ON APRIL 1, addressing RBI@90, a programme to commemorate 90 years of Reserve Bank of India in Mumbai, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked financial sector representatives to use time till elections to come up with “out of the box” ideas for supporting emerging sectors. Giving a peek into what to expect if BJP-led NDA forms government after general elections, Modi said a lot of work is coming your way. “It is very important that goals for next ten years be crystal clear. No one can stop a nation whose goals are clear. We need to support growth and ensure new competencies in rising sectors like tourism. I am busy with elections for next 100 days. So, you have ample time. You give a close thought as a barrage of work will come your way the very next day of the oath-taking ceremony,” he said.

The prime minister had first talked about a third term for BJP before the Budget session on January 31, when he said the Interim Budget will serve as a ‘guidance’ for the future. Since then, the prime minister, his Cabinet colleagues and BJP rank and file have been talking confidently about coming to power for the third consecutive term. With the campaign in full swing, the party’s slogan, Abki Baar 400 Paar, is ringing louder. The ball, of course, is in the electorate’s court.

That said, a third term for BJP is something for which preparations are under way with prime minister putting the entire administrative machinery to work on the 100-day agenda that will be taken up immediately after the new government takes charge. According to a source, the prime minister held a meeting with top secretaries in early March and “sought novel ideas on reforms and growth.” Four additional secretaries in prime minister’s office are coordinating with key economic ministries, says the source, adding that Niti Aayog will finalise the implementation roadmap. “The proposals should be in tune with long-term vision for economic growth,” says the official. The BJP manifesto, titled Modi Ki Guarantee, released on April 14, outlines key economic initiatives that the prime minister plans to roll out if the party comes to power again.

Top Priority: Infrastructure

The manifesto mentions 24 guarantees or deliverables. Of these, two pertain to building world-class infrastructure and making India a manufacturing hub; the ultimate aim is to make India the third-largest economy offering sufficient employment opportunities. With broad objectives clearly defined, ministries such as road transport and highways, railways and coal have already submitted initial plans to PMO.

The road transport and highways ministry is likely to seek Cabinet approval for Vision 2047 for creation of world-class infrastructure by 2047, when India will celebrate 100th year of Independence (it is also the deadline set by government for making India a developed country). The ministry plans to develop 50,000 kms of access-controlled greenfield expressways with links to existing highways. “The network under Vision 2047 will be fresh alignment. A cabinet note on funding plan is being prepared,” says a ministry official. Sources say the ministry will take funding approval for next five years at one go for effective implementation of the plan.

The railway ministry has also lined up plans for next five years. These include building economic corridors, one-day ticket cancellation refund, a super app, sleeper Vande Bharat trains and reduction of waiting lists. The Interim Budget had announced construction of railway economic corridors. The ministry has firmed up its plans. “Railway network needs capacity creation. The ministry plans to spend ₹11 lakh crore on building multi-modal corridors of 30,000 kms over next five-six years. This will address the issue of waitlisted tickets,” says an official, adding that the projects are being identified. A super app for railways is also likely to become a reality in first 100 days of the new government. The Centre for Railway Information Systems is working on the app, which will offer services that are currently being provided by a dozen different apps. Another initiative is consolidation of ministries like highways, railways, port and shipping and civil aviation into one mega transport ministry. For that, though, BJP will need a huge majority in Lok Sabha, as any compulsion to accommodate alliance partners will force it to have a large Cabinet. Bundling of infrastructure ministries for seamless decision-making has been on government radar for long.

Healthcare is another major area close to the prime minister’s heart, say officials. Ministry of health and family welfare is working on a preventive healthcare scheme for the elderly. Coal ministry, too, has lined up several deliverables, including operationalisation of new coal mines, transfer of coking coal blocks to steel companies and a slew of massive gasification projects.

Unfinished Agenda

In addition to the new initiatives, the new government will likely push some unfinished agenda from NDA-II, too. These include Labour Code and reduction in number of GST slabs. Aiming at rationalisation of 29 conflicting labour laws, government had brought out four labour reform codes — Code on Wages in 2019, and Industrial Relations Code, Code on Social Security and Occupational Safety and Health and Working Conditions Code in 2020. Code of Wages was passed by Parliament in 2019 and notified the same year. The other three were passed in 2020. However, as labour is in the concurrent list, all states have not formulated draft rules. Government did not take up the matter with states aggressively as implementation will involve marathon talks with trade unions. After the backlash against farm laws in 2022, it did not wish to antagonise the unions. Sources say labour reforms will be accorded primacy post-elections; the target is to implement the codes from April 1 next year.

Another unfinished agenda is simplification of GST regime. India has four GST rates — 5%, 12%, 18% and 28%. One of the key agenda items pending in GST Council is simplification of the slabs by merging the 12% and 18% slabs into a single slab of 15%. A Group of Ministers headed by UP finance minister Suresh Khanna is looking into the issue. A CBIC official told Fortune India a GST Council meeting on the issue was supposed to take place in February but is now likely to be held after the elections.

However, government seems to have hit the pause button on privatisation of two public sector banks announced in Budget FY22. The finance ministry is of the view that time may not be ripe for privatisation considering the resilience shown by the banks.

Macro Risks

The list of deliverables is long. Centre has not lowered the tempo on economic policy even amid the electoral din. However, the pall of uncertainty thrown by latest geopolitical conflicts may come to haunt India’s economy, something that government has to keep in mind while formulating policy. If regional conflicts with Israel escalate into a full-fledged war, it will likely singe the global economy by pushing up energy prices (Brent crude has already breached $90 per barrel), triggering high inflation and stunting growth. It will also impact India’s fiscal consolidation path. The already elusive window for global and domestic banking regulators to lower interest rates will recede even more into the horizon, leading to higher cost of funds, thereby impacting economic growth.

As Uday Kotak pointed out in a tweet on April 11, one needs to get ready for a global turbulence. In addition to planning for the future, it may be time to remain watchful of emerging global challenges and account for them, too.

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