At a meeting with over 40 top economists, experts and industrialists ahead of the July 5 Union Budget, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday said the government was strongly committed to economic reforms. The industry, on the other hand, communicated to the government that it must focus on the economy by pushing growth and creating jobs.
Sources present at the meeting told The Sunday Express that N Chandrasekaran, Chairman, Tata Sons, spoke for the industry when he said the government should clearly focus on growth and not worry much about the fiscal deficit and inflation. For that, he is learnt to have said, the government must spend more and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) must cut policy rates.
Among the key issues discussed were ideas to improve competitiveness of the economy, making government flagship schemes more effective and increasing productivity and incomes in the agriculture sectors. Prior to their meeting with the Prime Minister, the participants were divided into five distinct groups based on their domain expertise and told to discuss sectoral issues. Sources said focus groups on Macroeconomy and Employment, Agricultural and Water Resources, Export, Education, and Health shortlisted priority and agenda items and presented them to the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister is learnt to have told the gathering to spread the same message outside the room. Sources said that while the government indicated its strong intent to pursue a broad spectrum of reforms, discussions were held on how flagships schemes — in housing, finance and health sectors – could be delivered better.
Among the industry leaders who attended the session with the Prime Minister were Vedanta Resources Chairman Anil Agarwal, Tata Sons Chairman N Chandrasekaran and ITC Ltd CEO Sanjiv Puri. “The meeting focused on improving competitiveness of the economy. Although no specifics were spelt out, the discussions were on improving health and education standards to make people’s lives better,” said an economist who attended the meeting.
The theme of the meeting, organised by government think-tank NITI Aayog, was ‘Economic Policy — The Road Ahead’. It came in the backdrop of India’s economy growing at a lower-than-expected rate of 5.8 per cent in January-March quarter, its slowest in five years, as per data released by the Central Statistics Office. For the full year 2018-19, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth was at at 6.8 per cent, lower than 7.2 per cent in the previous financial year, while unemployment rate was at a 45-year high of 6.1 per cent in 2017-18.
Among the economists and experts who attended the meeting were HSBC Chief Economist Pranjul Bhandari, Narayana Health Chairman & Executive Director Devi Shetty, Bank of America Merrill Lynch Chief Economist Indraneil Sengupta, Credit Suisse MD Neelkanth Mishra, Kotak Mahindra AMC MD Nilesh Shah, JP Morgan Chief India Economist Sajjid Chinoy, Citibank Chief Economist Samiran Chakraborty, KKR India CEO Sanjay Nayar, State Bank of India Chief Economic Advisor Soumya Kanti Ghosh, former RBI governor Bimal Jalan, CRISIL Chief Economist DK Joshi and Apollo Hospitals Vice Chairperson Preetha Reddy.
The Prime Minister thanked all participants for their suggestions and observations, on various aspects of the economy, according to a statement issued by the government. The meeting was attended by Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal and Minister of State (Independent charge) for Statistics and Programme Implementation Rao Inderjeet Singh. NITI Aayog Vice Chairman Rajiv Kumar and senior government officials were also present.