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Economic Catastrophe: TIME TO END APATHY, By Shivaji Sarkar, 8 Sept, 2012 Print E-mail

Economic Highlights

New Delhi, 8 September 2012

Economic Catastrophe


By Shivaji Sarkar


India is sadly becoming the most expensive economy. A growing concern is whether it is heading towards a catastrophe? Every week, growth is falling as per Government statistics. Inflation is rising. Prices of every commodity are  going beyond affordable limits.


Ironically, the only stability seen is in wages, which do not rise! About three years back Rs 50,000 a month salary was considered good if not high. Now it has reduced to the bare minimum level. With chances of minimal raise, a wage earner feels doubly harassed. He is unable to save anything for his emergencies. New jobs are not being created. Worse, more and more of these are not even having subsisting wages.


The sellers of all services and goods are on to profiteering. They are hiking “user charges” almost on everything except possibly walking. The common man has nobody listening to him with both politicians and the business class aligning against him. This is clearly a danger signal. The common man feels exploited at every point and he has no remedy before him.


The electricity charges have quadrupled, and in some cases more, during the past about six years. Petroleum products are costing almost twice. Toned milk prices have increased by three times from around Rs 12 a litre to over Rs 40 now. Even banks, which were the most affordable and accessible, are levying atrociously high fees.


Commuting is becoming too expensive and unaffordable for an average wage earner. Highways, which used to charge nothing, have increased toll charges by over 1.5 times. Municipal toll charges in cities like Delhi have in some cases more than doubled. Even the metro and bus fares have been “rationalised” in a manner to extort almost double. Simultaneously, all other transport modes have become expensive.


All food items are costing more every day. Fruits, eggs, fish, chicken and mutton are becoming the rich man’s food. The poor man is finding it difficult to even afford his basic diet of dal-roti. Pulses for generations the staple protein supplement for the poor is beyond reach. He has virtually given up buying edible costing over Rs 100 a litre. Even wheat and rice is not easy to afford. Textiles of all varieties are a heavy burden. Statistics show that people are barely purchasing these. All other white goods are gradually being shunned by people.


An average doctor’s service that was available for Rs 50, five years back now has been hiked to not less than Rs 200 a visit. Medicines costs thrice. The Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBM), which was supposed to have taken care of the poor man’s health, has become the easiest way to exploit him and force women particularly to undergo unnecessary surgeries to fatten the coffers of private hospitals.


Indeed, the common man is terribly squeezed. His complaints are not heard and he is feeling desperately helpless. The refrain of every wrong-doing department from telephone to power or any other is “first pay then complain”. It is resulting in more exploitation.


The discontent is seething. People are anguished. The official reaction to all of this is that it’s a phenomenon and thus are supposed to do little about it. Obviously, they are well paid and certainly have the least concerns of the woes of the people. The disconnect between the bureaucracy and people has been always very wide and now its sheer insensitivity, particularly combined with the apathy of the political leaders, is causing havoc.


The country needs to understand that this phenomenon is not restricted only at the Centre. With the exception of one or two States, this has become universal. The focus of the country on so-called reforms and investment has diverted attention of all those concerned from the basic flaws. The system cannot remain exploitative. Indifference cannot be the bedrock of administration or governance.


Increasing deficit, Government borrowings, to 6 per cent of GDP, is again bad news. The Government needs to go into its root. Often it is blamed on subsidies. In reality more the deficit, the more the Government is increasing the number of bureaucrats. This needs to be drastically cut.


The deficit, which would now be about 50 per cent the total yearly budgetary figures, has international ramifications. It is affecting India’s rating across the world. The Reserve Bank of India Governor D Subbarao has warned on August 30 that India must prepare for a downgrade in its credit rating to junk status and an outflow of investments thereby. Foreign media wants the country to lift the flagging economy and get its fiscal house in order. Earlier this year, Standard & Poor's and Fitch Ratings cut outlook on India's sovereign rating to 'negative' from 'stable' on a loose fiscal policy.


If the country is keen on a reversal it has to take care of the basics. It has to turn the economy around and make it affordable. In other words, people are keeping off economic activities. Their participation has become minimal. Mere investments do not ensure that people join the economic activities.


The common man has to be invited back to the activities by making all commodities and services within his reach. If he is able to afford – because he has a job and a wage that neutralises the costs – the economy would start booming.


However, this cannot be done through artificial measures, howsoever populist these might be, like MNREGA – the rural employment guarantee scheme. It adds to Government deficit, leads to leakages and creates a generation of lethargic population living on doles. It also adds to the cost burden ultimately on the citizens, including the beneficiaries of these schemes.


The prime focus of all Government action has to be the reduction of costs of all services. The high toll charges on highways have started affecting mobility and increase in cost of transportation. Can the nation not do away with it?


The atrociously high power charges have become another deterrent. So are prices of many other commodities. Ignoring this, no country can expect to progress. India, which had attained its independence to free its people from exploitation of foreign occupation, is apparently succumbing to pressures of the lobbies that are capturing all resources to increase their profits.


People vote to either bring in a Government or to get rid of it. If change does not happen, sooner or later, there would be a reaction. As it is, the country is hearing growing rumblings in the form of agitations, protests and even increasing  naxal violence. Let the country start the basic reforms for which there is wide mandate and political consensus before India slips into an abyss. ---INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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