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Economy getting back on track faster; big investment, infra push must become driving force for growth: PM Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi says India will become a ‘global manufacturing hub on its own strengths’, adding that he does not believe in ‘gaining from the loss of others’.

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Narendra Modi

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi is optimistic about the long-term growth trajectory of the country despite the fact that India is grappling with a slowing economy and economic disruptions caused by the coronavirus outbreak. PM Modi asserted that the economy is getting “back on track faster than expected” and all five indicators—agriculture, foreign direct investment (FDI) flows, auto sales, steady growth in manufacturing, and increase in EPFO subscribers clearly demonstrate that the job market was “picking up” now.

In an exclusive interview to the Economic Times, the PM said: “I feel the big push to investment and infrastructure should become the driving force for recovery and growth.”

Stimulus package and reforms

The Prime Minister further emphasised that the Centre will ensure that all necessary measures needed to continue stimulating the economy are “undertaken in a timely manner while ensuring overall macroeconomic stability.” Mentioning his government’s several reforms measures across various sectors such as coal, agriculture, labour, defence and civil aviation, PM Modi said these timely steps will help to put the economy back on the high growth path that it was on before the Covid crisis.

PM Modi also listed the extensive reforms brought in the agriculture and labour sector, and said, “It was often jokingly said that India had more labour laws than the labour in the formal sector. Labour laws often helped everyone except the labour.” He also mentioned that Aatmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant Inda) announcements are a “big stimulus to the economy, particularly to small businesses and the informal sector.”

Lives and livelihoods

He highlighted that the government focused on saving lives among the vulnerable even as many analysts and newspapers columnists sought incentives for the corporate sector, mentioning that authorities were able to “provide relief on a massive scale to people in a very short time, without any complaint of corruption.”

Stating that his government first announced PM Garib Kalyan package to ease the pain of the poor people, the Prime Minister stated that “free foodgrain and pulses to 800 million people for eight months is a programme without parallel in human history.”

PM Modi said his government took “a pre-emptive, proactive, graded, whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach to tackle the pandemic. India has taken a science-driven approach,” adding that several studies mentioned that the Indian response “helped in avoiding a situation that could have led to rapid spread of the virus with much more deaths”.

Major world hub for manufacturing

Without naming Beijing, PM Modi said India will become a “global manufacturing hub on its own strengths”, adding that he does not believe in “gaining from the loss of others.” He further elaborated that India had the specific advantage of “democracy, demography and demand” to make this happen. “A new world order was formed after World War II,” PM Modi said, adding something similar will happen in the post-pandemic world.

Lauding India’s efforts during the past few months, PM Modi the country has become the “second-largest manufacturer of PPE kits in a very short duration and is also making a mark in manufacturing technologically advanced items such as ventilators and from almost negligible capacity earlier, we are now manufacturing thousands of ventilators in quick time.”

PM Modi said: “As per Moody’s, 154 greenfield projects from the US have come to India in 2020, compared to 86 in China, 12 in Vietnam and 15 in Malaysia. This is a clear indication of global confidence in India’s growth story going forward. We have laid strong foundations to make India the foremost manufacturing destination.”

Assuring that arrangements were in place for coronavirus vaccine distribution, the Prime Minister said: “I would like to assure the nation that, as and when a vaccine becomes available, everyone will be vaccinated. No one will be left behind.”

GST row

On the issue of goods and services tax (GST) compensation to states, PM Modi mentioned that while a consensus was evolving, and there is no truth in it that the Centre was insensitive to state concerns. “When VAT replaced CST under the UPA government, they had promised to compensate states for any revenue shortfall. But you know what UPA did? They refused to compensate the states despite their commitment. Not just for one year but continuously for five years. This was one of the reasons why the states did not agree to GST regime under UPA…we took it upon ourselves to clear those dues when we assumed power in 2014. This shows our approach to federalism,” the financial daily quoted him as saying.

India

Farmers adamant on scrapping of 3 farm laws as parleys continue

The leader requested the Union government to announce withdrawal of the three laws, calling these “black laws”.

