Prime Minister Narendra Modi has rejected the notion that his government has failed to pursue "big bang" reforms, saying he has undertaken "maximum reforms". He, however, told The Wall Street Journal in an interview ahead of his visit to the US next month that his government faces "an enormous task ahead".
"When I came to the government, I used to sit down with all the experts and ask them to define what is 'big bang' for them," he said, adding, "Nobody could tell me."
On privatisation and labour reforms, Modi sought to portray a balanced image of his government. "In any developing country in the world, both the public and private sector have a very important role to play. You can't suddenly get rid of the public sector, nor should you," he said.
While saying this, he also counted a number of areas where his government has allowed private investment. "In defence, there was no private investment. Today, I have allowed it to 100 per cent. In insurance, private investment was not allowed. I have allowed it. In the railways, I have for the first time developed a public-private partnership model for railway stations, which will raise the economic strength and efficiency of the railways."
The government has earned Rs 56,425.97 crore through disinvestment in two years - Rs 24,277.17 crore in 2014-15 and Rs 32,148.80 crore in 2015-16 - against Rs 84,425 crore targeted in the Budgets. Modi did not speak on privatisation of loss-making public sector units. The Budget has targeted Rs 20,500 crore from these strategic sales in 2016-17, after a higher target of Rs 28,500 crore could not lead to any proceedings in 2015-16.
When asked if his government would ease hire-and-fire rules, the PM said it was "a western phrase". "Labour reform should not just mean 'in the interest of industry'. Labour reforms should also be in the interest of the labourer," he said.
Adding, "There are some states that don't have industry but are primarily agricultural. They don't need labour reforms. Those states that have a substantial manufacturing sector, they need labour reforms. And their state Assemblies can adopt them. It is a joint subject of the states and the Centre, and if they send it to me, I will allow them," On criticism about the industry finding it difficult to acquire land for projects, Modi said the efforts to amend the land acquisition law at the federal level were "over now" and it was up to individual states to pursue changes. He said easing of land acquisition was not on his party's agenda and his government was misled by Opposition parties. "…When all the chief ministers of different states of India requested the government, we, naturally, thought of taking it to Parliament… as soon as it was taken to Parliament, parties started taking a political position... so far as the Land Acquisition Act is concerned, it is over now. State governments can go ahead and we will give them permission," he said.
On goods and services tax (GST), he appeared confident of implementing the tax reforms by April 2017. "By and large, all parties except the Congress, are on board. We will get by in the numbers game (in the Rajya Sabha) also," he said. The GST Bill, approved by the Lok Sabha, is pending in the Rajya Sabha because of stiff resistance by the Congress, the largest party in the House, which had sought certain changes in the Bill.
When asked about Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook's first visit to India, Modi said, "I think he got exposed to the full strength and measure of India's diversity. I am quite techno savvy, so I think our wavelengths matched quite quickly."
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ON LAND ACQUISITION
“…When all the chief ministers of different states of India requested the government, we, naturally, thought of taking it to Parliament… as soon as it was taken to Parliament, parties started taking a political position... so far as the Land Acquisition Act is concerned, it is over now”
“As far as GST is concerned, we expect to realise it within this year. By and large, all parties except the Congress are on board. We will get by in the numbers game (in the Rajya Sabha) also”
“In any developing country in the world, both the public sector and the private sector have a very important role to play. You can’t suddenly get rid of the public sector, nor should you”
ON LABOUR REFORMS
“Labour reform should not just mean ‘in the interest of industry’. It should also be in the interest of the labourer”
Modi said after coming to power his government had opened up more of the economy to foreign investments, made changes to curb corruption, fill gaps in rural infrastructure and made it easier to do business.
Modi said India wanted to go ahead with manufacturing "because we have a lot of defence imports". India is the world's largest importer of arms, accounting for 14 per cent of global purchases. "If I look at it from an economic point of view and to provide jobs to my country's young people, the defence-manufacturing sector can provide maximum number of jobs to my country's youth," he told WSJ. "Today, unlike before, India is not standing in a corner," he added.
On concerns about China's growing military might, he said, "We have a boundary dispute, but there is no tension or clashes. People to people contacts have increased. Trade has increased. Chinese investment in India has gone up. India's investment in China has grown. Despite the border dispute, there haven't been any clashes. Not one bullet has been fired in 30 years." Modi said the world was not divided into two camps anymore. "Today, the whole world is interdependent. Even if you look at the relationship between China and the US, there are areas where they have substantial differences but there are also areas where they work closely. That's the new way. If we want to ensure the success of this interdependent world, I think countries need to cooperate but at the same time we also need to ensure that there is a respect for international norms and international rules."