“Trade policy was pretty fundamentally restructured in about 10 hours”

There had been quite a lot of internal rethinking on policy, but no real changes had been made. Dr Manmohan Singh used the opportunity of the crisis to push structural reform, said Montek Singh Ahluwalia

jasleen

Jasleen Kaur | July 16, 2016 | New Delhi


#trade policy   #Manmohan Singh   #Economic reforms   #Montek Singh Ahluwalia  


 “The crisis was really severe. No one younger than 45 can imagine what it was like. We had run out of foreign exchange, the rating agencies had downgraded us and imports had to be squeezed so severely that GDP growth dropped to 1.4 percent in 1991-92,” said Montek Singh Ahluwalia who was commerce secretary at the time of the 1991 budget that triggered economic reforms.

 In an exclusive interview that appears in the special edition of Governance Now to mark 25 years of economic reforms, Ahluwalia said that Narasimha Rao decided to have a technocrat as finance minister and Dr Manmohan Singh went into action remarkably quickly.
 
 “But Dr Singh didn’t just act to control the crisis. He rightly chose to pursue structural reforms, without which the economy would never be able to grow rapidly. Most people have no idea what an absurd control system we were running, with the government interfering in all sorts of decisions which were better left to the private sector responding to the market.
 
 “There had been quite a lot of internal rethinking on policy, but no real changes had been made. Dr Singh used the opportunity of the crisis to push structural reform. One cannot say there was consensus on reforms. The left was bitterly opposed and many in the political class had doubts. But the technocracy was convinced and the government persevered and the country benefited from that,” said Ahluwalia.
 
 On the key points of his 1990 paper that drafted a blueprint of reforms, Ahluwalia said that VP Singh was the prime minister and he asked him to write a paper outlining the policy changes we needed, “so I put together my views on issues we had been discussing internally and which I had hoped to put before Rajiv Gandhi had he been re-elected. The paper was discussed in the Committee of Secretaries. It was controversial and leaked and was published in the Financial Express and was often referred to as the ‘M Document’.”
 
 “To summarise, the paper proposed bringing the fiscal deficit under control which is of course a standard mantra, but it also recommended a new approach to industrial policy, trade policy, MRTP relaxation, public sector reform and FDI policy. Taken together it was a fairly comprehensive agenda and it scared many people. But one year later, the reforms in 1991 actually did more. “
 
 Ahluwalia has an abiding memory of  July 3 meeting between finance minister Manmohan Singh and commerce minister P Chidambaram that firmed up basic trade policy changes – a key component of reforms.
 
 “The whole thing was agreed in one meeting between commerce minister Chidambaram and Manmohan Singh on July 3. We made our case (I was the commerce secretary at that time), the finance ministry officials were not in favour, but Dr Singh overruled them. Two hours later we had all the papers ready, and went with Dr Singh to see prime minister Narasimha Rao. Chidambaram explained what we wanted to do, the PM just asked Dr Singh whether he agreed, and when Dr Singh said he had signed the file, the PM just took the file and signed. The deed was done.
 
 “No groups of officials, no GoMs, even the PMO was not actively involved. Trade policy was pretty fundamentally restructured in about 10 hours! I always felt it demonstrated that the Indian system could work if ministers understood what was involved and directly sorted out issues. Had the same proposal been moved “on file” I bet it would have got stuck somewhere. The lesson is we need much faster decision making with less shuffling of files and ministers taking responsibility.”

To read the full interview click here 

 

Comments

 

Other News

Why job quota in India’s ‘Silicon Valley’ will be self-defeating

Shooting oneself in the foot with a regressive step for short term political gains is how I would define the Karnataka government’s recent decision to reserve jobs in the private sector for the state’s people. As per Nasscom, the tech sector alone contributes to 25% of the state

Union Budget: New tax regime made more attractive

Several attractive benefits to provide tax relief to salaried individuals and pensioners opting for the new tax regime were announced by finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman while presenting the Union Budget 2024-25 in Parliament on Tuesday. She proposed to increase the standard deduction for

All you want to know about Union Budget, in one place

SUMMARY OF THE UNION BUDGET 2024-2025 Key points INDIA’S INFLATION CONTINUES TO BE LOW, STABLE AND MOVING TOWARDS THE 4 PER CENT TARGET PM’S PACKAGE OF 5 SCHEMES AND INITIATIVES WITH AN OUTLAY OF  ₹ 2 L

Union Budget: A quick summary

Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman presented the Union Budget 2024-25 in Parliament on Tuesday. The highlights of the budget are as follows: Part-A Budget Estimates 2024-25:         T

India’s real GDP projected to grow 6.5–7% in 2024-25

India’s real GDP is projected to grow 6.5–7 per cent in 2024-25. The Indian economy recovered swiftly from the pandemic, with its real GDP in FY24 being 20 per cent higher than the pre-COVID, FY20 levels. This was stated in the Economic Survey 2023-24 presented in Parliament Monday by finance m

`Women welfare & empowerment budget tripled in 10 years`

As the Indian concept of welfare transforms into empowerment, India is transitioning from women’s development to women-led development, highlights the Economic Survey 2023-2024. Tabled in the Parliament on Monday by finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, the Economic Survey 2023-2024 fo

Visionary Talk: Amitabh Gupta, Pune Police Commissioner with Kailashnath Adhikari, MD, Governance Now


Archives

Current Issue

Opinion

Facebook Twitter Google Plus Linkedin Subscribe Newsletter

Twitter