Between now and the Lok Sabha elections, what will be your government’s three most critical areas of economic focus?
To make policy keeping elections in view is not this government’s way of working. I have a vision for the country till 2022 that’s in the public domain. All policies and actions are aimed at achieving that vision.
What are government’s three initiatives/ achievements that have brought you the greatest satisfaction? What are the three things you wish you could have done better?
All my government’s steps since we came to power have been taken with passion and commitment. Singling out favourites that provide, as you say, “greatest satisfaction” would be unfair, and not in keeping with this government’s policy. We are working towards a vision for New India and taking initiatives for the same. To sit and ponder on the success of past initiatives would take away precious time that can be devoted to new ones.
Your government says it has put an end to rent seeking. However, the corporate sector has been complaining about what it says is heightened pressure by way of scrutiny and compliance under various laws — from bankruptcy and income tax to the Companies Act and GST. Is this the new normal for India Inc.?
This government is fully committed to promoting ease of doing business while bringing to book unscrupulous elements. Emphasis is on simplifying processes, be it incorporation of a company, induction of a director, or payment of income tax or GST. To a large extent, the human interface in these procedures has been eliminated by robust IT. In the World Bank ranking on Ease of Doing Business, India has moved up from 142 to 100, proving we are an enabling environment for companies. For the law-abiding, the procedures and processes are being simplified; for the unscrupulous there is no escape.
As part of our mission against black money and corruption, my government has struck off the names of around 2.6 lakh shell companies and 3.09 lakh directors. Names of 55,000 companies more will be struck off this month. It is also pertinent to note that merely a fraction of these companies have been able to get relief against this action, which is an indicator that we are on the right path.
On the direct tax front, income tax return forms have been rationalised to make them taxpayer-friendly. The income tax department has eased norms for scrutiny assessments. Earlier, 1% of income tax returns were picked for scrutiny, which has been brought down to 0.35%. Of the cases, only about 0.2% are taken up for full scrutiny. This reaffirms our faith in the taxpayers and the taxation system.
Presumptive taxation for professionals whose gross receipts do not exceed Rs 50 lakh per annum has been established. Similarly, the turnover for availing presumptive taxation for business income has been increased to Rs 2 crore. The rate of presumptive tax in respect of turnover through digital transactions has been reduced from 8% to 6%. Income tax rate for companies with a turnover up to Rs 250 crore has been reduced to 25% and this covers 99% of all companies. The first slab of income tax up to Rs 5 lakh has been reduced from 10% to 5% for non-corporate tax payers, one of world’s lowest entry-level rates. For GST, we are not enforcing compliance. Stakeholders are cooperating with the government and the system. These actions are to protect honest taxpayers, companies and traders, and would undoubtedly inconvenience the corrupt.
When you assumed office, there were expectations of bold economic policy changes, but there hasn’t been much movement on strategic sale of PSUs and labour law amendments. Is it because they are politically too risky?
Nothing can be further from truth. Government has taken a major decision to change its approach towards CPSEs (central public sector enterprises) for efficient management of public assets, unlocking wealth to the shareholders and creating wealth for the public. New instruments for disinvestment include listing of CPSEs through IPOs (initial public offering), mergers and acquisitions of CPSEs, and listing of exchange traded funds (ETFs). Since 2014, government has realised over Rs 2 lakh crore from disinvestment of PSEs. In 2017-18, government realised a record Rs 1 lakh crore. This can be compared to the performance of the preceding 10 years (2004-05 to 2013-14) during which the cumulative collection was Rs 1.08 lakh crore. Comparatively speaking, we have realised double the amount that too in less than half the period.
As regards labour reforms, the mandatory 56 registers/forms have been replaced by just five registers/forms under nine central labour laws. The introduction of fixed term employment is also a major reform. Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh have amended labour regulations governing work hours, employee compensation, organisation and minimum wages to spur employment.
Also, the process of simplifying and streamlining over 40 labour laws into four codes is ongoing. A draft Code on Wages Bill 2017 was introduced in Lok Sabha in August 2017 to rationalise, amalgamate and simplify the relevant provisions of Minimum Wages Act, 1948, Payment of Wages Act, 1936, Payment of Bonus Act, 1965 and Equal Remuneration Act, 1976.