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Farmers and Students

New Delhi, Dec 5 : As the fifth round of parleys between the government and farmer leaders were underway here on Saturday afternoon, several representatives of farmers said they wanted only the repeal of the three new farm laws.

Talking to IANS, they also warned of intensifying their ongoing 10-day protest on the Delhi’s interstate borders at the national level if their demands were not met.

While the government was agreeable to amendments to The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020; The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020; and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020, farmers are pushing for the scrapping of the “anti-farmer” laws.

Kirpa Singh Natthuwala, President of Kisan Bachao Morcha from Punjab, told IANS that the farmers “don’t come up with a new agenda everyday”. “Our first and only agenda is to get abolished the three farm laws.”

The farmer leader said that the Union government was saying since the enactment of these laws in September that these were in favour of the farmers and that middlemen were behind the farmers’ protest.

“Now the government has suddenly realised that there are some faults in these laws. According to the farmers, these laws are completely wrong. We request the government to repeal these laws because they are not only harmful for Indian farmers but also over 130 crore Indians. We are approaching the Centre with a single-point agenda to get these farm laws repealed,” said Singh, who is among 40-odd farmer leaders participating in the 5th round of government-farmers talks.

Farmer leader Rampal Jat, President of Kisan Mahapanchayat, warned that if the 5th round of talks on Saturday did not fructify, farmers from Rajasthan would march along the National Highway-8 towards Delhi and camp at the Jantar Mantar in central Delhi.

The leader requested the Union government to announce withdrawal of the three laws, calling these “black laws”.

Rampal also stressed that the government should give in writing that the Minimum Support Price (MSP) system would continue.

A majority of farmers, protesting since November 26 on the Singhu border, with whom IANS talked said that they would continue with their agitation till the government met their demands, and that the protest would otherwise be intensified.

Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) General Secretary Harvinder Singh Lakhowal has called for a ‘Bharat ‘Bandh on December 8 if the government did not withdraw the farm laws, saying “all roads leading to Delhi in the coming days will be blocked if the new farm laws are not scrapped”.

The fifth round of talks started at 2 pm at Vigyan Bhavan in central Delhi. A group of nearly three dozen farmer leaders are participating in the meeting. Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, Consumer Affairs Minister Piyush Goyal, Union Minister of State Som Prakash and Agriculture Secretary Sanjay Agarwal are also present in the meeting, like in the previous rounds of talks on December 1 and 3.

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Business

‘Economic recovery from next year itself’, says FM Nirmala Sitharaman

India can see a proper recovery next year on the back of positivity and confidence due to Covid-19 vaccines, Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said on Friday, arguing that steady growth and capacity expansion in the past two months had pulled the economy out of its pandemic trough.

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Nirmala Sitharaman

India can see a proper recovery next year on the back of positivity and confidence due to Covid-19 vaccines, Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said on Friday, arguing that steady growth and capacity expansion in the past two months had pulled the economy out of its pandemic trough.

Speaking at the 18th Hindustan Times Leadership Summit, Sitharaman also defended the Centre’s controversial farm reform laws, said she is not worried about food inflation and hailed the spirit of cooperation that steers the running of the GST Council.

The finance minister’s comments came days after UK became the first country in the world to approve a vaccine made by Pfizer-BioNTech, with the United States and European Union expected to grant regulatory clearances later this month to stave off a disease that has killed 1.5 million worldwide.

So far, four vaccine candidates – including one that is being manufactured in India — have declared encouraging late-stage trial results. Hours before the summit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that India is set to get a vaccine within weeks.

“The vaccine coming brings in a certain positivity. A vaccine efficiently delivered…will only bring in confidence among the people, both the workers, employers and also people who are engaged in some or the other economic activity,” Sitharaman said at the 18th Hindustan Times Leadership Summit.

“The vaccine will bring in optimism and positivity. With the vaccine, economic activity will get traction.”

With 2020-21 being seen as when large numbers of Indians will get inoculated, with frontline workers and vulnerable populations prioritised, the finance minister also pointed towards the importance of logistics and distribution networks. She refused to specify how much money would be set aside for Covid-19 immunisation in next year’s Union budget.

