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Changing styles of the Survey

The volume along with critical reviews of the macro economy, credit and finance commission has some sections and chapters with catchy headlines to sync with Modi's style of promotion

BS Reporters  |  Mumbai 

From plain white to colourful pictures and complex diagrams on the cover page, the Union government's Economic Surveys have literally changed colours to reflect the thinking and style of the chief economic advisors in the ministry of finance.

Even so, Arvind Subramanian's two-part maiden effort reflects Prime Minister Narendra Modi's thinking, too.
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A line graph in brown and green giving a comparison of gross domestic product (GDP) growth in India and China is not the only bold statement. A flip through the first volume shows why he candidly admitted on Friday that "everyone has his own thought and idiosyncracy".

The volume not only has 10 chapters, with critical reviews of the macro economy, credit and finance commission but some sections and chapters with catchy headlines to sync with Modi's style of promotion. If the little more than one-page section on empowering women has been suffixed by Unleashing Nari Shakti (women power), quite like Modi, a new acronym, JAM, has been coined for Jan Dhan, and Mobile as new modes of subsidy and benefit transfer, and financial inclusion. And, like, the trinity of Hindu Gods, this trinity is the solution for Rs Wiping Every Tear From Every Eye', the title of another chapter on subsidies, sounding like an election manifesto.

The section on the Finance Commission has a political tinge when it talks about 'cooperative federalism' and concludes "the far-reaching recommendations of the Commission, along with the creation of NITI Aayog, will further the government's vision of cooperative and competitive federalism".

The second volume is the conventional Survey, with the number of chapters reduced to nine from the 13 in former finance secretary Arvind Mayaram's 2013-14 one, presented in July 2014 after the Modi government came to power. Mayaram had put the hard numbers into a statistical appendix and presented a slimmer Survey. The two-volume format was earlier adopted by Ashok Desai, when he presented the Survey for 1991-92.

"Traditionally, the Surveys presented an economic status of the year gone by, so that all those interested in the economy and the would have a clear idea of government's view of the economy. The sections on outlook were generally very perfunctory," recounted Arvind Virmani, former CEA.

After the opening of the economy in the 1990s, the first chapter of the Survey, which covered macro economic developments, became increasingly irrelevant to those economists and others who followed the stock market. For, many analysts connected with investment banks gave a quarterly view of the economy and media started reporting it extensively.

"However, it still had relevance to economic teachers and students across the country, who did not follow day to day developments in the markets/economy," he said.

In 2007-2009, Virmani's team decided to keep the first chapter in the Survey for those who still needed one of the past year but added the second chapter, selecting a special topic and then analysing it, bringing to bear both theoretical and empirical evidence. "The main benefit of the analysis in the is it improves the economic content of the discussion on public policy issues, particularly among non-economists," he said.

Virmani also started the practice of acknowledging the team behind the survey in the document. "This was part of our efforts to incentivise the Indian Economic Service, by giving them some recognition and, thus, encouraging them to do more research and analysis. Among other things in this direction, we also took the initiative to close the huge promotion gap between IAS and IES by working with the cabinet secretary, who was sympathetic to their concerns."

Subramanian has gone a step further by acknowledging not only his team but those outside in the government and even the private sector. The names of Nandan Nilekani, Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Rajiv Lall find mention.

While presenting the Survey for 2009-10, Kaushik Basu depicted the concept of coupons on the cover. Basu had favoured distribution of vouchers or coupons to a target group as a more effective option of subsidy than reducing market prices to help the poor.

Subramanian's touch lies in breaking the mould to make the Survey readable "like a blog".

First Published: Sat, February 28 2015. 00:43 IST
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