Press release - Panda session
There is an east-west and north-south divide in India and both the growth and the dividends of growth have not been shared equitably in the country, according to Mr Baijayant Panda, National Vice President and Spokesperson of the Bhartiya Janata Party.
Mr Panda shared his perspective on regional inclusion and broadening economic growth base at the 54th LeaderSpeak session organized by All India Management Association (AIMA). Mr CK Ranganathan, President, AIMA and Chairman & Managing Director, CavinKare moderated the dialogue and Ms Rekha Sethi, Director General, AIMA anchored the session.
Mr Panda emphasized that any attempts to equalize regional economies and economic growth through command or handouts would not work, just as it has not worked in the past in India or anywhere else in the world. He credited the various BJP governments for driving regional inclusion through a combination of infrastructure development and technology deployment. He argued that in recent years, there has been a massive shift in gears of regional inclusion and now growth has moved to tier 2 and tier 3 cities and beyond cities to the rural economies.
India’s poorer states had earlier suffered because of the lack of infrastructure, he argued and cited the example of his home state Odisha, which remained poor despite being endowed with minerals. “India developed an inverted economy,” he said, pointing out that it used to be cheaper to send India’s iron ore to China and then importing steel from there than to send local iron ore to other Indian states where steel was made. “This kept the poor poor while other parts of the country developed,” he said.
Mr Panda said that the Golden Quadrilateral and Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana had transformed the poor regions and today 90% of the Indian villages had concrete roads. “Infrastructure is the key to correcting regional imbalances,” he said. He gave the example of the Northeast where some states did not have railway connections after the pre-independence railways linking Bengal, Tripura and Assam were disrupted. He pointed out that Tripura and Meghalaya have got rail links now.
Mr Panda said that the installation of fibre optic cable across the country has accelerated during the past three years and by 2025 all panchayats in the country will have fibre optic connections. He pointed out that the people who returned from Bangalore to Odisha during the covid pandemic were able to continue working because of good internet connectivity.
Law and order deficiency is another feature of the deprived states, Mr Panda argued. He gave the example of Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP government has cracked down on mafia in the past five years and raised the ease of doing business ranking of the state to 2nd in the country from 14th. “Improvement in law and order is the cornerstone of investment in any state,” he said. He also gave the example of Jammu & Kashmir, where, he said, the removal of Article 370 of the Constitution has facilitated Indian and foreign investment because now Indian laws and Supreme Court ruling apply in that state as well.
The BJP spokesperson credited the GST and the JAM initiatives of the government for including the poor and the poor regions in economic growth. He stressed that India was not even a single market before GST and the check posts of each state slowed down the economy. The JAM, he said, has improved the efficacy and efficiency of governance and saved loads of taxpayers’ money. According to him, now 100% of the government money reaches the intended beneficiary compared to mere 15% in the 1980s, and more money reaches the poor who are concentrated in certain states such as Jharkhand, Odisha, Bihar and Chhattisgarh. He said that the JAM programmes had given 80% of Indians access to banking, and now 77% of Indian women had bank accounts. These digital systems, he added, had allowed the government to help 800 million Indians get rations and 20 million migrant workers receive Rs 1500 each during the covid lockdown.
Responding to queries about growing economic inequality, job anxieties, and concentration of economic power in a few hands, Mr Panda said that during rapid development of an economy the rich get richer but the poor also get richer. He argued that the proof was in the sales statistics which showed growing sales of automobiles and tractors in rural India. He pointed out that retail revolution in the category B and C cities had created well-paid jobs there. However, he emphasized, the government’s thrust is on creating entrepreneurs so that people do not chase jobs. He pointed out that the growing digitalization and automation is resulting in many industries creating fewer jobs as they grow, but at a larger scale of investments, there would be overall more jobs created. “India is missing the middle,” he said, pointing to the dearth of mid-sized companies that create jobs in their growth phase. He credited the government for removing barriers to job creation by doing away with a large number of labour laws.
Responding to a comment about a few business houses cornering public assets through privatization, Mr Panda said that Indian economy has been damaged in the past because of the leaders of the time had insecurities that the Tatas and Birlas will take over the country, and this insecurity has not proved right. He argued that the Tata, Birla, Mahindra, Adani etc were investing billions to gain size and without size one cannot attract global investment. “With a bias against large companies, India cannot compete with China,” he said. He pointed out that the business houses acquiring public assets such as ports, airports, airlines and oil through bidding and they were not receiving those on a platter. “We need a big heart,” he said.
Regarding the Atmanirbhar Bharat mission of the government and its implications for India’s openness, Mr Panda said that India is too large a country to rely only on services and it must improve in every sector. He said that India is re-industrializing just as the developed world is and the auto, mobile phones and defence sectors are key to that.
Commenting on the Ukraine crisis and the resulting fuel price spike, Mr Panda said that India was almost destroyed by the previous regimes’ attempt to control prices. He argued that the markets must be allowed to function and the poor must be helped, and that is why there is DBT to help the poor instead of interfering with prices. “The biggest challenge is to sustain the mindset that a handout economy can be resorted to only during a crisis,” he said.
The session was also livestreamed on AIMA’s social media channels and was attended by over a 1000 delegates on Zoom, You Tube, Linkedin and Twitter