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India must change five-year plan model: Arun Maira

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New Delhi: After a recast of the Planning Commission, India must change its five-year approach and make it a more dynamic exercise, even as conditions must be created to promote more jobs and entrepreneurship, said Arun Maira, a former member of the erstwhile plan panel.

In an interview with IANS, Maira concurred with the Congress party stance on the government’s new land bill, saying the present leadership had got swayed by investors and industry but was now on track by looking afresh clauses on consent from those displaced, and social impact assessment.

Maira, 72, whose book ‘An upstart in government: Journeys of Change and Learning’ was released earlier this month, said that the role of ‘Niti Aayog set up by the Narendra Modi government must be “a coach and catalyst” and “not budget management and controller” as the plan panel had become.

The Modi government set up the Niti Aayog in place of Planning Commission earlier this year.

“The Planning Commission was focused much on approval of state plans and allocation of money to states and central ministries. It had become, in effect, a budget controlling and scheme controlling organisation,” said Maira, who has also long served the Tata group.

“The charter of Niti Aayog does not give it any role in the budget allocation at all. It says role of Niti Aayog must be to make the federal system of India work in which the Centre is not going to be controlling the states.”

Maira, a plan panel member from 2009 to 2014, said Niti Aayog must assist states to do better.

There is a difference between assisting someone to do better and telling them what to do and controlling what they do. It is 180-degree shift almost in the orientation that is required of Niti Aayog compared to Planning Commission,” Maira said.

“Since circumstances inside and outside keep changing and the amount one would have to spend on various schemes can be different, you have to have a more dynamic process of using resources as per your priorities. It is not a five-year rigid budget which one was calling a plan.”

Maira said forward planning was, indeed, a good thing but an outlook could be made for 10 years to set out the vision. However, one can be exact only about the immediate future — for around a year, he said, calling for rolling plans rather than rigid plan processes.

The governing council of Niti Aayog decided at its first meeting in February this year that the 12th five year plan (2012-17) will continue. But the council also decided that the aayog reviews the 12th plan to incorporate shared vision of the national development agenda.

On the politics of replacing the plan panel, Maira found the Congress position “strange”.

“Manmohan Singh himself as prime minister said we can’t continue with Planning Commission the way it is going on. He said it twice strongly. If the prime minister said that, then why did the Congress say afterwards – no no, the Planning Commission was very good, why are you changing it?”

Asked if politics was behind Congress criticism, Maira — who has penned several books earlier, notably ‘Remaking India – One Country, One Destiny’ and ‘Shaping the Future: Aspirational Leadership in India and Beyond’ — did not mince any words: “Absolutely,” he replied.

But on the land bill, Maira said Congress has been right and lauded the changes it made in 2013. “These are necessary things if you want inclusive and sustainable growth. The objection from some people in the industry was that is very complicated and will take too long,” he said.

“The government got a little too swayed by investors,” Maira said but added that after wanting to do away with the consultation mechanisms earlier, the reversal by the new government, saying we will not touch those processes, was a welcome move.

The suave management consultant who has chaired the Boston Consulting Group in India earlier and worked with Arthur D Little, was a concerned over how governments have been going about on the subject of creating more jobs and promoting enterprises and entrepreneurship.

“We must create conditions for the start of many more enterprises in the country. Also, the small enterprises must find it easy to do business,” he said. “But we make it difficult for them.”


(By Prashant Soon, IANS)

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Listening for Well-being : Arun Maira Talks About a Democracy in Crisis, Unsafe Social Media and More in his Latest Book

Maira asserts that we must learn to listen more deeply to 'people who are not like us' in our country because of their history, their culture, their religion, or their race.

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Arun Maira
Arun Maira (extreme left), during a public event in 2009. Wikimedia
  • Former Planning Commission member Arun Maira’s latest book is titled ‘Listening for Well-Being’
  • Maira observes that physical and verbal violence in the world and on social media is continuously growing
  • He also highlights the importance of ‘hearing each other’ in order to create truly inclusive and democratic societies

New Delhi, September 5, 2017 : Former Planning Commission member Arun Maira contends that “physical violence” in the real world and “verbal violence” on social media against people whom “we do not approve of” are increasing today. With such trends on the rise, the very idea of democracy finds itself in a crisis.