Was government slow in recognising the extent of challenges and risks to the banking sector and bringing about major changes in the operation of public sector banks? While several decisions were taken to deal with what was a legacy issue for you, the financial performance of banks continues to deteriorate. Is this cause for worry? How long do you think the clean-up will take? How are the sector’s problems affecting economic revival? Has government’s attempts to fix the problems lacked support from RBI?
We need to understand why the percentage of non-performing assets (NPAs) has gone up. There was an increase in disbursement of loans during UPA-II. The credit goes to an important innovation known as “telephone banking” where telephonic instructions used to go directly to banks and loans would get sanctioned.
The obvious fallout of such random sanctioning of loans is today’s problem of NPAs. Moreover, even the incidence of NPAs was understated in the previous regime so that the true scale of the problem did not actually emerge before the nation. This is not my opinion but the data speaks for itself. Gross advances of public sector banks (PSBs) increased three-fold in six years from 2008 to 2014. I had the option of bringing out a white paper as soon as our government was in place. I did not do so as it would have caused an alarm in the economy. Instead, we quietly worked on bringing the banking system back to health while ensuring banks comply with regulations. RBI’s asset quality review (AQR) of 2015 revealed high incidence of NPAs. Many stressed loans were reclassified as NPAs. As a result of the 2015 AQR, gross NPAs of PSBs increased by nearly Rs 6.17 lakh crore. Significant provisioning (~Rs. 5.12 lakh crore) was carried out by PSBs for transparent recognition.
To address the NPA issue and to create a clean and effective recovery system, government enacted the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC). Government also amended the Banking Regulation Act, 1949, to authorise RBI to direct banks to take recourse to IBC route. Cases of 39 large defaulters, with NPAs amounting to about Rs. 2.69 lakh crore exposure, have been filed before the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT). As another stringent action against defaulters, we have brought in the Fugitive Economic Offenders Law.
To strengthen PSBs, government has, after initial infusion of Rs 70,000 crore under Indradhanush plan, again announced recapitalisation of Rs 2.11 lakh crore in October 2017.
As a result of action by both government and RBI, by recognising NPAs transparently, up-front provisioning, recapitalisation for bank, reforms for comprehensive systemic improvements in banks, and cleaning up lending and recovery systems, a clean and robust banking system has been put in place.
Scheduled Commercial Banks (SCBs) have shown a credit growth of 12.4% year-on-year (as on July 20, 2018), which coupled with a strong deposit base of Rs. 114.38 lakh crore reflects customer confidence and a strong fund base. Banks are thus strongly placed to contribute towards overall economic growth.
Your government has been accused of having failed to create jobs fast enough for those coming into employable age. It’s only in the services sector where youth are finding employment. With the organised sector no longer hiring in big numbers — thanks to increasing automation and outsourcing — there is a view that India could have adopted the Chinese model of labour-intensive, export-oriented manufacturing to create jobs. Would you agree?
Rather than the so-called failure of this government to create jobs, I believe the shortcoming lies in the absence or lack of a streamlined database of jobs. Naturally, in the absence of information, our opponents will exploit this situation and blame us for not creating jobs.
We are now trying to create data on jobs. In the first place we’ve used EPFO/ESI/NPS data to give us an idea of employment generated.
If we look at EPFO data, more than 45 lakh formal jobs were created between September 2017 to April 2018. According to our study based on EPFO data, more than 70 lakh jobs were created in the formal sector alone last year.
We all know informal sector constitutes around 80% of all jobs. We also know that creation of jobs in the formal sector has a spin-off effect on job creation in the informal sector.
To give you an example, there are close to 3 lakh village-level entrepreneurs who run common service centres across the country and create employment.
There are more than 15,000 startups, which government has helped in some way or the other. We all know they are job multipliers. More than 12 crore loans have been given under MUDRA Scheme.
Is it unfair to expect that one loan would have created a job for at least one additional person? There has been massive construction activities in the last four years, be it roads, railways or housing — all these generate jobs. All reports, whether national or international, show poverty in India is on the decline. Can we think of such a possibility without people having jobs?
