MGNREGA-like initiative necessary to address urban poverty: FICCI President

Meenakshi Verma Ambwani New Delhi | Updated on December 24, 2020

Uday Shankar, President, FICCI

Measures needed to stimulate demand, support revival of realty and services sector and leverage tech for financial inclusion, says Uday Shankar

Uday Shankar, President, The Walt Disney Company APAC & Chairman, Star & Disney India, who recently took over as the President of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), holds the view that an initiative modelled on the MGNREGA Scheme is needed to address urban poverty. Shankar, who is the first media and entertainment executive to assume the leadership position in a national industry chamber, said in an interview with BusinessLine, “We need to unlock the subscription value in the television sector and the retail price of the newspapers needs to go up.” He also spoke on the need for measures to stimulate demand, support revival of the real estate and services sector and leverage technology in the banking system to enable financial inclusion. Excerpts:

What are some of the key expectations from the upcoming Budget?

There are some areas in the economy, which have seen signs of recovery and we need to support them through policy measures to accelerate their growth. At the same time, there are other areas, that are still struggling and they need a very different set of support measures, so they can get off the ground.

FICCI has always stressed that it is very important to stimulate demand. We were probably the first ones to talk strongly about the importance of putting money in the hands of the poor people during the pandemic. We have suggested replicating the MGNREGA kind of an initiative for the urban poor to address urban poverty. We believe the government should also look at measures to support struggling sectors like travel and tourism and other services sector. We also believe time has come for the government to look at supporting the revival of the real sector in a focused manner, as it drives the growth of a whole host of other sectors of the economy.

Given the dynamic nature of the pandemic, do you think the green shoots in the economy that are visible will sustain in 2021?

First and foremost, we need to see through this whole pandemic phase. The good news is that the vaccine seems to be on the horizon and the government has done good work in getting the country ready for delivery of the vaccines. It is important that we do this because unless we secure people against the infection and the pandemic, confidence in the society will remain impacted. Normal activity, whether social, commercial or industrial, also won’t be back in its full phase. We don’t know how this will exactly play out but we are hopeful about a positive outcome very soon so that we can get down to rebuilding the economy.

There is a lot of debate around whether corporates should be given banking licences. What is your view?

Our view is this country needs more banks as they are very critical for driving growth and financial inclusion. We believe within a robust regulatory framework, we can look at more banking licences. However, we have to be very careful that the concerns that are being raised are also addressed transparently. We also need to make sure measures are taken to strengthen the health and balance sheets of public sector banks.

I also believe that competition is a good instrument to keep everybody on the straight and narrow. The banking and financial services sector is also at an inflection point when it comes to the use of technology to enable financial inclusion. While it is important to look at increasing the number of banks and their participation and penetration in the economy, it is also important that the government starts looking beyond traditional banking structures, to ensure the sector is driven by technology and modern means of banking and financial inclusion are allowed to be in full play.

What kind of policy initiatives are required to support the growth of the media and entertainment sector?

I have always maintained that whether it is newspapers or TV, their dependence on advertising, the way it is, is extremely detrimental to their growth. We need to unlock the subscription value in the television sector and the retail price of the newspapers needs to go up. What has hurt the television industry enormously, is this very regressive control on pricing and manner of doing business. The advertising income of the television sector has been badly impacted during the pandemic, at the same time they need to continue to invest more and more. As this sector is coming out of the pandemic, I think it is important that the regulation around price control, offerings and manner of doing business, should be revisited comprehensively.

Your thoughts on the government’s move to bring OTT and digital media content under the ambit of the I & B Ministry.

We do need more clarity. I am not one of those who believes that there should be no regulation. I think it is reasonable to have regulations but the framework of regulation is what is important.

I was closely involved in rolling out the self-regulation initiative for the entertainment television sector (Broadcasting Content Complaints Council) and I am very satisfied to see that in the television sector, self-regulation has worked really well. I think we have managed to address concerns of both the consumers and the government. So I think that the framework of regulation should be democratic and in sync with the changing needs and preferences of the consumers. We have to understand that we need to draw the line between regulation that is socially responsible and regulation that chokes creativity and imagination.

What are the key priorities that you have set out in these challenging times as FICCI President?

These are extremely challenging times and we have our work cut out. My key focus will be to ensure that the FICCI leadership articulates the needs of our members and the various sectors that still need massive amount of support and removal of bottlenecks, in order to come out of the pandemic strongly and resume their normal growth cycle. India has the opportunity to participate more strongly in the global supply chain, use technology to improve productivity and enhance competitiveness. I am hoping that FICCI will be able to work with its members to create a blueprint to take advantage of all these forces.

Published on December 24, 2020

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