[UPSC Mains Focus] Being vocal on the right local


June 10, 2020 | The Hindu (Link)

Mains Paper 3: Economy

Prelims level: Vocal for Local strategy

Mains level: What is ‘vocal for local’ strategy, How India can become self-reliant, and what steps needed to make Indian industry globally competitive.


Context:

  • On May 12, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called upon Indians to bevocal for local”.
  • The way in which we, as citizens and professionals, interpret the local will have far-reaching effects on the country’s landscape and prosperity.

Origin of the ‘vocal for local’ strategy:

  • We could transform ourselves into a greener and more humane society, with access to affordable health care, functioning public schools, choices over where we work and live, and support for those who cannot work.
  • Cities could breathe again and families could move to opportunity rather than be forced out of their homes by drought and desperation. or,
  • We could rapidly roll backwards, buying umbrellas with easily broken frames, toasters whose levers have to be held down, office chairs with castors that grip rather than slide, researchers who find it difficult to equip their laboratories and avoid reading research at the disciplinary frontier because they are too far from being able to produce it.
  • There will be people with experience and skills who cannot find the capital, the designs, or the markets to use them. Thousands of them continue to return to their villages each day.

A pointer:

  • COVID-19 has brought many countries to an unexpected fork in their development trajectories.
  • It has made visible new facts, figures and the feelings of citizens towards these facts and figures.

What is ‘vocal for local’ strategy?

  • Village demographics have changed dramatically. Pockets of virtually empty villages in the Himalayan foothills have become re-populated and many of the poorest parts of the country have experienced the largest inflows.
  • After the trauma of the last two months, re-united families would like to stay together. They will search for local livelihoods and they desperately need immediate and substantial social transfers.
  • Strengthening these communities would show a real commitment to the right kind of local. This requires making our safety nets wide, accessible and fair.
  • It involves building schools, clinics and hospitals within easy reach, and opening windows of credit to those with ideas without first asking them to label themselves as farmers or micro-entrepreneurs.
  • If we imagine villages as consisting only of farmers and labourers, hit periodically by cyclones and drought, our support to them will not move beyond Kisan credit cards and employment guarantees.
  • Those returning home are from many walks of life and have travelled far and wide. Development policy should help them use their skills and new perspectives to reimagine their communities while they earn a living.

How to get it right?

  • The wrong kind of local would be to promote goods that are made in India through tariffs, quotas and new government procurement rules.
  • We have attained global competitiveness over the last two decades in many new fields such as software development, pharmaceuticals and engineering products.
  • All of these have flourished through international collaboration and feedback from foreign consumers.
  • It would be short-sighted to imagine that we would reach these consumers if we restricted access to our own markets.

Steps needed to make Indian industry globally competitive:

  • Many of our sustainable energy initiatives have also depended on government action elsewhere.

Case study:

  • Solar energy was subsidised in Germany and in California when it was far more expensive than fossil energy.
  • China mass produced solar panels and costs of production came down enough for other countries, including ours, to start adopting them.
  • The pandemic should have made us aware, like never before, of our interdependencies, of the limits of our knowledge and the need for global engagement.
  • Sustainable and resilient communities cannot be built on a fiscal and regulatory structure that is highly centralised.
  • The Centre would have to devolve to the States and the States to locally elected representatives.
  • If we adequately fund, support and trust local governments and remain open to absorbing both the knowledge and products that others produce better than us, we can create a society where all, not just a few, matter.

Conclusion:

  • If we insist that everything can be “made in India” and close borders because a crisis sealed them temporarily, we open ourselves to mediocrity and isolation, continued mass poverty and greater vulnerability to future pandemics.
  • We have the capacity to refocus on the right local, if only we could agree on the vision.