Sunday 16 July 2023

Respect for the citizen (The Sunday Guardian)

 A never before seen opportunity has presented itself to India in the form of countries seeking to reduce their dependence for supplies from the People’s Republic of China. Were such investors to be confident of a welcoming regulatory environment in the country, the quantum of such “decoupled” investment in India would in a few years dwarf the flow going into alternative locations nearby. Whether it be access to a large and fast-growing market, or the availability of skilled brainpower thanks to the abundance of technical and other educational centres that have come up in various parts of the country, or closeness to markets in Europe, West Asia and Southeast Asia, India offers a multitude of suitable locations. Companies would be able to determine which location best meets their needs, so that state governments would compete with each other to ensure ease of business in their state. If there were to be a rough rule of thumb about ease of compliance with regulatory requirements, which plays a significant role in ensuring overall ease of doing business, 60% of the task would be that of the Central government, 30% the state government and 10% local government. It was his performance as Chief Minister and not any patron within the BJP that catapulted Narendra Modi by early 2013 into being the voter’s most favoured politician to lead India. If there had been no Modi phenomenon in 2014, the BJP would have continued to fall significantly short of securing a majority on its own in the Lok Sabha.

During previous governments, even so basic a requirement as the location of a factory was in several instances dictated by those in power rather than decided by the company itself. The consequence was that many of the production sites suffered from shortages of items necessary for the running of the plant, and consequently, costs rose and international and domestic competitiveness fell. Worse, the regulatory rules were so strict and loosely worded that it became an easy task for a corrupt rival to cripple a company by harassing the entity through the misuse of the law and its enforcement. There have been numerous instances of promising startups with innovative and domestically formulated technologies being forced to shut down, and even in a few cases, have the innovators receive not a national award for excellence but a prison sentence. It is in such a context that Prime Minister Modi has created numerous pathways for those who have been victimised by corruptly administered regulations. They can send details of such misuse of authority, often through portals that are immediately visible to not just the public, but to the highest portals of government. Transparency and accountability are central to double digit economic growth, and both are on their way to becoming commonplace. The overwhelming majority of officials belonging to the Central services are persons of integrity, and those who do not follow proper codes of conduct need to be removed from positions of responsibility so that the overall ambience is conducive to investor confidence of a level playing field with neutral umpires. Under Prime Minister Modi, Digital India has expanded manifold, and as a consequence, wrongdoers find it difficult to prevent details of their wrongdoing from getting known to the public. Provided that exposes are based on fact and not malice, each such revelation about the diminishing number of officials who are yet to adhere to the high standards of objectivity and integrity expected of them by the Prime Minister brings closer the day when India will emerge as the world’s third superpower, after the US and China. During the colonial era, the purpose of law was not just to extract as much from the public as possible, but to give a superficial legal cover to any unjust act of the colonial rulers. The other purpose of laws that were so designed as to be easily misused was to instill a climate of fear that inhibited the people of India from developing and putting to use their talents. Since 2014, a citizen’s own signature has been attestation enough for a document, for a democratic government trusts the citizen and generates an ambience that promotes growth. During the next few years, what is needed is to ensure a framework of governance that gives the citizen the freedom to improve his own life and the lives of others.


Respect for the citizen

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