Manufacturing jobs are important in the economy, and many more can get created once an ecosystem develops that ensures the facilitation and protection of the entrepreneur. Among the most important requisites for such a transformation would be the stepping back from the long history of cronyism that has vitiated the industrial sector since the 1950s. At a time when the Indian economy was puny, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi set up the Monopolies & Restrictive Trade Practices Commission, which specialised in creating obstacles for companies that grew because of reasons of efficiency. Some laws of that period prescribed penalties for companies crossing their sanctioned limit in turnover. In other words, those who were efficient were persecuted while others were left undisturbed. Even to this day, there are laws and regulations whose intent is to create obstacles in the path of production that can be leveraged to extract bribes by the corrupt. Change has come since 2014, but much more is needed. It was Narendra Modi who had the foresight to understand that the government is best that seeks to control the least. In other words, a government that trusts citizens and ensures the freedom needed for them to thrive. The impetus in any bureaucracy is to acquire more and more powers, and the novel coronavirus has had the side effect of immensely expanding the powers of the state machinery over the lives of citizens. An example is Mumbai. Some officials in Mumbai’s municipal corporation came up with the idea of sending any individual in select zones to a municipal hospital if she or he had signs of Covid-19 and was over 50. Citizens were pulled away from their families in their pyjamas and sent to hospitals, where the condition of several worsened. Only later was a citizen permitted to be admitted into a private facility, while in other places, unless the symptoms were severe and life-threatening, such persons were made to quarantine at home. Such a move lessened the load on the public health system, and had no booster effect on death rates. The disease that owes its origin to Wuhan in central China affects people differently. Many are unaware that they are carriers of the novel coronavirus, whereas others suffer mild and transient symptoms. In some cases, health deteriorates sharply and sometimes results in fatalities. In each state, there are differences in protocols and in the regulations governing Covid-19. What ought to have been tackled in the manner that outbreaks of other diseases were has spiralled into a monster that has killed millions of jobs and driven countless citizens to despair. At the same time, as several people stay in a single room, which is the case in most parts of Mumbai, elaborate social distancing guidelines were laid out that are impractical in India. Of course, very often the rules drawn up are copied from those in countries very different from India.
A trend that has accelerated in recent years is for government departments to outsource their policy prescriptions to external agencies. Several global consulting firms make nearly 40% of their profits from taxpayers in India. The number of projects outsourced is in the thousands. Several of the restrictive and unrealistic policies that have sought to be pushed down the throats of citizens are from the stock of nostrums that such agencies keep so as to service their Third World customers. Coincidentally, several of those close to senior officials have found work in these same agencies, at salaries that are outsize by local standards. While these multinational consulting groups call for the abolition of regulation in countries where they are based, in the case of India, they push for a greater and greater level of government involvement and control. They agree with the British colonial masters of the pre-1947 era that the people of India lack the ability to lead their own lives without Big Government watching over them and controlling their activities. The Bombay Municipal Corporation of the past used to concentrate on services to the people living within the metropolis. These days, the greater share of expenditure goes into various projects of a fancy nature. The politicians and the bureaucrats get so taken by the glib talk of the “experts” they meet on the flying visits of the latter that they sanction huge sums of money to conduct studies that are often of little value except as fodder for television for a few days. Policy has degenerated into photo op and PR stunt rather than something more substantive. Prime Minister Narendra Modi needs to look into the proliferation of external consultants that is occurring in both the Centre and in several states and judge whether the massive sums spent are worth a fraction of the expense. Such consulting companies are in essence body shops, funded in their lavish lifestyles by the poor people of India. Covid-19 and the dizzying change in the protocols governing its discovery and control have become instruments for the intrusion of government into the lives of citizens in a manner unprecedented since the period when Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister. Given his support for Minimum Government, it is necessary for PM Modi to immediately ensure that the people of India be freed of unrealistic and irksome policies that constrain them from achieving the $5 trillion economy by 2024 that is the objective of Modi 2.0.