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BRP Bhaskar: The Make-in-India mantra
November 11, 2014
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Will India be the next big manufacturing hub of the world? The question is being discussed at home and aboard following the launch of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Make in India programme and its vigorous marketing.

Modi, who took office in May, outlined the programme first in the traditional Prime Minister’s address to the nation on August 15, Independence Day. “Be it plastics or cars or satellites or agricultural products, come, make in India,” he told the world. When he visited Washington he sought support for the programme from the US administration and industrialists.

In September the government launched the programme with fanfare. A website set up to market it features its logo — a stylised figure of the lion on which is imposed the mantra “Make in India”.

The government describes it as a new national programme, designed to facilitate investment, foster innovation, enhance skill development, protect intellectual property, and build best-in-class manufacturing infrastructure. “There’s never been a better time to make in India,” it proclaims.

The website lists 25 sectors, from Automobiles to Wellness, in alphabetical order, where the government is looking for investment. These include Defence Manufacturing, Media and Entertainment, Oil and Gas, Ports, Railways and Space. Some of these are areas where the previous government was proceeding with caution in view of their sensitive nature.

Doing business just got easier, it proclaims, and mentions a series of steps which the government has taken or is contemplating for this purpose. India is at the 134th position in the World Bank’s most recent Ease of Doing Business list. Modi reportedly has set a modest goal: raising the country to the 85th place.

Modi’s programme is modelled on the one which made China the biggest manufacturing hub of the world. China had to pay a heavy price in terms of environmental degradation for its phenomenal success. It redeemed itself somewhat by launching, under strong international pressure, an ambitious clean-up programme ahead of the Beijing Olympics.

China began reforms under Deng Xiaoping in 1978. By the time India embarked upon reforms hesitantly in 1991 it had already made much progress in manufacturing by attracting investments from overseas Chinese businessmen as well as others. It is generally believed that with the Communist Party holding the reins China could move ahead faster than India which was struggling with unstable democratic governments.

Modi, who heads a stable government, is making an-out bid to attract global investors as rising costs and an appreciating currency are making China increasingly unattractive. If he succeeds, India’s share of manufacturing, which is now only about 12 per cent of the GDP, will go up to 25 per cent by 2022. Also, part of the labour now in the primary sector may shift to the secondary sector.

To make things easy for investors the government is planning to remove all hurdles in their way and provide in a maximum of 72 hours the clearances needed to start or do business.

It is likely to take a favourable view of the proposals placed before it by the Confederation of Indian Industry and the global financial and business advisory group KPMG to create conditions conducive to large-scale manufacturing. These include streamlining approval procedures, speeding up land acquisition proceedings, creating a proper labour development system, facilitating easy cross-border transactions and rationalising the taxation regime.

While there is a strong case for speeding up the process of clearance, the three-day time-frame cannot be achieved without relaxing legal provisions which safeguard the interests of the workers and protect the environment. Such steps may invite the hostility of the working class movements and involve the risk of ecological disaster.

According to Janice Bellace, professor of legalstudies and business ethics, at Wharton, poor infrastructure, crony capitalism and corruption have done more to dissuade investment than labour laws. She wants Indian labour law reform to focus on ‘decent work’, an International Labour Organisation term which includes security, adequate remuneration and freedom of association.

KPMG has given a boost to the Make in India programme by featuring it in its 100 Most Innovative Global Projects as “one of the world’s most innovative and inspiring infrastructure projects”. Another hopeful development is that Standard and Poor’s, which had lowered India’s credit rating to “negative” in the wake of the economic downturn of the last few years, has now raised it to “stable”.

Last week Home Minister Rajnath Singh, on a visit to Israel, asked that country to set up industries in India in the defence sector. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded favourably. 

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 The author is a political analyst of reckoning

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