If self-satisfaction and self-confidence can be given a title, it is the Economic Survey for 2023-’24. The document, presented in Parliament by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, on the first day of the winter session of Parliament and a day before the Union Budget, due on Wednesday, is certainly reassuring. The most important aspect of the survey is the declaration that India has completely and comprehensively overcome the Covid-induced economic setback. The balance-sheets of various companies in the small, medium and large sectors show that there has been a sustainable financial rebound, which redounds to the credit of the nation. Small wonder that the survey predicts that India will be the fastest growing economy in the world. The country has already become the third largest economy in the world in terms of purchasing power parity and the fifth in terms of exchange rate. The economy is expected to grow in the next fiscal at 6 to 6.8%.
There is a condition on which all the growth projections are based. By the way, the Narendra Modi regime benefited from the fall in oil prices which reached their peak during the previous UPA regime. The international price of oil should remain at less than $100 a barrel. If the price breaches this threshold, it will have disastrous consequences for the economy. All the self-congratulations that the survey bristles with do not hide the fact that there has been no respite from the inflation that has been gnawing at the purchasing power of the common man. Of course, it mentions the Ukraine-Russia conflict as the primary cause of the price rise, though it says in the same breath that the country has adequate foreign exchange reserves to meet any volatility in foreign trade and to prop up the rupee. However, there is no guarantee that the prices of foodgrains, pulses and other essential commodities will remain affordable to the vast majority of the people. Certainly, not a comforting thought!
At a time when the people are worried about the investments the Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) made in a company, which recorded the highest growth rate while tens of millions of people were deprived of their jobs and income during the Covid-19 lockdown, the survey mentions the need to dismantle another LIC. This LIC is an acronym for licence, inspection and compliance which is solely within the purview of the Government. In fact, it is the dismantling of the Licence Raj, also called economic liberalisation, in the early nineties that eventually paved the way for what is called the fastest growing economy. As is only to be expected, the survey makes some boastful claims like how the agriculture sector has registered a phenomenal growth rate. This should be seen against the fact that 65% of the population lives in rural areas. As much as 47% of them are dependent on agriculture for sustenance. “Share of private sector investment in agriculture has reached a high level, facilitated by various government initiatives. The sector is no longer about being a primary sector, it has tremendous export potential as well”, says the survey.
Nonetheless, it is only with a pinch of salt that one can read the claim that the government’s health insurance programme has made such an impact that the people’s out-of-pocket expenditure on health has come down from 66% to 48%. There can be no denying that one of the main reasons for pauperisation in India is the expenditure a family has to bear on treatment. In a country like India, the government cannot shy away from its responsibility of providing healthcare at the people’s doorstep for which investments in the health sector should be at least 4 to 5% of the GDP. Some neighbouring countries perform better in earmarking money for public health. The survey mentions that while some developed countries want to deindustrialise themselves, there is a case for more industrialisation in India. The specifics of employment generation expected in 2023-24 are left to the people’s imagination because the survey is hardly equipped to do so. On the whole, the survey is morale-boosting and confidence-inspiring.
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