The first economic survey in 1959 had 71 typewritten pages. Today, it is a 294-page door-stopper with a 127-page appendix to boot. “That’s a four-fold growth, not much, considering how much the economy has grown since 1959,” sniffs Rangeet Ghosh, a 31-year-old Indian Economic Survey officer who worked on the first chapter of the latest Economic Survey. Ghosh appears to be someone who involuntarily does math in his head when numbers are thrown at him.
Indeed, an alphabet soup of digits and symbols simmers on the desk of almost every official in the finance ministry, including that of Rohit Lamba, a young economist (a PhD candidate at Princeton) and full-time consultant with the new Chief Economic Advisor Raghuram Rajan. Lamba’s area of interest is ‘mechanism design’, which deals with auctions. He also researches spectrum and coal sectors at the ministry. “It’s fascinating working in the government,” Lamba says. He’s here for the chance he “couldn’t turn down” to work closely with Rajan. Till the day he heads out to teach and research, but until then, he’s here to help the government understand the economy as a policy analyst.
Lamba’s neighbour is Prachi Mishra, a senior economist (and PhD from Columbia University) who worked in the PM’s economic advisory committee led by Dr C. Rangarajan for a year and then got poached—in a friendly way—by the CEA. “Dr Raghuram Rajan’s and my stint at the imf were at the same time and we met there. When I asked, the EAC let me move to the CEA,” she says. Mishra’s plate at the ministry is full with food management, manufacturing, labour issues and growth.
The only reason Ghosh, Mishra, Lamba and others in the ministry are public faces, in a way, is because this year the Economic Survey departed from its usual format by declaring who worked on it. Thirty-nine people, young or older, were identified—a trend Rajan says he supports—as a way to acknowledge all who work on it. Some on this list are consultants, which means they work full-time in the ministry but aren’t part of the IAS, IRS or IES cadres.
Like any ministry official, these consultants know how to tackle tricky questions—like the one about slipping growth. At first, there is a collective sigh, then Lamba and Mishra point out that India is perhaps a little obsessed with this figure. “There is so much attention on growth, other indicators are ignored,” says Lamba. The survey makes a fairly broad estimate of a 6.1-6.7 per cent growth rate over 2013-14.
The consultants are being noticed because some are younger women holding PhDs—rare in India among those working on the survey. Some consultants deal with entirely new segments, such as climate control finance, a unit the FinMin set up in 2011. Most on the list, however, are part of the government’s official cadres—IAS, revenue or economic service people.
Supriyo De, officer on special duty to Raghuram Rajan who was hand-picked by the previous CEA Kaushik Basu, says expert consultants allow the government to move a little faster. De belongs to the revenue service and worked for several years in the ministry. “Consultants are part of an effort to get independent views on board. The CEA’s team is fairly lean, and gets immediately fed with data. They help us understand the economy using the latest tools,” says De.
In a data-starved country, the survey generates considerable interest, though it continues to wear a boring look. Lately, efforts have been made to recast it. There’s talk of giving its contents a spin, or theme. That would involve taking a clear position on issues and some amount of daring, for ministries won’t relish it if some of the predictions are awry. Yet, even as it is, the survey doesn’t lack interest. On February 27, the day the survey was released this year, some 20 people queued up for hours for ‘hard copies’ outside one of the ministry departments. Queries and responses, letters and calls, are still coming in.
“The UN, the World Bank, ministries, politicians, all wanted the physical document immediately after release,” says Kanika Grover, one of the new young consultants in the Climate Change Finance Unit who did her MA at TERI University in 2011.
Work on the survey begins every November and continues through February, when it is placed before Parliament. Usually, writing the Budget and the survey overlap—which may explain why the introduction to the FM’s budget speech this year echoed the survey. The survey isn’t one of those documents that disappears after publication. Usually, there is a kind of ‘survey outreach’, involving lectures, presentations and talks, that tries to engage with the general and academic audience on its contents. Mishra, who has been invited to Washington to speak before the oecd (a visit not funded by the government), wants to talk about the survey on her trip. “There is a lot of interest in the survey we publish in Washington and other places,” says Mishra.
The growing global interest in the India story explains why individual writers, including the consultants, have been acknowledged separately for putting together the ‘boxes’ that are scattered through the survey. Some of them can now openly say, we wrote it so.
It's pretty obvious, through any survey, either undertaken by the World Bank, or the Indian govt., that the volume of agriculture harvested is pretty incredibly great. A billion people, even if they are all fed, there might be a surplus. If there would not be a surplus, then the idea we get is, that procurement might be a significant problem. The GDP represented by agriculture is about a fourth of the national GDP, in measurement. But, that doesn't mean, that the volume of other manufactured produce, (not associated with agriculture) is big at all, compared to harvested agricultural physical volume. There might be a significant shortfall, if all billion of us, can buy or procure food. I mean, by every estimate, the surplus produce would not feed every Indian, who has trouble procuring food, today.
To the layperson who has a B.Com degree, perhaps, the concept of general economic functioning is common sense. For instance, the bank is a borrower. The bank pays more money than it borrows, that is why, it needs a certain degree of perpetuity. The Reserve Bank is a bank, because the govt. is primarily civil, and has to do with administrative matters. The 'nationalised bank', is supposed to be under the auspices of the Reserve Bank, in India, and the printing of money is a sanction of the govt. under stricture, and law, but whether it is a function of the banker to the govt., is not relevant, because of the earlier part of the statement, after the first comma.
The Indian rupee represented in currency, is supposed to facilitate easy exchange of goods and services, among people The reason why the perception of corruption is there, is because when the banks were nationalised, the administration could not distribute the currency, and after the INR was devalued, the currency notes were very voluminous. The politician seems to have stored them, apparently in 'Swiss Banks', because no one was using them. The politician didn't use them to buy Mercedes cars, or BMW cars for personal use for that matter. The Swiss Bank is an institution, where people put their savings, perhaps, because the general perception is, that money is stolen when and after it is identified and associated with people and institutions. No one knows if the money exists or not, in Swiss Banks.
The Indian person hated moneylenders, but he/she doesn't mind feeling they are moneylender to banks. The difference between the bank and a borrower to a moneylender is, that the money lent to banks is for all purposes towards the practices of the banks as they would practice with it. And, above this practice, the money belongs, if currency can belong, even for an hour, to the person who lends to the bank, or the institution.
Foreign exchange is integrated into the Reserve Bank. Apparently, in the past, the INR was separate and different from the international monetary exchange. If a person is paid in foreign exchange, it is like paying in INR to that person, if the person is Indian, and he or she is in India.
People don't know what the idea of currency is about, and they don't have information. I don't either, but I fathomed this. Perhaps I am erroneous, and the Reserve Bank can educate people like me, if I am erroneous. The information is extremely far apart, and the only relevant idea is that when one goes to a bank, the information to any instrument is available about it's practice, in document, perhaps.
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