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Governing India’s many spaces

As the general elections approach, it would be politic to take stock of the progress made by the incumbent party and look out for the areas that call for particular attention by the one that gains power. Without anticipating complete agreement on the indicators that ought to be used, I look at the changes since 2014 in three indices for India. These are the indices of the ‘Ease of Doing Business’ (EDB), ‘Human Development’ (HDI) and ‘Environmental Performance’ (EPI). They are self explanatory, and their importance unlikely to be contested, even though they may not exhaust all concerns. Published by separate international bodies, they are used to rank the world’s countries according to their performance in the related sphere. Rankings by themselves do not reveal the level of attainment but they do convey how far a country is from the global frontier. The business ecosystem The EDB, an indicator put out by the World Bank, is meant mainly as an index of the effect of government regulations on running a business. It is also meant to reflect the extent of property rights in a society. Responses are sought from government officials, lawyers, business consultants, accountants and other professionals involved in providing advice on legal and regulatory compliance. A country’s ranking is based on the extent to which government regulations facilitate the following: starting a business, obtaining construction permits, getting an electricity connection, registering property, accessing credit, protection of investors, paying taxes, trading across borders, enforcement of contracts and resolving insolvency. The Narendra Modi government has set much at store by India’s improved ranking in terms of the EDB index. Actually, the improvement is considerable. From a rank of 134 in 2014, India’s rank improved to 77 in 2018. As 190 countries were ranked in 2018, India was in the top 50%. The position is not spectacular but the improvement is, as said, noteworthy. It is important to note that the use of the EDB has not been without controversy, with the World Bank’s Chief Economist, a Nobel Laureate, suggesting in an interview that in the past political bias may have crept into the ranking of countries. Let us for a moment overlook this episode and assume that in the case of India the ranking reflects reality. Perhaps a bigger problem with the EDB is that it measures the effect of government regulations alone. While it is important to take this aspect into account, in any situation the ease of doing business is dependent upon other factors too. One of these is the availability of ‘producer services’, with electricity, water supply and waste management coming to mind. There is little reason to believe that this infrastructure has improved in India in the last five years. The Planning Commission used to release data on infrastructural investment, but we have had none since its demise. Despite all these shortcomings, it is yet important to be concerned with the ease of doing business in India, an aspect that has been given little or no importance in public policy for over 50 years, and to note that the EDB ranking for the country shows significant improvement since 2014.

Source  : https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/governing-indias-many-spaces/article26209242.ece

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