Prof. Rajendra Pratap Gupta is a leading public policy expert who has played a pivotal role in drafting the National Health Policy 2017, National Education Policy, and the policy schemes for Building & other Construction Workers (BOCW) - Ministry of Labour & Employment & the State Health Policy for Uttar Pradesh. He has authored four best-selling books- Healthcare Reforms in India - Making up for the lost decades, Your Vote is Not Enough, Your Degree is Not Enough, and Tough Choices & Hard Decisions- Rebuilding India: The Next 25 Years.
1. According to the IMF, the Indian economy is expected to grow at -10.3% in 2020. How will the road to recovery look like for India? What economic reforms could help the country get back on track?
Prof. Rajendra: A historic recession will have its own share of challenges. We have to keep three scenarios in mind.
a. If we provide a limited stimulus, it will be a painful recovery and it will have a lingering impact for decades to come
b. If we provide massive stimulus( about half a trillion dollars), the recovery will be less painful and recovery will happen by 2022
c. If we use the COVID-19 scenario and consider both, stimulus and the systemic reforms, move to a distributed growth model focused on MSME and Agriculture. We will move to double-digit growth by 2023.
2. While global experts are talking about a 'Great Reset' in the structure of the economies, promoting better business practices and cleaner industries, India seems to be going back in time with its policies of suspension and dilution of labor laws. Can India be part of this 'Great Reset' initiative?
Prof. Rajendra: Let’s first understand India’s biggest problem - the ‘missing middle-class’. Just consider, if we have HNIs and rich at 10,000+, middle-class at 350 million+, poor or BPL at about 350- 400 million. All this adds to 700-750 million. Then out of our 1350 million population, which category do the 650-600 million people belong to? This is the biggest question I have been trying to figure out!! Till we do not address the middle class and its buying power, importing business models of the west is not going to work in India’s long-term interest. Changing labor laws or farm laws will not address the basic issue – ‘the buying power’ of the middle class. We need to redo our economic model, and I have dwelled on that in detail in my book 'Tough Choices and Hard Decisions – The next 25 years’.
3. How rampant is the unemployment trap in India? Is diverting the funds towards skill development & training programs a better way of reducing structural unemployment?
Prof. Rajendra: According to my calculation, 1 percent GDP growth leads to the creation of 7.5 lakh jobs. So, if our economy is de-growing at 10 or 11 percent, we will have a total shortfall of 1.8 crore jobs by 2021. The unemployment scenario in 2020 does not worry me as much as unemployment or ‘working poor’ in 2025. India is a country with a large youth population, and if automation continues at the current pace, we will be in a serious crisis. Mere skill development and training without an appropriate framework for ‘sustainable automation’ will not work. We need an ‘Education & Entrepreneurship’ ecosystem to address our needs.
4. The government is launching the ABVKY (Atal Beemit Vyakti Kalyan Yojana) to provide financial aid to workers who had lost their jobs during the lockdown. Most of the time, they are not aware of the schemes and benefits they can avail. What can the government do to remedy this situation?
Prof. Rajendra: PM must use his platform of Maan Ki Baat to talk about such initiatives as this platform has mass outreach. Also, it is time to use technology for connecting laborers, and the Ministry of Labour must work on programs like the Vishwakarma App to connect laborers and provide them microloans along with training and skills development. This could do wonders.
5. While ABVKY is a great initiative, it is restricted to Employees’ State Insurance Corporation (ESIC) registered workers. What are the measures that can be taken by the government to compensate those workers who are not ESIC members?
Prof. Rajendra: Vishwakarma app mentioned above could be a good way to enroll, educate, upskill, and compensate the daily workers.
6. The recently introduced Farm Bills have faced a lot of backlash from the farmers, those it was really meant for. What are your comments on these newly proposed bills, and how do you think it will revolutionize agriculture in India?
Prof. Rajendra: MSPs or farm bills will not address the farmers' issues holistically or in the long term. We need much more. We need a model for the rural economy which includes agriculture, allied activities, and tourism. Let’s not forget that 65 percent of our population depends on agriculture, and just MSPs or farm bills will not solve our legacy rural woes. We need a long terms vision for 65 percent of our population and invest heavily in it
7. The rural areas and the geographically difficult areas have primarily been devoid of high-quality education. How does the NEP 2020 hope to fill the void that has been created in these areas, and brings about rural development?
Prof. Rajendra: Education is not just about degrees it is about developing capabilities and competencies. NEP has gone into great detail to address the issues including discovery-based and experiential learning, opening HEIs in every district, vocational education at the primary level, and educational clusters. If the NEP is implemented as envisioned, it will be a great enabler for rural development.
Image Source- ET HealthWorld
Interviewer- Nicole Srishti Basile