The country’s tourism sector has been growing rapidly with foreign tourist arrivals in India in 2017 registering a growth of 14% over 2016. We all know tourism provides maximum employment, both direct and indirect.
When we say tourism has been growing, are we saying that this growth is happening without any employment at the ground level? Our air traffic has shown growth of more than 18% year-on-year — the highest in any major economy. The number of airports operating have increased by almost double.
Airlines are adding new aircraft on a monthly basis. You will agree all this cannot happen without some amount of increase in the number of people working on the ground. I can go on and on. The number of mobile manufacturing units in this country has gone from a handful when my government took over, to close to 120. These alone have generated 4.5 lakh direct and indirect jobs. I am sure you will agree cannot happen without employees on the ground.
If you look at claims made by state governments — Bengal says it created 68 lakh jobs and the previous Karnataka government claimed it created 53 lakh jobs. Are we saying all the country’s jobs are being created in some states and that other states and the country as a whole, are not creating jobs? This propaganda on jobs by the opposition is nothing but a political gimmick.
Apart from jobs, what are the key challenges facing the economy?
When our government came to power in 2014, the Indian economy was facing a number of challenges like the issue of NPAs, ease of doing business and poor investment in infrastructure, to name a few.
Over the last four years, my government has consciously and diligently worked on several fronts to resolve issues being faced by the economy. We have enacted the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, taken action against shell companies, strengthened power, roads and other infrastructure. Be it sanitation, providing affordable insurance and risk coverage to the poor, banking coverage to the un-banked, cutting down pilferage in DBT (direct benefit transfers), universal health coverage through Ayushman Bharat or bringing transparency in government procurement using government e-marketplace — all these are instances of path-breaking reforms and affirmative action.
I myself have reviewed more than 240 infrastructure projects costing over Rs.11.5 lakh crore stuck for years in Pragati. We are working tirelessly, day and night for the betterment of the nation and our economy. It is because of these efforts that our economy is today growing at a rate of over 7.5%, the highest among major economies.
Global companies from the US and China today dominate digital businesses in India. These will become the backbone of media and commerce and will control valuable and extensive data about India. The Cambridge Analytica-FB scandal has exposed how this data can be used to damage a country. How soon can we expect government to frame new laws to ensure data privacy?
The IT revolution has been receiving phenomenal response and since formation of our government at centre, there has been widespread use of IT in all fields, including governance. There are existing provisions in the IT Act and the UIDAI Act that deal and protect the sensitive and personal data of citizens.
However, to further strengthen the privacy of citizens and for data protection, my government had constituted a committee of experts on data protection chaired by (Retd.) Justice B N Srikrishna. The committee has submitted their report and the same is being examined. We are committed to carrying out all steps, to protect the privacy of our citizens.
Digital media platforms have become hotbeds for misinformation, propaganda, and the spread of fake news — and rumours on social media — have led to tragic deaths. Your government has asked these platforms to do more to control fake news. Do you see this becoming a new headache?
Fake news and incidents arising due to rumour-mongering are unfortunate and condemnable. The Centre is actively engaging with digital media platforms and other stakeholders on this issue. You would have also seen some measures taken by digital media platforms. The most effective solution lies in self-realisation and self-restraint. As individuals, we all must know the dos and don’ts of social interactions. The moment a person decides ‘these are the lines I won’t cross, come what may’, then I am sure all aspects will be taken care of.
Digital media stands for equality and furthers the spirit of freedom of expression. It is a bastion of free speech and creative expression. There was a time when one had to be ‘eminent’ to be heard. Digital media has changed that. The power of one Facebook post, Tweet or Instagram story is immense.
The more freely and frankly people express themselves the better it is for our society. Most important, human creativity is manifested through social media… look at the innovative graphics, videos, tweets that people come across daily.
I have been on social media for almost a decade now and I have made some wonderful friends, particularly young friends through this medium. I enjoy engaging with citizens on digital platforms. Let us keep engaging and debating, this will strengthen our democratic ethos and benefit us as a nation.
