One year later: A mixed bag of acche din for the aam aadmi

narendra_modiMost communication that works is essentially so simplistic that even a school going child can understand it. Narendra Modi’s pitch in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections: “acche din aane waale hain, hum Modi ji ko laane waale hain,” was one such example.
It was so good that one year later, people still remember it and given half an opportunity ask: “
kahan hain acche din?(where are the happy days?)” That’s the thing with communication which is dumbed down to a level of a school child—it works, but it also leads to people asking questions in the days to come.
On May 26, 2015, the Narendra Modi government will complete one year and it is time to ask that proverbial question: “have the good days come?” In this column I will try answering that question from the point of view of the
aam aadmi or the common man.
Inflation as measured by the consumer price index averaged a very high 10.2% between 2007 and 2013. In April 2014, before Narendra Modi was sworn in as the prime minister, the consumer price index inflation was at 8.59%. By April 2015, this number had fallen to 4.87%.
More often than not, the credit for this tends to go to the Reserve Bank of India. But what one needs to keep in mind is the fact that food products constitute nearly half of the consumer price index. And there is no way that the RBI can influence food prices.
Several steps taken by the Modi government helped on this front. One of the first decisions made by the government was to release 5 million tonnes of rice into the open market from the stocks maintained by the Food Corporation of India. News reports suggest that eventually only around 2 million tonnes was sold. But just the news that the government was selling was enough to contain inflation.
Active steps were taken by the government to contain rapidly rising onion prices as well. As Ashok Gulati, former Chairman of the Agricultural Costs and Prices,
wrote in a recent column in The Financial Express: “A slew of measures were announced by the government to contain the damage from surging food inflation. It not only restricted exports of onions but also imported onions and dumped them in major onion markets at prices below import cost. It also used the stick and raided many onion traders/hoarders.” And that clearly helped.
Over and above this, the minimum support price(MSP) of rice was raised by only Rs 50 per quintal or 3.8% to Rs 1360. The MSP is the price at which the government buys rice from the farmers, through the Food Corporation of India(FCI) and other state government agencies. This increase of 3.8% was much lower than the average increase of 9% per year in the MSP of rice since 2007-2008.
These measures helped to control food inflation. Food inflation hurts the poor the most. Half of the expenditure of an average Indian family is on food. In case of the poor it is 60% (NSSO 2011).
Further, Rahul Gandhi said in a farmer’s rally recently that the Congress government had raised the MSP of rice and wheat, the Modi government hadn’t. What Rahul and the Congress party need to understand is that everyone associated with agriculture does not own land. As per the draft national land reforms policy which was released in July 2013, nearly 31% of all households in India were supposed to be landless. The NSSO defines landlessness as a situation where the area of the land owned is less than 0.002 hectares. Any price rise, particularly a rise in food prices which is what an increase in MSP leads to, hurts this section of the population the most.
Hence, on the food inflation front, the Modi government has been able to deliver
acche din for the aam aadmi.
What are the other benefits that the aam aadmi has got over the last one year? In the two budgets that the finance minister Arun Jaitley has presented, the total deductions allowed under some of the most important sections of the Income Tax Act have been increased. The deduction under Section 80C has been increased from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 1.5 lakh. The deduction allowed on a home loan on a self-occupied property has been increased to Rs 2 lakh from Rs 1.5 lakh earlier. The deductions allowed for the payment of medical insurance premium has been increased from Rs 15,000 to Rs 25,000.
The Modi government has also been very aggressive on the financial inclusion front with the Jan Dhana Yojana. The government claims to have opened 15 crore bank accounts which allow account holders an overdraft of Rs 5000. This is a near saturation coverage. Nevertheless, 70% of these accounts remain dormant. What this tells us is that the communication around the Jan Dhana Yojana still remains weak.
While this is a good move at the individual level, the scheme clearly isn’t financially viable and the government hasn’t made it clear as to who will bear the cost of servicing all these accounts. As Diwakar Gupta, former Managing Director of the State Bank of India,
told Sreenivasan Jain of NDTV, no-frills banking “will never be profitable for banks. SBI has opened 3.6 crore accounts and the balance in them is Rs1,400 crore. So, it’s an average of Rs 400 per account. The bank on Rs 400 a year will make Rs 12. The cost of just putting it (the account ) on the core banking system, answering few questions, depositing, withdrawing, paying, reconciling all are significantly higher.”
Further, interest rates and EMIs have fallen a little over the last one year, but not significantly enough to get people to borrow and spendi at the same rate as they were in the past. Also, affordable housing in cities and town continues to remain a dream. The Economic Survey estimates that the shortage of urban homes stands at 1.88 crore units.
There has been no improvement on this front in the last one year. While, no one expects the government to solve the housing problem in one year, no concrete plan has been put forward either. Also, while the government keeps talking about a crackdown on black money that has left the shores of the country, but there is no talk about a crackdown on the massive amount of black money that lies within the country and a massive amount that continues to be generated.
A large part of this money gets invested into real estate, thus driving up prices.
A FICCI report on black money published in February 2015 points out: “The Real Estate sector in India constitutes for about 11 % of the GDP15 of Indian Economy, as these transactions involve high transaction value. In the year 2012-13, Real Estate sector has been considered as the highest parking space for black money.”
Only, once this nexus is broken down will affordable housing become the order of the day. Further, while corruption at the top-echelons of the government may have fallen, at lower-levels it is business as usual. Also, one of the main things promised in Modi’s campaign was the creation of jobs. Things are yet to move on that front.
Long story short—Narendra Modi has managed to deliver on some of the “
acche din” hype that it had managed to build in the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. It has fallen short on many fronts as well. But given the hype was so simplistic that was inevitable.

(Vivek Kaul is the author of the Easy Money trilogy. He tweets @kaul_vivek)

The column originally appeared on Firstpost on May 21, 2015