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“From Dependence to Self-Reliance” is a concise albeit passionate manifesto penned by the former Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, that exhorts and urges India to make the most of a golden opportunity staring the nation in the face as it readies itself to carve a niche as an economic and cultural powerhouse. Arguing that India is extraordinarily and enviably positioned to take advantage of the paradigm global shifts in production technologies, international trade and deployment of skilled manpower, Bimal Jalan proposes that India should be clocking a growth rate in the region of 7–8 per cent per annum over the next 25 years. Such a sustained trajectory would enhance the capacity of the government to finance expenditure for essential social services. Such an enhanced capacity would in turn, provide higher growth in employment opportunities, which in its own way will have a decisive impact in reducing poverty levels over time. A virtuous cycle with appreciably benevolent ramifications.
However in order to achieve such a continuous growth rate, India, Jalan warns, needs to pull up its reformist socks and implement long due measures in the spheres of agriculture, banking, regulatory framework and the very governing polity itself, post-haste. The disappearing boundaries between goods and services, plummeting costs of communication and rampant progress in Information Technology has placed India at the forefront of economic progress since the second most populous nation on the planet possesses a formidable reserve of capabilities in the domain of research and development (R&D), computing, inventory management, quality control, accounting, personnel administration, clerical services, marketing, advertising, distribution and legal services.
In spite of being the sixth largest economy in the world, India inexcusably is a laggard in multiple global indicators of socio-economic well-being which includes (but is not limited to) adult literacy, infant mortality, maternal mortality, life expectancy or gender bias. India’s performance finds mention among the bottom one-third of all countries in the ranking matrix. This is largely a direct outcome of government apathy. According to Jalan, State governments need to reduce their public debt by reducing their debt-financed assets in the public sector, thereby bringing down their interest burdens materially. Such a move will consequently release resources for greater investment in social sectors, particularly health and education.
Jalan also places enormous emphasis on the need for accelerating research & development in the country. India, in the opinion of Jalan requires three kinds of integrated and overlaying research: (a) fundamental research; (b) basic industrial research; and (c) applied R&D. Currently a lamentable lack of industry support and a regulatory regime had hindered its proper functioning of R&D Universities such as the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. (CSIR). Under the Chairmanship of Abid Hussain a report issued by the CSIR Review Committee in 1986 identified that the “presence of multiple objectives, suboptimal scale of operation, lack of sustained and meaningful interaction between the CSIR and its actual and potential users, and lack of suitable incentive support had, in the past, limited the usefulness of the CSIR in the Indian economy.”
Yet another scourge hindering the path of progress, according to Jalan, is the burgeoning stream of unending subsidies, both implicit and explicit. A relic of centralised State planning, subsidies to centrally owned public enterprises are more than five times the central government’s budget for education. The elimination of just explicit subsidies (fuels, fertilizers etc) would release governmental outlay on education and other services for the poor.
An area ripe for reformist policies is the management and operation of the behemoth Public Sector Undertakings (PSU). Ailing financially and creaking under the weight of a plethora of redundancies, these Government funded organisations, famously referred to as “temples of development” by Jawaharlal Nehru, are albatrosses around the Government’s neck. At times the role of the PSUs is bewilderingly Vaudevillian. They are the unsaid and implied provider of jobs, saviour of sick enterprises, bastion of social services and a perpetual cash cow ready for permanent milking. Government, via various Ministries intervenes in almost all decisions taken by the PSUs. A concentrated privatization of PSUs (disinvestment) and separation of Government intervention from the operational and managerial aspects is an urgent task that needs to be implemented.
Jalan goes on to offer a radical proposition for the reformation of the PSUs. “All public-sector enterprises which dominate the market in any product (with, say, more than 50 per cent of the market share) should be broken up, and one or more of the component pieces should be sold to the public”.
But the most courageous and out of the box proposals made by Jalan is unsurprisingly in the domain of politics. Advocating an uncompromising de criminalization of politics, Jalan argues for the domicile requirement for election to Rajya Sabha to be reintroduced. He also refreshingly proposes that a person “charge sheeted” by any agency, even though not convicted, should not be allowed to take oath as a member of the Rajya Sabha. He also asserts expulsion from the Parliament as a punishment for sullying the proceedings and creating a ruckus.
Divided into three sections, Economy, Governance and Politics, “From Dependence to Self-reliance” is an introspective, insightful and intuitive book that issues a clarion call for inclusive and innovative reforms that would play a vital role in expediting India’s progress as a nation to be reckoned with, economically, socially, culturally and politically.