You talk about a New India by 2022. It requires a highly educated and innovative society. But with just 26 gross enrolment ratio in higher education, and very low academic standards, won’t the talk about New India remain just a dream? Haven’t academic bodies failed to promote quality education?
My dream of New India is that every youth shall have access to higher education as per his choice, learn skills and use it productively in nation-building. Our current higher education system is marked by premier institutions that are globally known like the IITs or IISc, but the vast majority of other institutions are low on quality and need improvement.
I see the youth coming out of the colleges, with hope and aspiration in their eyes. We need a system that is accessible, affordable and equitable. We can be the global best only if our highly entrepreneurial youth get good education and just opportunities. This has to be a national agenda, not of a political party or group. Private sector, public sector, governments, industry and academia must work together with a single aim. We need an enabling environment that gives level playing field to everyone willing to set up institutions and maintain good standards.
When we came to power, the regulatory system was mired in red-tape, harassment, corruption… a colonial system based on distrust. The system bred mediocrity and dependence.
We took on ourselves to change this. Graded autonomy has been given to universities, and they can formulate their own courses and conduct their own examinations. In short, they are free from UGC to go on the path of excellence. The IIMs have been provided total freedom — they can select their own leadership, regulate their own affairs. More than 600 colleges have been given autonomy. The 20 Institutes of Eminence have been given full powers to choose their own path. We don’t believe in ‘control for mediocrity’, but in ‘autonomy for excellence’.
We expanded access for good quality education — more IITs, IIMs, IISERs, NITs, IIITs and central universities have been opened in the last four years than any other period since independence. We allowed the best lecturers to teach to a large number of students using the SWAYAM portal, on which there are more than 20 lakh students registered. We started 32 educational channels that take quality education to every nook and corner of the country.
We brought out new regulation on open distance learning so that the best institutions can spread their education across the country. This is expected to benefit 20 lakh students. Online degrees have been permitted: Now you can study in reputed institutions, staying in remote areas of Jharkhand, and get degrees from that university. When we remove the physical limitation, sky is the only limit.
One way to ensure good quality education is to mandate that every institution have accreditation. We’ve reformed the accreditation process and made it simpler and more transparent. We achieved this in a very short time. We are providing an opportunity for more organisations be accredited.
The UGC was mired in hundreds of regulations. We started the process of cleaning up the clutter and de-bureaucratisation of regulation. Unnecessary regulations are being scrapped, and UGC is being asked to focus on improving quality of education by laying down standards and monitoring those using public disclosures. We are determined to end the inspector raj and bring supporting, enabling system that will mentor, train, orient the teachers. This year, we embarked on a programme to train 15 lakh teachers in higher education using SWAYAM.
We are also committed to bringing skills into higher education. We are designing a system for every student in the higher education system to learn a market-oriented skill free of cost. This will ensure that students can get jobs after completing the degree.
In the bitter politics over Assam’s national register of citizens, BJP is accused of playing divisive politics. What is the recourse for the 4 million people declared non-citizens?
Preventing illegal migrants was a commitment in the Indira-Mujib Accord of 1972 and Rajiv Gandhi-AASU Accord of 1985. Though Congress accepted it, vote bank politics — that the party is adept at — prevented it from actually implementing the process. Congress lacked political will and courage. It is guilty of criminal negligence on this country.
It was our promise to the people of India to complete the NRC process. It is not about politics but about people. We are complying with the Supreme Court’s directions and following the procedural fairness as mandated by the Court. The process is on and the list released is only a draft list.
I am sure all Indians will agree that sovereignty and citizenship are essential aspects of any nation. Those unnecessarily raising controversies need to realise the genuineness of this exercise and that it is monitored by the Supreme Court. It is ironic that our opponents who do not have faith in the CJI now don’t even have a faith in a Supreme Court-monitored exercise. It is only an issue of national interest. There is no place for politics when it comes to national interest.
The opposition is trying to put together a “mahagathbandhan”. Could it hurt BJP’s electoral prospects?
