ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

25 Years Of Economic LiberalisationSubscribe to 25 Years Of Economic Liberalisation

Economic Reforms and Manufacturing Sector Growth

Manufacturing output grew 7%–8% annually since 1991, with a marked improvement in the variety and quality of goods produced. Yet, its share in gross domestic product has practically stagnated, with a sharp rise in import intensity. Liberal (or market-friendly) policies were expected to boost labour intensive exports and industrial growth. Why did the manufacturing sector fail to realise these goals? It is widely believed that India needs to “complete” the reform agenda to realise its potential. Critically examining such a view, it is suggested that the long-term constraints on industrialisation perhaps lie in poor agricultural productivity and inadequate public infrastructure. Further, there is a need to re-imagine the role of the development state to realise goals, as the experience of all successful industrialising nations suggests.

Markets, Growth and Social Opportunity

Since 1991, there has been an acceleration of economic growth accompanied by a widening of the range of consumer goods produced, together with improvement in the quality of services available. Furthermore, the economy has passed through the longest period since 1947 without facing balance-of-payments stress. However, not all sectors of the economy have shown the same dynamism, with the performance of agriculture actually becoming a cause for concern. The unequal distribution of social opportunity has meant that this shortcoming has left a significant section of the population in a low-income trap. What underlies this outcome is examined and what is needed to correct the imbalance is proposed.

Economic Liberalisation in India

Even if adjustment and reform in 1991 were driven by economic compulsions, it was the political process that made these possible. However, liberalisation was shaped largely by the economic problems of the government rather than by the economic priorities of the people or by long-term development objectives. Thus, there were limitations in conception and design which have been subsequently validated by experience. Jobless growth, persistent poverty and rising inequality have mounted as problems since economic liberalisation began. And, 25 years later, four quiet crises confront the economy, in agriculture, infrastructure, industrialisation and education as constraints on the country’s future prospects. These problems must be resolved if economic growth has to be sustained and transformed into meaningful development. In this quest, India needs a developmental state for its market economy to improve the living conditions of her people.

‘Fiscal Federalism’ in India since 1991

The “reforms” in 1991 laid out a new trajectory in which federalism was dichotomised into two parts—political and fiscal. The fiscal was privileged and used to undermine the political. Fiscal federalism in India since 1991 rests on the contradictions generated by the theoretical infirmities of the sound finance paradigm along with a concerted undermining of federal provisions. This political drive is in keeping with the agenda since 1991, eroding the relative autonomy of the state to turn it into a facilitator of a macroeconomic expansion process in which the wage–surplus distribution becomes more and more favourable to capital.
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