Take export growth, which in the last five years has been all of 5 per cent. What kind of changes and effort will it take to deliver 100 per cent growth in the next six, when the global trading environment has deteriorated? Manufacturing as a share of GDP has been stagnant through the life of the first Modi government (other than the change in share that followed rejigging of GDP numbers), so why should one expect a 50 per cent increase in share in the next few years? As for doubling farmers’ incomes, the government simply does not have the policy tools and the financial wherewithal to deliver.
Some of the unreal goal-setting dates back a few years, and is possibly of a piece with the foolish talk in the initial years of the first Modi government, that GDP growth
would soon be in double digits. In today’s more realistic mood, even if one sets aside the issues raised by Arvind Subramanian and accepts the GDP numbers as officially recorded, growth has dropped to an average of 7 per cent in the last couple of years. Most forecasts say (somewhat optimistically) that growth will stay at or around that level this year and the next. If the goal of $5 trillion by 2024-25 is taken seriously, subsequent GDP growth
will have to accelerate to an average of 8.5 per cent — something that hasn’t happened since the 2008 financial crisis. Those daunted by this could argue that little is lost with a year’s slippage in reaching the target. But then it would be, as P Chidambaram said, a mere compounding of the existing growth rate.
The real issue is the direction of government policy. On protectionism and tariff policy, for instance, it is moving in exactly the opposite direction to that recommended by the High Level Advisory Group on exports. Some labour law issues are being addressed through the two labour codes that have been finalised; the core issue of delivering a more flexible labour market remains only partially addressed. And little has been done to achieve greater integration with global supply chains.
That the path ahead won’t be smooth becomes clear from the report last December by the Logistics Advisory Committee of the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister. This spells out the formidable infrastructure constraints and costs imposed on exporters from India, compared to their counterparts in other countries. Port logistics (including shipping) impose an additional cost equal to 7-8 per cent of consignment value, which is crippling enough. Other costs are high too: transport, capital, electricity. Much work remains to be done to simplify and streamline procedures and documentation.
It is early days in the new government’s life. While there is talk of 100-day action plans, it is known that the prime minister prefers sustained incrementalism to a big-bang approach. Still, his government will need to show greater purpose quickly if the macro targets set out are not to become embarrassments.