India in 10 years: Ten things we need to change
Lacking the soothsaying powers of so many folks, and having seen how much disruption and destruction one 8pm speech can wreak, it is impossible for me to look 10 years into the future. Instead, here are 10 things that I hope we’ll have achieved 10 years from now.
First, a change in the composition of the gross domestic product (GDP) in favour of things that are useful to us (food, healthcare, education, etc.) and against things that do not help ordinary people (e.g. military products and “financial services” that are essentially gambling). Better still, maybe national accounting systems will evolve so that GDP records polluting and destructive activities negatively.
Second, two major direct tax reforms. One, an increase in India’s income-tax base, stuck at 2-3% since the 1980s, to 15% of the population, higher than other Brics countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa)—in Brazil, China and South Africa, the figure already stands at around 7-8%. Two, the emergence of wealth and inheritance taxes as a significant source of revenue.
Third, greater transparency in the tax code, leading to a reduction in sops to industry. For several years, tax revenue foregone has been very high (e.g. around Rs6 trillion last year). What are these exemptions, and who benefits from them?
Fourth, one indirect tax reform: stiff taxes on cars and car users (by making car loans expensive and raising registration fees, fuel and congestion charges, parking fees). Those who park private cars on public roads will be seen as a public nuisance, not the street vendors and the homeless, as tends to happen (wrongly).
Fifth, the proposed tax reforms will enable the creation of a robust welfare state (with good health and education facilities) that will enable the realization of the first goal.
Sixth, a radical change in what the mainstream media finds newsworthy. When they report on record low temperatures in Shimla, they should also report on the disruption of electricity supply that accompanied it; reporting on the statements of political and industry leaders at Vibrant Gujarat, there could be space for the protests and questions organized by Dalit groups outside; when elections are discussed, along with emerging political alliances and feuds, there should be more ground reports as well as fact-checks on the ever-glossier print and electronic media hype about the government’s achievements. And, if television news channels must have programmes dedicated to the latest products in the market, let it be on bicycles rather than cars and mobile phones!
Seventh, the propagandist nature of business media is fully exposed. For instance, in the 2G and coal scams, only political parties (and not companies too) are seen as the culprits. Consequently, instead of both being punished, only political parties have been punished by voters. An important reason behind this is the manipulation of the narrative by the media.
Eighth, Aadhaar will have been rejected by people as the ultimate surveillance infrastructure and data-mining tool that it is, and its clever sugar-coating as a welfare intervention will be exposed. The Aadhaar cancer is spreading to all sections of society and the devastation it is causing by denying people lifeline public services (scholarships, old-age pensions, work and rations) is finally being reported.
Ninth, a massive rise in the acceptability and numbers of inter- and out-of-caste marriages, so we may finally bury caste.
Tenth, looking outwards, the emergence of a Schengen-like treaty for South Asian countries (at least) so that border controls are eliminated, and we can live a passport- and visa-free life in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka and make up our own minds about what they are like rather than relying on a government- or media-controlled narrative.
Reetika Khera is an associate professor of economics at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi
This is part of a series of articles in Mint’s 10th anniversary special issue that look at India 10 years from now. The entire list of articles can be found here