The other pillars of democracy, the judiciary and media, must remain steadfastly independent and impartial guardians of the Constitution. The people still repose their greatest faith in them to protect their rights and uphold their aspirations
Achieving developed country status by 2047 is a commendable goal set by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for India on this Independence Day. The big question now is to determine an effective path and encourage the whole of society, that includes all Indian residents, into contributing their might and mite to achieve that goal which is today a distant dream. In a secular, democratic society this will require the recognition and upholding of all the fundamental rights of Indian citizens and allowing them the freedom and means to achieve their best potential to contribute to the upliftment of the nation.
Since the Constitution guarantees individual freedom of religion, people should mutually respect the external marks of faith that any one may choose to wear and not discriminate in access to goods and services on the basis of faith. As the choice of faith is a fundamental right of an Indian, the question of changing faiths must be left to the individual conscience and not prevented or denied by social or legal means. We must feel Indian first and not make faith our primary identity.
Similarly, the question of forward or backwardness must have only an economic basis and not be based on social or community considerations. A new classification based on income level must replace our present system of reservations. BPL people must be fully supported to achieve a basic income level necessary for the nation to be considered developed. Religion should not be the basis of political ideology, nor should it influence the administration of the state, at Central or state/UT government level.
The objective of developed country can be achieved in such a short time only by releasing the animal spirits not merely of the formal economy but more importantly of the informal one which, despite demonetization, constitutes over 90 percent of the Indian GDP today. A significant share of the necessary annual growth rate of 11 percent or more must come from the knowledge economy and its innovative output.
To eliminate the digital divide in our nation demonstrated during the Covid pandemic, cybercafes with a minimum of two computers can be encouraged in every village. The Internet service backbone must be strengthened to an average speed of 100 mbps, which now prevails in developed countries, to enable quick output and service delivery.
Trade and business licenses should be given freely online, along with a PAN, and require all sales to be through banking channels by freely distributing POS machines through the customer's bank. The process of registering a business must be streamlined so that it takes no more than a day. People should be free to start whatever business they want and the market will take care of excess supply. A humane bankruptcy process is necessary to restructure failed enterprises so that banks do not suffer increased NPAs from social sector lending.
Aggregators and marketers may be encouraged to collect output for sale through more outlets. Villages and panchayats may be encouraged to create self-help groups to add value to output and develop new products and uses. Business creation, operation and wind-up must be made far easier so that savers become investors.
Inspections should be limited to fire, industrial safety, health and sanitation measures at the workplace and be at predictable intervals unless irregularities or non-compliance are noticed. There should be no pressure for employment in excess of requirement, nor should an enterprise be considered a cash cow by local or other elements for unrelated purposes.
The process of company formation, land acquisition, development and construction must be made as automated as possible while procurement above a minimum threshold must be by public e-tendering. Tender evaluation committees must be constituted at a level higher than of the tendering authority to ensure fair scrutiny and finalization.
Inflexible labour policies must be modified to that employers may optimize their work forces as required. To compensate an 18-month unemployment insurance scheme will be useful, during which the retrenched worker should undergo a six-month upskilling course.
Innovation and discovery is the key to growth. Literacy and numeracy must become universal. The consumption of knowledge and its use in creating effective solutions to widespread problems depends upon making education inquiry-based from the primary stage. Students should be encouraged to acquire to apply their learning in practical ways to invent things or new processes. Much more investment is required in R&D activities,
Ninety-nine percent of our population does not pay any direct taxes on income. It will be impossible for the nation to become developed until resources are increased by innovative means, by increasing labour productivity and skills, by bringing more people particularly women into the workforce, by encouraging and supporting MSME enterprise and opening new avenues of self-employment and community activity to add value to output, make products in frequent daily use and discourage imports of goods that can be adequately manufactured in India.
Unless we achieve a long-term trade surplus by increasing exports by diversifying both export baskets and importing countries, we will be increasingly hard-pressed to pay for essential imports such as fuel. Extracting investable surplus should be made primarily by market forces through issue of project-specific bonds or other instruments.
