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Fall in Crude Oil Prices: Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunity for India

Despite the Prime Minister wooing foreign investors, what is needed is removal of police-related bottlenecks.

Updated
Opinion
4 min read
Fall in Crude Oil Prices: Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunity for India

Crude oil at just $27 a barrel, all 159 litres of it, making a good size Norwegian salmon available at the same price as oil, is a wonder to behold. It is a phenomenon that is shifting geo-political fault lines.

Petroleum prices will stay down in the short to medium term, along with a host of other metals and commodities. It is India’s once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Should we then be dithering on the edge of Carpe Diem, or be boldly hitching our policies to the prevailing wind?

Finance minister Arun Jaitley, soon to table his third budget, speaks blithely of 8.5% growth in GDP going forward, even without the structural legislative reform such as GST and Land/Labour/Bankruptcy laws blocked in parliament.

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(Photo: iStock/ Altered by The Quint)
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Lending Money for Infrastructure Projects

But maybe there is a clue in how this might come about, from Columbia professor Arvind Panagariya, now heading Niti Aayog.

Panagariya knows our banks are riddled with bad debt racked up by some of the best known companies. Bank NPAs are hovering around 5% of GDP, many of them long-gestation infrastructure project related, and compounded by flawed business models.

Still, Panagariya, on balance, wants to press on. He wants the government to ease the fiscal deficit targets, open the spigots, and pour borrowed government money into rapid infrastructure development. He knows this chance may not come again.

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Snapshot

Revamping the Economy

  • Fall in crude oil prices is a blessing in disguise, for introducing the much needed reforms in India.
  • Some view it as the right time to pour borrowed government money into rapid infrastructure development.
  • But the Non-Performing Assets, hovering around 5% of GDP are posing as obstacles on the growth front.
  • Despite our Prime Minister trying hard to attract investment, India is fraught with policy-related bottlenecks.
  • It will be a decade or two assuming the focus is on implementation, before India can be granted status of a developed country.
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Untying the Economy’s Knot

Raghuram Rajan at the RBI disagrees. He does not like profligate debt-fuelled growth, here in India or elsewhere, and wants to clean up the PSU bank books and recapitalise them instead. He also wants the ‘crony capitalism’ associated with the best known Indian companies that default on huge borrowings with impunity to come to an end. But, as yet, an efficient bankruptcy law is still not operative, and rich people can happily defraud the tax payer and the nation.

The prime minister on his part is going all out to attract foreign investment as equity, not borrowing, and cutting-edge technology as means of know-how to improve our skills.

India is a promising place to invest yet continues to be riddled with policy and implementation problems, even as our prime minister unties many knots as fast as he can.

It is a unique moment in time too. There are many bigger economies today, but only the US is growing its mighty $15 trillion economy at 2.5%.

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(Photo: iStock/ Altered by The Quint)
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Challenges Hampering Growth

India, called the ‘bright spot’ amongst large economies, even at just $ 2 trillion, has been shrinking to 2013 levels. Its industrial growth, exports, services, the stock markets, are all worsening month to month, partially buffeted by external pressures. There is little bank credit. The currency is eroding sharply against the ever strengthening US dollar.

And infrastructure, roads, power projects, railways, ports, defence manufacturing, mining, though they are activated and thrust areas, are not being implemented fast enough. This coming budget will probably have massive governmental allocations, in the absence of private sector initiatives, but when will the spinning wheels of the economy find traction on the ground?

Food inflation, despite vastly cheaper oil, is rising, on the back of several consecutive droughts and floods. Governor Rajan at RBI will therefore not be cutting interest rates very much. And yet, despite a moribund construction sector, the home-loan business, backed nicely by collateral, is beginning to pick up. Still, the basis of calculation of the GDP projected into the 7.1-7.5% range for fiscal 2016, is being questioned by the RBI too.

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There are bottlenecks that hamper India’s ability to rapidly absorb huge investments.(Photo: iStock)
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Transformation: From a Developing to a Developed Country

The glaring macro issue is that our ambition far outstrips the quaint financial, analytical, policy/ideology and process infrastructure we have put in place. There are bottlenecks that hamper India’s ability to rapidly absorb huge investments.

The good thing is that the scale and size of the pending task is vast, and one five year term, even at full tilt, can only serve to lay several of the foundations. It will be a decade or two, at least, assuming a strong pressure on implementation is maintained, before the transformation of the country, from its present state of inadequacy, to that of a developed nation, becomes evident.

That this government is dedicated to the task of development is well appreciated. But, equally clear is the need to turbo-charge its ready-steady -go schedules to meet the aspirations of hungry investors as well as the voters that elected this government.

(Gautam Mukherjee is a plugged-in commentator and instant analyser)

Also read:
Centre’s Bankruptcy Law Reform: Whooshing the Weasel
Call Drop Prasad and the Ineffectiveness of his Governance

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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