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   The Bad and The Good   

Omkar Goswami


The GDP estimates for June-September 2012 were released on 30 November. Despite some ‘Let’s keep the flag flying’ cheers by odd commentators, the numbers are quite terrible and indicate that the country’s growth rate is inexorably drifting down. Just look the growth of real GDP over the last seven quarters:
• Jan-Mar 2011: 9.2 per cent
• Apr-Jun 2011: 8.0 per cent
• Jul-Sep 2011: 6.7 per cent
• Oct-Dec 2011: 6.1 per cent
• Jan-Mar 2012: 5.3 per cent
• Apr-Jun 2012: 5.5 per cent
• Jul-Sep 2012: 5.3 per cent.

The last three successive quarters has seen growth at no more than 5.5 per cent — a far cry from the 9 per cent that we thought was our reform-driven right.

My disquiet is not just about the falling rate of GDP growth, now at its lowest ever for many quarters and years. It stems from the fact that I can’t see any drivers of near term growth. Consider manufacturing, which accounts for 15 per cent of GDP. It had a terrible year throughout 2011-12; and the pains continue with 0.2 per cent growth in real terms in April-June 2012, followed by 0.8 per cent in July-September.

Services, too, are getting knocked. The category ‘trade, hotels, transport and communications’ comprises almost 29 per cent of GDP. Its growth has fallen from 13.8 per cent and 9.8 per cent in the first two quarters of 2011-12 to 4 per cent and 5.5 per cent, respectively, in 2012-13. If 44 per cent of GDP — manufacturing and trade, hotels, etc. — grew by 2.7 per cent in April-June 2012 versus a year earlier, followed by 3.8 per cent in July-September 2012, why should we expect the remaining 56 per cent of the economy to grow so fast as to record 6-6.5 per cent GDP growth in the second half of the year? It is unlikely that we will exceed 5.5 per cent GDP growth in 2012-13. And with such growth, I doubt if finance minister P. Chidambaram can maintain the fiscal deficit at 5.1 per cent of GDP, as promised by his predecessor.

That was the bad. Now to the good — the stuff that wonderfully surprises you and re-kindles faith in the ability of the country to progress. This example involves a state government.

In November 2010, I wrote a column which railed against the Sub-Registrar’s office at Mehrauli in New Delhi. I described it as “an old, dirty, abysmally maintained single-storied colonial kutcherry — a dilapidated tehsil building long past its sell-by date… The only sitting places are concrete benches. These are dusty, betel stained and pigeon-shat… You stand for hours…
This major establishment is worse than a dump. People who transact here hate every moment of it. It desperately needs a modern office; decent seating spaces; and a clean work flow. Is that too hard to ask for?”

Clearly some officials in Delhi thought ‘Enough was enough’ and brought about a sea change. I went to the same place on 22 November to be completely bowled over. A new single story building has come up beside the old one. Air-conditioned and so squeaky clean that the gent’s toilet didn’t stink. You can’t go past the electronically controlled main door without an appointment, which you must get earlier over the net. Based on that appointment, you are given a magnetic key to enter a comfortable waiting room. Our group was called to a counter within minutes, where a clean cut uniformed young man — sky blue shirts, dark trousers, and dark blue ties — checked my documents and then entered some fields on a computer. We were then directed to the Sub-Registrar’s office, which also required using the magnetic key. This gentleman pulled my file out of the computer, re-checked the physical documents, made me and the other party sign in his presence, and released us. We moved to the third, and last, room where the both of us and the witnesses were photographed. End of the story. We exited in 20 minutes. And the sale deed was collected without the slightest fuss two days later. No stupid questions. No posturing for bribes — at least from us. No needless delays.

This office has come into being from July 2012. The older, filthy workplace also exists, and the unfortunate ones of South Delhi whose localities do not come under the purview of the new office must still suffer pain. But there is no doubt about the enormous improvement. I still cannot believe that a sale deed for a property was registered so transparently and professionally.

So, while we suffer from falling GDP growth, here’s a tribute to Sheila Dikshit and her team for putting in place an efficient establishment that bestows cleanliness and dignity to those who transact and who serve.
Published: Business World, December 2012


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