It's probably the dyspeptic Indian who has been propping up industrial growth
The Indian government has rejected the World Bank’s new human capital index, saying it is not an accurate measure and our lowly position in it does not reflect reality. The criticism may well be valid, in view of India’s unique model of industrial development.
Unlike nations whose industrial growth is investment-led, or export-led, India’s industrial production, according to the Central Statistics Office (CSO), depends on rising indigestion. The latest reading of the Index of Industrial Production (IIP) finds that the biggest contributor to industrial growth in August 2018 was ‘‘Digestive enzymes and antacids (including PPI drugs)". PPI is short for proton pump inhibitors, drugs that reduce gastric acid production. This seems to suggest that India’s industrial development is to a large extent based, both literally and metaphorically, on gas.
In fact, digestive enzymes and antacids were by far the biggest contributors to industrial growth for much of last year, according to monthly press releases from CSO. We had all heard that consumption growth was very strong—little did we realise that what it actually meant was consumption of antacids. If CSO is right, either Indians or foreigners, or perhaps both of them, have been busy buying digestive enzymes and antacids manufactured in India in prodigious quantities. In view of our large population though, it’s probably the dyspeptic Indian rather than the gassy foreigner who has heroically been propping up our industrial growth.
The Mark to Market column in this newspaper has on several occasions wondered about this rather peculiar phenomenon. Indeed, my colleague Ravi Ananthanarayanan had tried to correlate data from other databases on the production and export of antacids with the IIP numbers. Unfortunately, he found that neither domestic retail sales data nor numbers on exports from the department of commerce support the high production figures for digestion-related drugs. But then, who are we to question CSO? Surely it will do its best to confuse our enemies who want to steal information on our unique dyspepsia-led growth model? Don’t forget that all these weak stomachs do have a silver lining—digestive enzymes appear to have been a huge Make in India success story.
From April this year, however, antacids and digestive enzymes stopped figuring in the list of big contributors to IIP growth, replaced by more conventional items such as electricity and cement and stainless steel bars and rods and “separators including decanter centrifuge", whatever that might be. This had led to the hope that perhaps India’s industrial development need no longer be built on a foundation of flatulence and acidity. The optimism was strengthened when the May IIP numbers came out, because they showed that digestive enzymes were the highest negative contributor to IIP growth, which means gastric acid production and therefore antacid production were coming down. But alas, those fond hopes were dashed when CSO’s press release for August, issued last Friday, indicated that digestive enzymes are back as the main positive contributor.
We do not know the underlying reasons for what appears to be a gas epidemic of epic proportions in India. Could the stress and strain of being the fastest growing large economy in the world be giving us all a massive bellyache? Or are geopolitical tensions leading to rising indigestion abroad, thus increasing demand for our antacids? Or could it just be Donald Trump?
What we do know is that it is a singular model of development. It also seems rather fragile, for will industrial growth collapse if stomachs become stronger? Should the government then run a campaign both in India and abroad promoting spicy and oily street food to ensure that doesn’t happen? At the very least, a committee of flatulent high-level experts, headed by an eminent personality with in-depth knowledge of the subject, preferably someone with acute gastritis, should be set up to get to the bottom of the matter.
It is time to conclude this erudite discussion about India’s curious dyspepsia-based development model on a poetic note: The index of industrial production, is somewhat of a sensation. Because it has been full of gas, and lots of indigestion.
Manas Chakravarty looks at trends and issues in the financial markets. Respond to this column at email@example.com.