The solution?

“We need to listen more deeply to people who are not like us,” said the much-respected management consultant, talking of his latest book, “Listening for Well-Being”, and sharing his perspective on a wide range of issues that he deals with.

“Violence by people against those they dislike, for whatever reason, is increasing. It has become dangerous to post a personal view on any matter on social media. Responses are abusive. There is no respect for another’s dignity. People are also repeatedly threatened with physical violence.”

He said that gangs of trolls go after their victims viciously. “Social media has become a very violent space. Like the streets of a run-down city at night… not a safe space to roam around in.”

At the same time, streets in the physical world are becoming less safe too. “Any car or truck on the road can suddenly become a weapon of mass destruction in a ‘civilised’ country: in London, Berlin, Nice, or Barcelona,” Maira told IANS in an interview.

Maira said that with the rise of right-wing parties that are racist and anti-immigrant, there is great concern in the Western democratic world — in the US, the UK and Europe — that democracy is in a crisis.

In the US, for example, supporters of Donald Trump, Maira said, believe only what Trump says and watch only the news channels that share a similar ideology. On the other side are large numbers of US citizens who don’t believe what Trump says but they too have their own preferred news sources.

“They should listen to each other, and understand each other’s concerns. Only then can the country be inclusive. And also truly democratic — which means that everyone has an equal stake and an equal voice,” he noted.

In “Listening for Well-Being” (Rupa/Rs 500/182 Pages), Arun Maira shows his readers ways to use the power of listening. He analyses the causes for the decline in listening and proposes solutions to increase its depth in private and public discourse.

Drawing from his extensive experience as a leading strategist, he emphasises that by listening deeply, especially to people who are not like us, we can create a more inclusive, just, harmonious and sustainable world for everyone.

But it would be wrong to say that the decline in listening is only restricted to the Western world.

“We have the same issues in India too. We are a country with many diverse people. We are proud of our diversity. However, for our country to be truly democratic, all people must feel they are equal citizens.

“The need for citizens to listen to each other is much greater in India than in any other country because we are the most diverse country, and we want to be democratic. So, we must learn to listen more deeply to ‘people who are not like us’ in our country because of their history, their culture, their religion, or their race,” he maintained.

Maira also said that India is a country with a very long and rich history. And within the present boundaries of India are diverse people, with different cultures, different religions, and of different races.

“So, we cannot put too sharp a definition on who is an ‘Indian’ — the language they must speak, the religion they must follow, or the customs they must adopt. Because, then we will exclude many who do not have the same profiles, and say they are not Indians. Thus we can falsely, and dangerously, divide the country into ‘real Indians’ and those who are supposedly non-Indians. Indeed, such forces are rising in India,” he added.

Maira, 74, hoped that all his readers will appreciate that listening is essential to improve the world for everyone. He also maintained that it is not a complete solution to any of the world’s complex problems but by listening to other points of view, we can prevent conflict and also devise better solutions.

Born in Lahore, Arun Maira received his M.Sc. and B.Sc. in Physics from Delhi University’s St Stephen’s College. He has also authored two bestselling books previously, “Aeroplane While Flying: Reforming Institutions” and “Upstart in Government: Journeys of Change and Learning”. (IANS)

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Rise of the Indian economy: Awaiting a neo-Hindu rate of growth

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By Gaurav Sharma

Yesterday, India celebrated its 68th year of Independence. From tenderly treading baby steps in the nascent stages of nationhood to galloping briskly towards a greater stake in the global economy, the Indian journey has been a roller-coaster ride.

Monikers such Shining India and the Bright spot highlight the growing economic clout of the country and arouse global interest in India, both as a market and an investment hotspot.

What was once the tedious Hindu rate of growth of 1 per cent in the first three decades following a century of exploitative British colonization has now rocketed into a burgeoning 7 per cent growth trajectory. When the World Bank expects India to top its growth outlook charts for 2015-2016, with the economy growing steadily between 7.5-8.3 per cent, it further cements the India’s rise as an economic power.

