If you had three wishes as the FM, what would they be?
The first would be fiscal consolidation. India had been following a path of fiscal consolidation, bringing home its level of deficit over the last couple of years then about 18 months back i.e. the last budget and the one before that it let go and we have seen fiscal deficit climb quite considerably. What we need is very clear agenda to address the issue by way of a roadmap for the future.
The second is infrastructure. I know the government has committed itself to spend on infrastructure, but I would like to emphasize the fact that we need to start spending a lot more on urban infrastructure.
It credible that there’s the JNNURM i.e. the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission that is in place. However, if we look at the number of people who now live in the cities vis-à-vis the rural areas, and the amount that is invested in urban infrastructure, it leaves a lot wanting.
Finally rationalization of tax. All finance ministers have spoken about it, but often they tweak things about, give some kind of concessions and bring in taxes that lead to anomalies in the system. I would like to see a road map to GST, which we are committed to moving in the next two years.
If you could end something that currently exists within the budget what would it be?
Very clearly the fringe benefit tax, it’s an unnecessary complication in corporate life. It makes our task difficult.
Name one thing that you would want changed outside your industry?
Again infrastructure. My firm belief is that money is available but we need well-planned projects, whether it is highway or a road, an irrigation project or an airport, I would like to ensure a clear and coherent policy for all sectors.
Also, drilling down a little bit, if one were to look at the concession agreements that the government has been signing, I think they are open to interpretation so you have different people interpreting them in different ways and the irony is all these interpretations can be right. So you want greater clarity.
Apart from infrastructure, the two other areas of concern are health and education - education at the school level but also the crying need is higher education.
What is the one thing you would leave unchanged?
Instead of saying that a particular tax is good or something is bad, I would actually step back and say this whole budget making process- bottoms up approach where it talks to different people, brings in a variety of views and then trying to balance each of these is a good thing. So I would not turn around and say lower a tax, I would like to preserve the whole budget making process.
Lastly, what is your idea of inclusive growth?
To me growth is inclusive when it embraces more and more people. So if we hear about more people being pulled out of the depths of poverty that’s inclusive growth.
Often there is confusion between redistribution and inclusiveness. So reservation in educational institutes for instance is clearly not inclusive growth because by doing that you are excluding someone else. If however, say you increase the capacity of the IITs, for instance, from 100 to 500, or from 500 to 5000, that is inclusive growth. So it includes expanding the size of the services that are available.
I guess it’s a tautology - including more people has to be inclusive rather than redistributing whatever little we have.