Nobody can deny India’s status has improved in the eyes of the world since this government came to power. After 30 years, a performing, strong and stable government is in power at the Centre. People have bitter experience of coalition governments burdened by politics of compulsions. A mahagathbandhan or whatever you may call it cannot create a gathbandhan of the electorate. Indian electorate has always kept national interest paramount. I have faith it will not compromise its vote for a disparate group that has nothing more to offer that a single ideology (if we may even call it so) — that is to remove Modi.
A non-ideological alliance of desperate and disparate groups is not a ‘mahagathbandhan’ but political adventurism. It is a failed idea that has never succeeded. History tells us such adventurism failed in 1979, 1990 and in 1996. People want a strong and decisive government.
There seems to be some unease among NDA partners — Shiv Sena chose not to vote during the no-confidence motion and JD(U) has made controversial statements…
The recent election of the Rajya Sabha deputy chairman, I am sure, will put the apprehensions of sceptics to rest. Our opponents who are looking at openings with great expectations will only meet disappointment.
What was the main issue in the no-confidence motion? How would you react to Rahul Gandhi’s decision to hug you and say he does not believe in politics of hate?
I am also searching for an answer to this question. We should ask those who brought this motion. They had neither the numbers nor the issues. It appears that their ego brought the ‘no confidence motion’. ‘Naamdars’ have their own rules. They decide when to hate, where to hate and how to hate. They also decide when to show affection, where to show affection and how to show affection. We are ‘kaamdars’; we have no such privilege.
You have condemned cow vigilantism before, but incidents keep happening. Incidents of mob violence are also rising. What can government do to reassure minorities and backward classes about your ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’ pledge?
It is very sad we keep hearing about such incidents. Even if one incident occurs in the country, it is very sad and needs to be condemned in the strongest voice. My government is committed to upholding rule of law and protecting the life and liberty of every citizen. Let there be no shade of doubt on this account.
Our government has issued very clear advisories to states on this issue. I want to make it clear that mob lynching is a crime, no matter the motive. No person can, under any circumstances, take the law into his or her own hands and commit violence.
State governments need to adopt effective measures to prevent mob violence and lynching, protect innocent citizens irrespective of caste, creed, place, time and religion, and take stringent action as per law against the perpetrators of such violence. I also expect that everyone — society, people at large, government and government functionaries and political parties — have a duty to fight this menace.
In order to formulate appropriate measures to address the situation, the government has also set up a highlevel committee chaired by the Union home secretary to deliberate in the matter and make recommendations. We have also constituted a group of ministers headed by the Union home minister to consider the committee’s recommendations.
Congress has repeatedly raised questions about the Rafale deal, saying the technical specifications of the aircraft are covered by the confidentiality clause but not the price. Is there a way to conclusively put this controversy to rest?
Congress has always been trying to exorcise its Bofors ghost. So they insist on concocting a falsehood and repeating it without any evidence. They did it against George Fernandes too. Rafale was required for operational capability of our air force that had been neglected by the Congress. It is a government-to-government agreement. It is an honest and transparent deal. All else is propaganda to undermine national interest.
Your government has followed the cases of absconding industrialists like Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi and Lalit Modi. How do you rate your government’s chances of bringing them to book in India?
It was the past policies of the previous government that made it easy for people to borrow and run away. We have enacted the Fugitive Economic Offenders Law, which has turned the heat on such offenders. Don’t you think such a law should have come much earlier? You are beginning to see the effects of our measures. I would like to reaffirm the stand of our government on this: Anyone who fraudulently takes public money and absconds will not be spared.
A new government is set to take charge in Pakistan. How do you see relations developing? Will you reach out to the new PM? Do you see merit in the view that India should also engage with the Pakistan army given its influence over the new government?
Good neighbourly relations to promote peace and prosperity in the region are vital to my government’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy. For this, we have taken several well-known initiatives from the beginning of our term. I congratulated Imran Khan on his party’s success in Pakistan’s general elections. We hope that Pakistan would work for a safe, secure, stable and prosperous region, free from terror and violence.
Does dealing with big power equations like US-Russia or US-China require a more delicate touch because of the rising tensions between them?
We live in a rapidly changing world, full of uncertainty. It is a mark of our mature foreign policy that we have deepened India’s relations with all partners. At the same time, we also work tirelessly to strengthen multi polarity and democratic governance in the world.
