PM Modi says 'command and control' regime over, let's 'plug and play'

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New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday reiterated his resolve to turn the Covid-19 crisis into an opportunity to make India self-reliant, and emphasised a policy shift from a “command and control” to a “plug and play” economy.

Addressing the 95th annual plenary session of the Indian Chamber of Commerce in Kolkata over video conference, Modi asked the industry to focus on “people, planet and profit” to create globally competitive supply chains.

Noting that the world is grappling with the Coronavirus crisis, he said: “But amid all these, every [Indian] citizen is also having a resolve to transform this disaster into an opportunity, to make this into a major turning point.”

He defined this turning point as a “self-reliant India”. He said this has been the aspiration of Indians for several years, and it is being pursued through policies and actions for the past five to six years.

“Now the Corona crisis has given us a task to accelerate this process and Atmnirbhar Bharat Abhiyan [self-reliant India initiative] is an outcome of that,” he said.

Modi gave a call for an “Atmanirbhar Bharat” in his address to the nation on May 12, when he announced a package of more than Rs 20 lakh crore to revive the economy battered by the pandemic.

According to the latest official data, the Indian economy grew 3.1% in the three months ended March 31. The growth rate in the full fiscal 2019-20 is expected to be 4.2%, the slowest in 11 years on the back of falling investment and consumption.

Growth in the last quarter was sluggish despite only the last seven days of the period being impacted by the nationwide lockdown since March 25. A sharp fall in gross domestic product (GDP) growth is expected due to the 68-day lockdown. Fitch Ratings on Wednesday forecast a 5% contraction in GDP this fiscal, but it expected growth to rebound to 9.5% next year.

The next fiscal appears promising for India as S&P Global Ratings on Wednesday said the country’s economy is likely to achieve a strong 8.5% growth, following a 5% contraction in the current fiscal.

These estimates came almost a week after Moody’s Investors Service downgraded India’s sovereign rating one notch to the lowest investment grade, with a negative outlook, saying the Indian economy would face a prolonged period of slower growth.

S&P on Wednesday hoped recent structural reforms announced by the government, along with fiscal incentives in the Atmanirbhar Bharat package, would boost the economy. “While risks to India’s long-term growth rate are rising, ongoing economic reforms, if executed well, should keep the country’s growth rate ahead of peers,” it said.

Key structural reforms announced recently include expansion of the scope for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), allowing marketing freedom to farmers, liberalisation of commercial mining, a comprehensive disinvestment policy, and opening up the defence and space to private entrepreneurs. In September 2019, the government slashed corporate tax rates to make India a manufacturing destination, which, according to S&P, should reinforce growth alongside additional fiscal and monetary easing.

In his address to the industry on Thursday, Modi said his government will take steps to reduce import dependency and encourage local manufacturing. He asked industry to focus on three factors – “people, planet and profit” – because all are interdependent.

He gave the example of LED bulbs, once unaffordable to the common people. Five years ago, a LED bulb cost Rs 350. But it is now available for Rs 50. This helped provide relief to people, saved electricity worth Rs 19,000 crore and protected the environment, he said.

“So, the planet has also benefited. And of course... manufacturers’ profits have increased,” he added.

Modi urged businessmen to set up globally competitive domestic supply chains. “This is not the time for a conservative approach. It is time for bold decisions and bold investments,” he said.

He said every citizen has resolved to face adversity with determination and this will be a “turning point” in the country’s history. “Atmanirbhar Bharat is the manifestation of the dream every Indian has seen for all these years,” he said.

India can lead in manufacturing of products such as medical equipment, defence hardware, solar panels, batteries, chips and aviation, he said.

On June 2, while addressing Indian businessmen, Modi had voiced confidence in the economy’s ability to return to rapid growth, listing it among his government’s top priorities and pledging his commitment to systematic reforms. “Yes! We will definitely get our growth back,” Modi said in his speech to a conference on “Getting Growth Back” organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).

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