Going Beyond the 100-day Govt Agendas
here is speculation galore about the new government’s economic agenda and no dearth of wish-lists and advice. Everyone seems to know what the new government should do. Let’s first dispose of the myth about 100-day agendas. Government and governance are continuous processes. The new government hasn’t been elected for 100 days. It has a 5-year term. 100 days that promise to shake the world may earn initial brownie points. But if it isn’t implemented, headless chickens will come home to roost. Is there any truth in the empirical proposition that if not done immediately with a big-bang in an initial flurry, lethargy and resistance set in? The proposition is primarily based on the 1991 experience. With this mandate, it isn’t obvious that steady state is out. Indeed, the window of citizen impatience with non-performance is probably at least 1 year. For voters, the broad-brush agenda is growth, inflation and corruption. However, this is Union government in Delhi. Many issues are State subjects. Legislative changes take time, not to forget a number constraint in Rajya Sabha, a Joint Session is an exception. Beyond the obvious of a non-existent government being replaced by a visible government and that driving positive sentiments, what can be on offer?
That’s a function of the time-line. The agenda will be driven by what the government perceives to be important, not by priorities of foreign investors or capital markets (FDI, privatisation, Industrial Disputes Act, subsidies). First, governance must be rehabilitated and the administrative deficit eliminated. This means PMO, Cabinet (not GOMs) and bureaucratic decision-making. While But any proper GST progress is also contingent on States. Alternatively, MGNREGS, NFSA (food security), LAAR and even changes in Seventh Schedule. We may have views on amending these. But that’s a long haul. In the interim, the best one can hope for is relaxation of templates devised in Delhi and granting States flexibility to tweak these.
When agendas mention APMC, what do they mean? Almost all agriculture and factor markets are State subjects. What does one expect a government in Delhi to do? Ditto for doing business kind of indicators. At best one can decentralise, reverse excessive centralisation and incentivise reforms in States. Third, there can be signals on fiscal consolidation and goals on deficit reduction. One presses the non-pause button on the FRBM Act. But one needs to realize that the fiscal legacy is horrendous and the deficit numbers may involve sleight of hand. Plan/capital and defence expenditure need to be increased. Most expenditure (interest payments, subsidies, salaries, pensions) is frozen in the short-run, other than a limited amount through expected rationalisation/harmonisation of Ministries and a leaner Cabinet. On revenue side, beyond intentions to introduce DTC and GST, nitty-gritty of neither permits immediate introduction in July 2014. At best, there can be announcements about offensive retrospective provisions and simplification of tax disputes. Recapitalisation of public sector banks by diluting equity is one thing, large-scale privatisation is another. Fourth, in the slightly longer-term, one can reasonably expect an infrastructure and information technology (data/ statistics) push. For instance, for agro inflation, there are supplyside issues and that takes time to lick. But matching excess supply in some geographical areas with excess demand in others is more short-term. Another example of this is in skill formation. In the medium-term, the focus is certainly likely to be on transport, water, electricity, railways, skills and women.
I think big-bang expectations are misplaced. They expect bigbang in July 2014, but assume underlying structures are going to be unchanged. I don’t think anything revolutionary is going to happen in July, especially because the government hasn’t had much preparatory time. But in the medium-term, the big-bang won’t be in incrementally changing this and that, but in overhauling the institutional edifice. It will be a different governance structure.