How did we traverse the topsy-turvy journey, through the crest and the trough? How did we reach the current state of being?

After Independence, India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru (through the statistician Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis) undertook a socialist reform of the country. Skeptical of his colonial experience, Nehru adopted a protectionist economic policy, under which development came largely under the ambit of the government. Central planning, regulation and import substitution emerged as the key features of the Five Year Plans based upon the Soviet model.

Nehru’s reply to industrialist JRD Tata, “Never talk to me of profit. It is a dirty word”, emboldens the denigrating and suspicious mindset of politicos towards the private sector prevailing during that time. Industries such as steel mining, insurance among a host of other industries were controlled and run by the public sector.

In 1965, the Green Revolution was ushered in, to facelift the agriculture sector. Use of high yield variety seeds (HYV) and genetically modified (GM) crops not only resulted in India achieving self-reliance in food security but also stealthily brought the problem of income disparity and institutional breakdown to the fore.

Although the Morarji Desai government of 1977 did ease restrictions on the economy by removing price controls and reduction of tax rate, by the end of the decade India was staring itself in the dark pit of external payment crisis. With the disintegration of Soviet Union and a sharp decline in oil prices, India’s balance of payments (BoP) had enlarged to dangerous proportions.

India was forced to borrow a heavy sum of Rs 28,000 crore from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the largest sum for any developing nation at the time.

In the 1980’s, the Indira Gandhi government was successful in stalling the prospective deterioration underlined in the loan conditions, by unleashing a slew of reform measures such as reducing import duties, delicensing industry and revamping the public sector. Transformation was on it way.

Then in 1991, a breakthrough was achieved by Narasimha Rao while working in tandem with the then finance minister Manmohan Singh. Public monopoly came to an end, interest rates and tariffs were reduced, license raj was quashed and the country was opened up to the world. Globalization, Privatization and Liberalization emerged as the motto of the new dispensation.

The new millennium (particularly the period 2003-2007), saw India touch a high 9 percent growth rate, with Goldman Sachs predicting India to become the third largest economy by 2025.

Despite donning the hat of the new global economic power, India’s fundamentals were tested during the 2008-09 recession. Although it managed to brace through the economic cyclone, in the aftermath of the disaster, India’s growth rate had tumbled down below 5 per cent.

High current account deficit, weak rupee and a sluggish manufacturing sector aggravated the situation. Furthermore, the tapering of quantitative easing in the US meant that foreign investment into the country ebbed. India’s global standing took a hit even as the ease-of-doing-business index ranked at an abysmal 142 out of 189 countries.

Fast track to today. And with the change in political power, things have started changing. With almost 15 years of developmental experience behind his back, Narendra Modi has  promised a slew of reforms aimed at reviving India’s economic muscle.

Critical sectors of the economy have been opened-up to woo foreign investors and to revivify the ailing sectors. FDI in defense has been increased to 100 per cent and insurance FDI limit has spiked up from 26 to 49 per cent.

Not to get fixated with the idea of growth as the sole plank of development, Modi has also vied for social initiatives. This is in line with what Amartya Sen (a notable critic of Modi) believes economics to be; a value of freedom not limited to a utilitarian concept of wealth and income.

On his Independence Day speech, Modi continued with his hawkeye focus on development and boisterously claimed that his government had scaled down the complex labour laws into 4 simplified codes; safety, social security, wage and industrial relations. It will be interesting to see how the grand plan actualizes.

If Kisan Kalyana Yojana ends up as mere rechristening of the agriculture ministry rather than a new scheme, Modi’s credibility will surely take a hit. Dreaming of an entrepreneurial revolution and setting a target of three years for rural electrification plans are ambitious plans indeed. Still, in the midst of the precocious focus on development, the key area of electoral reforms has been left untouched.

This only shows how adept Modi is when it comes to towing the precarious line of economic reforms and social development–of leadership and populism–with much alacrity. If only as a photo-op, critical social issues have not been left sidelined.

Perhaps this how the neo-hindu statesman works. When, and if he walks the talk, can we expect a new neo-Hindu rate of growth?