By Rasananda Panda and Pooja Bhatia
The Economic Survey for the Financial Year 2016-17 was released yesterday. The Office of the Chief Economic Adviser (CEA) to Ministry of Finance releases the document. In ordinary parlance, the Economic Survey is normally referred to as a typical government document tom-tomming about the performance of the incumbent government during the current financial year and crystal grazing for the next year or for the immediate short term to medium term period keeping the political ideology of the ruling party in mind. Some serious academics refer to it as a Report Card of the government and an intent document of the incumbent government as far as policy options for the future is concerned. Perhaps that is the reason for which the Economic Survey generally gets released one day prior to Budget presentation and thus giving some opportunity to academics, politicians and corporate to get an idea about probable policy options that are likely to come in the succeeding day i.e. day of the Budget.
This year's economic survey is no difference in that sense. But what makes this Economic Survey different is the clarity and innovativeness in its content and presentation of the facts. The document embraces Big Data - hitherto restricted only to private corporate. Scholastic approach in writing is evident right from its preface as written by Arvind Subramanian - the Chief Economic Adviser-himself-a customary duty of the CEA. Cursory look at the three hundred thirty five page document when browsed through in the digital format is not only very much attractive to eyes but evokes interest in reading.
There are three sections and fourteen chapters in this Survey. The sections are aptly named as The Perspective, The Proximate and The Persistent. To entice readers it has a section "Eight Interesting Facts about India". These facts depict about India's demographic superiority, the factual details about India -China rating by credit rating agencies, supremacy of states as regards to democracy among others. The Perspective section presents an overview of India's economic development during the last two years and reasons it out along with presenting a little long term outlook for the economy. In addition, this section also outline some of the likely policy actions that can be considered for the future. Some of these being raising individual income tax exemptions, road map towards reduction in corporate tax and streamlining subsidies and to generate a general consensus towards rationalisation of subsidy. This section has two chapters.
The next section is titled as The Proximate is of seven chapters and deals with challenges arising out of policies such as Demonetisation, problems of debt by the Indian corporate and the related issues with the banks, challenges towards creating labor intensive employment and social issues apart from describing the developments in fiscal and external front. What stand out in this section is Chapter Nine that proposes Universal Basic Income (UBI) to all the poor after proper due diligence. This chapter is subtitled as "A conversation with and within Mahatma". In fact the discussions in this chapter is refreshing and evokes a sense of pride in history. It crystal grazes a future with hope and compel us to think about our representative i.e. people's representative at every levels viz. (centre, state and even local government) to think inward towards the upliftment of the poor. Its promises are loud, road map is difficult but outcomes as envisaged shall be revolutionary.
The section titled The Persistent has five chapters. The discussion on cooperative and competitive federalism and inside that the competitive sub-federalism where the importance of state, cities and villages are highlighted gives an idea about the role of governance at the local level. This section discusses the potential of the cities in great details. Again while depicting the importance of cities and their potential the Economic Survey talks about Big Data - till now only discussed in the domain of private corporate sector. It is extremely satisfying to note the significance that the country is having in the form of its rich diversity when captured in quantifiable data and the resulting boost that it will give to the economy going ahead.
The charts, graphs pertaining to Indian economy are easy to comprehend and interpret and being a government document and in the era off digital can easily be used for further reference simply by cutting and pasting it to one's writings - with proper acknowledgement to maintain ethicality. The tables and especially the box tables are quite informative and refreshing. One such box table is the table on demonetisation that demystifies the impact of it both in the short term and medium term with the help of proper reasoning. As claimed by CEA, this time the Economic Survey will be available in limited number in its hard copy format. This will be a single volume for the time being and a detailed review of economy with more granular data will be made available in summer i.e. after the completion of the financial year in March. This may evoke some suspicion as some kind of hiding the truth but at the outset the document clearly spells out that the economy for the year 2016-17 has definitely slowed down to 6.5 percent and going ahead for the 2017-18, the Economic Survey predicts that the economy will grow between 6.75 to 7.5 percent while inflation being around five percent. Further the Survey admits that the manufacturing sector is also likely to slowe down from 7.4 percent previous year to 5.2 percent this year. In that sense of the argument, the Economic Survey seems to be a fair document as expected from an academician of the stature of Mr. Subramanian. However, to absolve everybody, including himself as it seems, from any kind of suspicion, the CEA has nicely paraphrased John Maynard Keynes - the greatest economist of all times. The CEA writes "....it must be purposeful and disinterested in a simultaneous mood, its authors are aloof and incorruptible as artists, get sometimes as near to earth as politicians" - thus making it yet another government document.