What is your assessment of ties with neighbours like Nepal and Sri Lanka where China had made a significant entry? What about the situation in Maldives, and what India can do to help restore democracy there?
The people of India and her neighbours have shared historical, close, friendly and even family ties for thousands of years. With Nepal, these bonds go back to the times of Bhagwan Rama and Mata Sita and to Lord Buddha. We have reinforced these bonds with strong ties in all spheres, including defence, security, trade, investment and development partnership. As a result, this relationship today is extremely broad and incredibly deep. It is also a confident and mature relationship. It is quite natural for China or any other country to have its own relationships with others, including our neighbours.
Our ties with Sri Lanka are deeprooted, multi-dimensional and enduring. They stand on their own and are not dependent on our or Sri Lanka’s relations with any third country. We have no doubt that our Sri Lankan friends will keep in mind our security concerns and sensitivities.
As a close and friendly neighbour, India wishes to see a stable, peaceful and prosperous Maldives that meets the aspiration of its citizens. Recent political developments there, however, have been a matter of considerable international concern. Being a neighbour and friend, India nevertheless stood with Maldives. Today, at a time when the world’s attention is on Maldives, we hope that the Maldives government will ensure early resumption of the political process and allow democratic institutions, including the judiciary to function independently in a fair and transparent manner. This will create conducive environment for the presidential elections.
What is the state of ties with China after your meeting with Xi Jinping in Wuhan and other meetings thereafter?
President Xi and I have met many times in the last four years. Our informal summit in Wuhan in April this year was a new initiative. It allowed us to talk to each other in a very frank manner and to understand each other much better. We have met twice more since Wuhan: in Qingdao in June and in Johannesburg last month. These high-level engagements have enabled us to take forward the ‘Astana spirit’ in our relations — that is, not to allow differences to become disputes and to work together as large developing and neighbouring countries in all possible areas of cooperation, not only for the benefit of the people of our two countries but also for the betterment of the region and the world.
Trump has sought to re-write the rules of US foreign policy. What could this mean for bilateral ties?
India and US have a strategic partnership, which is based on commitment to shared values of democracy and progress. It has deepened in an unprecedented manner in the past few years.
I have met President Trump a few times. We have also been in touch through several telephone conversations. I share with him the vision of prosperity of our peoples through a strong India-US partnership, based on important convergences, inter alia, in combating terrorism and promoting stability and development in the Indo-Pacific.
India and US are two important engines of economic growth in the world. The focus of President Trump and our own priority in India on innovation and entrepreneurship has the potential to take this relationship to new heights.
What will be three big platforms on which you will campaign in 2019? After five years in office, do you think you can repeat the performance of 2014? How many seats do you think BJP will get, and how many will the NDA as a whole get?
My platform will be development, fast development and development for all. People who have nothing to show for their work look for slogans to mislead the people. We have worked very hard in the last four years and we will go to the people with our track record of development. I am very confident that my party will continue to get the love and affection of the people as we have received in the past four years. We will definitely get more seats than we got the last time and I am confident that we will break all records of the seats won by NDA in the past and achieve greater glory. The people are with us and we have nothing to fear.
You will be your party’s star campaigner and vote-getter. In 2014, you weren’t running the national government. The previous PM didn’t campaign much. How will you balance these two huge duties — of running the country and campaigning all over the country?
In 2014, I travelled extensively to all parts of the country for campaigning. At that time too, I was the chief minister of a progressive state and I have the experience of managing both without compromising.
Regarding my campaign, let’s say that when a poor woman in a remote village in Jharkhand makes food on a gas stove given to her under the Ujjwala scheme, when her house is not filled with smoke and her health does not suffer, when with this one simple move she gets additional time to take care of her children and be economically productive, then that woman and that scheme will campaign for Narendra Modi.
Or a village that has got electricity after 70 years, that village too will campaign for Narendra Modi; a person who was denied even basic banking facilities, when that person uses his Jan Dhan account, he will be campaigner for Narendra Modi. It is my work and the work of this government for our country that will show.