Cut and dry, but accurate
Ashok K Bhattacharya
has done well to highlight how the annual Economic Surveys have undergone changes depending on who has written them in his comment, “Different strokes in North Block” (June 21, 2017). This is most timely and useful. One cannot agree more with his contention that the Survey should be the voice of the finance ministry
or the government on economic policy issues. That must always be the overriding concern if the Survey is to lead to meaningful discussions of the current and proposed policies in Parliament and in public.
It is bad enough that the Survey is now presented just the day before the Budget.
That leaves no time for its discussion, as the attention totally shifts to the Budget
in the space of a day. Not too long ago, the Survey preceded the Budget
by a week or so, which sometimes led to a spirited debate in Parliament. More importantly, scholars and analysts outside had enough time to lay down contours of a framework against which the Budget
could be parsed. That opportunity is now gone, which is a major loss for an informed polity, especially since there is now hardly any discussion of the Budget
itself in Parliament. Lately, party majorities simply passing it is considered satisfactory!
The trend to personalise the Surveys is now firmly established. Starting with Dr Kaushik Basu’s offerings, the Surveys have increasingly become showcases of the erudition and sensitivities of the author, the chief economic advisor. The current Survey has a long disquisition on universal basic income. That may be an excellent scholarly exercise, but is hardly likely to place the government’s overall welfare policies in perspective, given the fact that India is not quite likely (nor ready) to espouse it anytime soon. The Survey also contains an in-depth analysis of internal migration within the country, but again, one fails to see its concerns reflected in the Budget.
A whole chapter titled “Clothes and Shoes” talks about the low-technology manufacturing activities, but the Budget
does not exactly take up the clues. There are many one-line paragraphs at the end of sections, which are pithy, no doubt, but serve no purpose other than showing the author’s verbal dexterity. Occasionally, the very careful research in the Survey is in danger of being misinterpreted. For example, the 2016 survey said that according to the National Sample Survey
70th round, the median family income from crops in 17 states was under Rs 20,000 a year in 2012-13. That got famously misquoted as current average farm family annual income, which in 2016-17 was in fact over Rs 1 lakh a year or five times higher.
I thought I would never say this, but could we have the drier, factual, narrower surveys back please?
Shreekant Sambrani, Baroda
This refers to the editorial, “A smart choice” (June 21, 2017). In 2002, the emergence of Dr A P J Abdul Kalam as the successor to the then President, K R Narayanan, was preceded by intense political manoeuvring with the ruling dispensation trying to elect a “pliable” candidate to the country’s highest constitutional office and create disarray in the Opposition. Fearing loss of political space in the non-Congress-led coalition government, the then CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Prakash Karat tried to stoke unfounded fears by arguing, “The office of the President is one of the key constitutional and political posts in the country. We would like a person who can exercise political sagacity and judgment to occupy this office. In Gujarat, there has been a blatant violation of rights guaranteed under the Constitution. The President may be asked to exercise his judgment. We don’t know Kalam’s views on any of these matters.” However, this partial expression of the search for a “third alternative” failed to divide the electoral college
Now, the government’s choice of former Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind (pictured) as the presidential candidate is a welcome rejection of caste prejudices and hatred. Kovind is a representative of all social sections — agrarian, rural, economically and socially underprivileged. As an accomplished leader, he enjoys impeccable credentials and personal integrity expected of a person occupying the Rashtrapati Bhawan. It is time the political class stopped debating his caste and reducing his candidature to a mere exercise in political outreach.
Shreyans Jain, New Delhi
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