Economic Survey 2016-2017 – A new Avatar – Sign of Changing times?

After the Economic Survey 2016-2017 was tabled, it was put up for retail sale on E-commerce giant Amazons website. In fact even today it is available on Amazon at a price of INR 422 plus delivery charges!! This was unprecedented. It was a huge surprise in store for many of us who follow the Survey and the Union Budget closely.

The preface to the Economic Survey 2016 -2017 in a departure from the usual norm contains a direct potshot from the Finance Ministry which quote unquote reads as follows:

“Last year, to its dismay, the Economic Division of the Ministry of Finance – the authors of this Economic Survey – discovered that there is indeed a higher form of flattery than imitation: brazen pirating, and that too on the most globally public of platforms, Amazon. The anguish suffered by this violation of our intellectual property rights was more than offset by the gratitude we felt in achieving wide circulation for the Survey. We strive to do better this year, risking that the Survey might be consigned to the ranks of popular fiction”.

Interestingly, the words “Popular Fiction” gives an indication of what is to come in the Economic Survey 2016 -2017. Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramaniam has penned the Preface to the Economic Survey 2016-2017 and has indeed started off the entire exercise in a Novelistic Fashion.

Some noteworthy extracts from the Preface are –

– This year’s Survey comes in the wake of a set of tumultuous international developments…

– Clearly, the Survey needs to do full justice to all these short term developments, or else it risks being Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark…

– To deify or demonise demonetisation that is the difficult question…

– History, however, offers little guide for assessment and prognostication..

– Balancing the jealous, demanding gods of demonetisation and other short-term challenges…

– Structurally, therefore, the Survey is divided into three sections: The Perspective, The Proximate, and The Persistent…

– Cooperative and competitive federalism” is not a glib mantra..

– So, paraphrasing Keynes: “It must possess a rare combination of gifts …. It must draw upon mathematics, history, statesmanship, and philosophy-in some degree..

The entire Economic Survey 2016-2017 takes off exactly from where the Chief Economic Advisor leaves it. For instance look at some of the dramatic Chapter Titles: – daring to say the least!!

Chapter 1 “ The Economic Vision for Precocious, Cleavaged India”

Chapter 2 “ Demonetisation: To Deify or Demonise?”,

Chapter 4 “ The Festering Twin Balance Sheet Problem”

Chapter 9 “ Universal Basic Income: A Conversation With and Within the Mahatma”

The Survey continues in its match winning form by using quotes from varied sources ranging from revered Ramakrishna Paramahamsa’s famous saying, “ Taka mati, mati Taka” (money is dust, dust is money) to a longish quote from Booker Prize winning The White Tiger” by Arvind Adiga.

The Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi is quoted saying “ I want the cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any”.

The prose also allows us to travel the world by quoting “Among all forms of mistake, prophecy is the most gratuitous” from George Eliot’s celebrated novel Middlemarch to “ the most costly outlay is time” attributable to the Greek sophist Antiphon.

It must be said that the quotes are quite apt to the context.

The Economic Survey 2016-2017 has adopted a visibly bold and fresh approach which is a marked departure from the earlier years withered grass like prose and it has succeeded in what it set out to do i.e “grab eyeballs”. Kudos to the Finance Ministry on their successful departure from boring tradition!!

But the larger question cropping up in various forums now is whether this stylistic way of writing is actually translated into a meaningful survey and outlines the growth path which is to come in the near future and what we can look forward to or is it in the words employed by the Survey itself merely a glib way of masking unpleasant things in the past and nasty things being served up in the near future.

Whatever be it, as a Chartered Accountant and avid reader of literary and legal prose who is acutely interested in deconstructing the “Why and how of the vagaries affecting the Great Indian Economic Landscape” a fit way to pay tribute to the Economic Survey 2016-2017 and to the CEA Arvind Subramaniam for daring to defy tradition would be to say “As much as beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, the interpretation of intent and content of the Economic Survey 2016-2017 squarely vests with the mind of the reader thus far and no further”.