Swachh Bharat is more than just cleaning streets

J Mulraj | Updated on November 29, 2019 Published on November 29, 2019

File Photo- Swach Bharat Abhiyaan campaign.   -  Meeta Ahlawat

One of Narendra Modi’s pet programmes was Swachh Bharat, or Clean India. The importance of cleanliness, and its impact on hygiene and on health, cannot be underscored. Yet Swacchta is more than clean streets; indeed it must start at the very top of our polity. The example being set by our political leaders after their shenanigans in Maharashtra, to the youth, is a dismal one. None of them has passed the smell test and the electoral mandate has been contorted, for personal gains, beyond belief.

So, India’s youth learn that pre-poll alliances don’t matter, that political ideology is made of plastacine, that morality is consigned to Jurassic Park and that Indian democracy is OFF the people, BYE the people and FLOOR the people!

It could well be a phyrric victory for the victors. Maharashtra, a State which generates the largest tax revenue, is broke. Apparently, funding for the large infra projects was coming from PSU banks, based on Union Government guarantee. The future of the large infra projects is shaky and also worrisome is the impact on PSU banks of a reneging of their guarantees.

Remember the fate that befell the project to create a new capital city, Amravati, after Chandrababu Naidu lost the election? The new YSRCP Government scrapped the project, arguing that there were irregularities and that the Naidu Government had failed to ‘notify’ the city, basically a procedural requirement.

Funding from the World Bank ($300 million) and AIIB ($715 million) was withdrawn, as also the work put in by the Singapore Government. The State agency undertaking the project had made a public issue of bonds, guaranteed by the State Government and listed on the BSE. Investors in these bonds (minimum ₹10 lakh) are likely to lose all, and the bonds haven’t been traded on the BSE. So much for investor protection; this is a failure to protect them, by SEBI.

So much, also, for the much tomtommed Ease of Doing Business ranking and the invitation for FDI to come in. If projects can be cancelled on a whim, on change of governments, the uncertainty cannot be compensated by a cut in corporate taxes.

Political expediency and division of spoils cannot be a foundation of good public governance. And in the absence of good governance, the India story will not be attractive.

So what exactly is the India story today?

The demographic dividend of a young population will disappear in the absence of jobs/opportunities to start a business. Our largest employment comes from agriculture and this needs to see a de-growth in employment. Some 52 per cent of our population depend on agriculture but earn 14 per cent of national income. This is highly iniquitous and can be corrected by reducing the dependants and/or increasing their income. Higher food/vegetable prices will impact inflation and urban protest.

FDI is dissuaded by the slowness/absence of dispute resolution, the continuing harassment of the ‘inspector raj’ and by cancellation of projects (the bullet train Mumbai-Ahmedabad is an expected victim).

The next selling point was India being the largest democracy which has a judicial system based on British law and conducted in English. Recent events, earlier in Karnataka, Goa and now Maharashtra lay waste to the concept of democracy reflecting the will of the people. The governments ultimately sworn in are demonstrative of horse trading, not of popular vote. The judicial system is weighed down with a backlog of cases encouraged by inexplicable latitude in granting adjournments. Corporate disputes (witness Ranbaxy) are dragged on.

Another hope was for the IBC freeing up bank loans gone sour, using the bankruptcy process. We are now alerted of a flood of MUDRA loans about to go bad. And, of course, the loans to telcos, which have postponed 5G roll-out by five years.

India is not preparing itself for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Its political leaders are too busy wheeling dealing to even think about the future. There is so much talent, but much outside the country — we have the largest inward remittances. We should focus on economic reforms and good governance if we don’t want to be an ‘also ran’.

The writer is India Head — Finance Asia/Haymarket. The views are personal.

Published on November 29, 2019
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