Even the critics who were unhappy with the Union Budget had to grudgingly admit that, after the placing of budget in the parliament, the Finance Minister Nirmala Sitaraman’s move to meet businessmen and members of different chambers of commerce, along with all her cabinet secretaries was a wise move. Some of them, at the Kolkata meeting for example, admitted that they had never seen
The state’s chief minister Mamata Banerjee might say that she has been doing this for quite some time now, for example, in her district visits, where she takes all her important state secretaries to solve issues at the ground level. But the central finance minister, moving out of the North Block, and making her secretaries meet the businessmen – and that too in a metropolitan city other than New Delhi - gives a different dimension to the whole exercise.
The tea industry was elated when they found that the finance minister, after discussing with her secretaries, promised them that all the tea estates in Assam and Bengal would havebank ATMs installed within two weeks. The ‘little’ wages that the industry paid to the workers would then be properly distributed – which was a longstanding demand of the workers and the tea garden owners. The toy industry also got a promise that the government would solve their tax problems which they claimed was 100% because they used imported material. They in turn wanted to become manufacturers with the incentive of reduced tax rates. Some of the exporters to Bangladesh complained that they could take across the goods at certain check posts while being debarred at other points of trade.
That too was solved on the same day. Such instant micro level solutions by the policy makers themselves were never heard of before. It’s worth watching how the political communication is changing. If the legislative and judiciary decisions are not working – see for example the mess with CAA and NRC - it’s high time the politicians realised that the only way to move forward to reach out to the people was with the help of executives themselves. The bureaucrats are now forced to come out of their ivory towers. After GST, the next step to structural reforms would be in labour laws and land reforms. There may have been many flaws in the GST – and that was raised in the metro meetings as well. But tax reforms were inevitable – both the states and the centre had realised it. Implementation of GST was possible because the states cooperated. Labour and land reforms will not also be possible without the cooperation of the states. Repeated discussions among the executives of the centre and the state paved the way to the tax reforms. The next stage of structural reforms, if the government is serious about it – would require same cooperation among the state and the Centre.
In the present charged political climate over citizenship, is that possible? But the economic reform is a must. Compulsions of parliamentary legislatures and judicial diktats are not working. The last few defeats in state elections (including Delhi) make it clear to the political masters that they will have to change their communication strategy to reach out to the people. So the new strategy is to make the executives reach the masses. The bureaucrats will also try to reach out to the states to open dialogues for further structural reforms. Politics, it seems, has reached a dead end.