“We don’t know what will be the details which come with the vaccine. Will it be one dose or two doses? Will it be two doses with two or three weeks in between? Will two doses be sufficient? Unless we get all these details, I really cannot work towards a number.”

At the HT Summit two weeks ago, Serum Institute of India CEO Adar Poonawalla had said that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine which is being manufactured in India — could become available for the general public by April-May next year and is likely to cost around Rs 500-600 for a dose.

Sitharaman acknowledged that the current situation in the country was drastically different from when she presented the budget in February but added that the government had steered the country through the pandemic with a judicious mixture of fiscal and monetary measures.

The finance minister also touched upon the recovery in the second quarter of 2020-21, when the economy shrank by 7.5, outperforming most expectations and registering is a sharp improvement from the 23.9% contraction in the previous quarter.

Sitharaman attributed this showing to an expansion in the core sectors and said that just pent-up demand and the festive season could not have driven this recovery alone. She also pointed to revenue from the Goods and Services Tax (GST) exceeding Rs 1 lakh crore for the second consecutive month in November, as a clear indication that economic activity was returning to normal.

“Recovery is consistently happening in the last two months…you hear core sector industries, cement, iron and steel, integrated plants are all going in for expansion, not just in one unit but across the country, you’re hearing of expansion,” she said.

“There is an indication that additional demand coming in. It is not pent up or festival demand. It is likely to sustain.”

Sitharaman contested the assumption that private sector investment continued to be weak, and said core sector expansion couldn’t happen without additional private buy in.

“Banks are also seeing industry approach for additional expansion-related funding requests. You are seeing expansion in capacities and it cannot be without private investment,” she said, adding that one may have to wait for a month to see if credit is also equally expanding.

When asked about inflation – hours after the Reserve Bank of India held rates, indicating inflationary anxieties – Sitharaman said she was not worried by what she termed as seasonal fluctuations.

“There are seasonal ups and downs in prices and the commodities about which we are seeing clear hike in prices are largely seasonal. If you take foodgrains and edible commodities, there are seasonal fluctuations. The government, through inter-ministerial group, has been very frequently looking at changes and taking conscious calls to fill in any supply level shortages through imports and logistical constraints are getting sorted.”

“This blip in inflation, particularly of food items, will ease out.” Hours before, RBI governor Shaktikanta Das said retail inflation is likely to remain elevated and pegged it at 6.8% for the third quarter.

Sitharaman defended the government’s relief measures for the middle class, and said 300 million people received cash transfers during the pandemic lockdown period but acknowledged that the fiscal deficit will certainly be higher than the 3.5% of GDP target set in the 2020 Union budget.

“What has given me most strength is that people of India, given the challenges and difficulties, have still kept going and today, that’s the reason for the revival… It’s the virus and related matters were more of a worry than the economy,” she added.

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Health

Covid-19 vaccine should be given free to everyone, says NCP’s Nawab Malik

During an all-party meeting on Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi informed the opposition leaders that the Centre is in talks with all the state governments over the price of the vaccine.

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NCP nawab malik

A day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi held an all-party meeting on Covid-19 vaccination in the country, Maharashtra Cabinet Minister and NCP leader Nawab Malik has said that Covid-19 vaccine should be given free to every citizen of the country.

Speaking to ANI, Malik said, “The Prime Minister held an all-party meeting and now they are saying State and Centre will decide the price, how can it be? In Bihar, they have given the assurance that vaccination will be free. We demand vaccine should be given to each Indian free of cost.”

During an all-party meeting on Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi informed the opposition leaders that the Centre is in talks with all the state governments over the price of the vaccine and that the decision regarding the pricing will be taken keeping public health as the topmost priority.

He said that a Covid-19 vaccine is expected to be ready in the next few weeks, and as soon as scientists give a green signal, vaccination will start in India.

“Teams of central and state governments are working together for the vaccine distribution. India has the expertise and capacity in vaccine distribution and fares better compared to other nations,” said PM Modi.

“As soon as scientists give a green signal, vaccination will start in India. Healthcare, frontline workers, and the elderly people suffering from serious diseases will be given priority in vaccination,” he stated while asking suggestions from the representatives of the party.

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