From the Viewsroom

On the treadmill of tweaks

Venky Vembu | Updated on August 28, 2019 Published on August 28, 2019

Obsession with micro-details is no substitute for envisioned policy

On the ceaseless treadmill of policy tweaks that the Modi 2.0 government finds itself, it takes all the running to stay in the same place. Even three months after it returned to power, the government is yet to authoritatively chart an envisioned course for the economy and for businesses. Some of this is perhaps due to its preoccupation with hot-button political issues, particularly Jammu and Kashmir, which have taken up much of its bandwidth of ideas. Even so, its inability to get the big macroeconomic picture right, and its focus instead on policy minutiae that has left businesses and the markets aflutter, is passing strange.

Illustratively, barely six months into a new tariff regime for the broadcast industry, regulator TRAI is already looking to tweak some aspects of the new framework, ostensibly to render them more consumer-friendly. Among industry players, who had barely begun to get used to the new regime, the move has triggered apprehensions of yet more unsettling changes to come; even the TRAI chairman’s reassurances on this count have not been comforting. On another front, the Health Ministry plans to tweak the National List of Essential Medicines to incorporate hygiene products such as adult diapers, sanitary napkins, soaps, and floor disinfectants. Despite assurances that such a move would not lead to price controls — and to reduced supplies — the convoluted rationale offered by Ministry mandarins to justify the move is mind-boggling. Both of these instances reflect the disquieting impulse of a ‘Big Government’ on regulatory overreach; they also validate the perception that policymakers settle for frenetic pounding of the treadmill of tweaks as a substitute for meaningful action.

Even the economic ‘stimulus’ package announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman last week amounts, for the most part, to a rollback of some of the unwise provisions in the Budget, which had triggered a sharp sell-off in the capital markets and compounded the grim macroeconomic tidings. There is now perhaps a fleeting acknowledgement of the gravity of the economic slowdown, but there is as yet little evidence of envisioned policy that addresses the core of the crisis.

Venky Vembu Associate Editor

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Published on August 28, 2019
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