This is a more high risk strategy but it also brings high reward if it succeeds, he said.