Small investment must be encouraged by offering inflation-linked floating interest rates, so that the value of investor funds does not depreciate. This will encourage the emergence of wealth hitherto hidden or locked up in households that are not liable to pay income tax. State level resources may be augmented by monetizing municipal and other services.
For example, those issued trade and professional or similar licenses may be charged an annual fee depending upon the nature and scale of business. If the investment made is in certain identified priority sectors, it may be useful not to question the source of funds, but to rather tax the earnings from such investment.
This may reduce the hoarding of wealth in cash or other unproductive ways and put it to use in promoting national development. Overall small investors must be given confidence that their investments will be safe even in non-banking and market related investments and earn more than traditional alternative asset classes such as gold.
The formation of MSMEs and rural productive systems must be actively encouraged. Traditional artisans, weavers and craftsmen must be encouraged by well-established designers and other famous personalities and their output brought to market after giving them a fair price for their labour, through KVIC and other similar marketing organizations.
Vocational skill training must be increased and upgraded to internationally acceptable standards so that such qualified personnel may easily migrate to points of demand in India or abroad. Their remittances will not only improve the quality of their families' lives but also support our continuing CAD.
Finally, administration must be streamlined and made as faceless as possible. NIC and other websites must be user-friendly and capable of handling high volumes without crashing. A civil administrator today is instructed by multiple authorities and personalities at Central and State levels. Local bodies should be empowered to undertake a list of tasks within the annually prescribed budget and report the results to the local civil administration.
People who achieve salaried political positions in the State or Centre must thereafter be accountable for any wealth accumulated in excess of known legitimate sources of income. Salaries, dearness allowance and other perquisites are provided to give a modest but decent quality of life to the earners; so. they must not burden their voters with excess demands for services they are required to render to them.
Civil servants cannot be treated by the political class as subservient "Yes Men" but allowed to work autonomously within the law to implement the legitimate directives of their superiors in the hierarchy. Otherwise, the aspiration of good governance will suffer badly.
Political parties in a democracy present their programmes to the people for approval through manifestos and poll promises. Those who emerge victors should then fulfill those promises by breaking them down into tasks for the bureaucracy to implement within budgetary resources, ensuring that there is no undue expenditure or time lag in the process.
Those parties that fail to win popular approval should work to ensure that the approved agenda is properly implemented without corruption, delay, discrimination or the creation of creation of divisions within the social fabric of the nation. They must try to ensure that the people get a fair deal from the government they elected and enjoy their fundamental rights while fulfilling their defined obligations, including payment of due taxes on time, orderly behaviour and maintaining a clean, habitable and sustainable environment.
Politics is today regarded largely as the refuge of the reprehensible. This attitude must be changed by the parties themselves agreeing upon a common set of objectives for the nation and using their organizations to devise possible alternative pathways to achieve those national objectives without their cadres physically fighting one another. Parties are made of of people with a particular set of opinions about a set of objectives.
If all parties debate over these rather than vying to control State and Central resources for their own ends, there will be less corruption, violence, delays and wastage of stretched national resources. They must think of the national rather than the community or personal good to keep our nation unified, strong and prosperous. We must set an example in probity integrity human values and scientific knowledge for all our neighbours and the world to look up in admiration rather than dismiss us in disdain.
The other pillars of democracy, the judiciary and media, must remain steadfastly independent and impartial guardians of the Constitution. The people still repose their greatest faith in them to protect their rights and uphold their aspirations.
Finally, the structure and systems of governance must concentrate on the four pillars of finance, territorial integrity and security, communications and foreign relations as well as the others included in the Central and Concurrent Lists of the Constitutions and leave the States to get on with their own listed activities without being denied their due share of revenues by the Centre.
Let the nation and its people be free to get on with the rest of the action required to raise the per capita income to developed country levels within 2047 without increasing the inequalities that already mar so badly our economic and social fabric.
(The author is a retired Indian ambassador. Views are personal)