India Budget 2017 — Is it Another Step towards Building Right Culture?

Till now all of us would have been drowned by the experts on how the budget will impact us, our businesses or dear ones. The numbers, %, forecasts would have supplemented to take decisions or our perception of country’s economic future (unfortunately economic conditions impact everything else, as we saw in some European countries).

The questions which always haunt us are; Will the budgetary actions yield the desired results? Will the intentions lead to smile on many of our faces, who work hard with integrity expecting a good life for us and our future generations?

I believe that all depends on the culture which we build around us, the disdain to good things or pragmatism to adopt change with a belief of good…. Around a year back I took a leap of faith, moved back to India as I believed the India story!! Small changes and/ or actions rightly fooled me that we are going for a big cultural shift. Small things like building a toilet, focus/ health on girl child, coming of an alternate political government in a state and other small things. Though these happened earlier also, we were not aware of and did not formed a part of the daily life of a middle class. For us the government only built roads, bridges, ran dilapidated schools and government servants those who rarely worked without incentives.

In any society, self-interests always block the change as everybody is afraid of change. It can be change to an individual, a company or a country. Nobody accepts change, which is inevitable and necessary to build robust institutions. I have experienced both in personal and in my company, a resistance to change. With little interactions with ex colleagues in government and financial sector, the winds which are driving the change is coming from all directions and if everything goes as per plan, will lead to culture shift.

Five key changes I can think of..

1. Digital infrastructure to bring more choices, transparency and ease to serve customers:

I still remember applying for a PAN Card in late 90s, it now hard to imagine how earlier the tax receipts were tracked. Recently Aadhar has come as a panacea for all processes which impact individuals. Aadhar has correctly become the pivot for all individual actions; combines everything under one number. The bank accounts, PDS everything which needs a name, can relate to a Aadhar card. This year, lesser paper copies of Economic Survey 2017 were handled, higher emphasis on digital copies, hope the same approach will be applied for all other documents also. Budget emphasizes on digitizing more government processes. A digital process will always be more transparent and less corrupt.

2. Fear of unaccounted wealth:

India is the only country I have been (though I have not been to many), where in any property purchase > 25% money changes happen in ill accounted or commonly called the black money. The money exchange happens in cash, without any record except on piece of paper between the buyer and seller. The emphasis in budget on the digitization of payments, restrictions on big cash dealing, re looking at Negotiable Instrument Act on cheque bounce and tax rebate on digital transactions will bring some curb on the black money.

3. Accountability from public servants:

There is a hidden fear in the mind of public servants, not only on doing wrong but not performing as required. I have observed that leaders in government departments are chosen those who stood by integrity and were decisive. I was happy to see a post by a Senior Civil Servant challenging a regulatory agency on starting an enquiry on some purchases (the post was later recalled). A culture where honest and decisive officers will be rewarded will certainly help.

4. Appetite for big decisions:

I have been involved in changing of currency in a small country, country where the population is less than 100 million.. less than one tenth of our size. The currency change is a very complex process, the ATMs, banks and communication both internally and externally must be regular within a tight schedule. Given the huge scale, geographical extent and complexity we have in India, a step to demonetize the currency was a very big step. Speaking to people after 8 October 2016, everybody was concerned on doing wrong as they feared that when Government can take such a big decision, which can make or break a government, small curbs to handle illegal money will be a cakewalk for them. Hats off to the employees in RBI, banks and all others who were involved (cash dispensing companies, security companies, others) and made this possible, else our ability on execution would be a challenge.

5. Steps to build a humane society:

Universal basic income, Beti Padhao (teach a girl child), building toilet in schools and creating a humane society is critical for all round development of any economy. Societies which take care of all its members, understand their need and allocate resources grows strong.

Though it is still early, the changes around me tell that I do not regret on my ‘’leap of faith’’ to come back to a better India!!!! There will be many those who have different perspectives, looking things with a different lens, equally correct but one thing I am certain that going ahead it will be a game of execution.

Peter Drucker said — Culture can eat Strategy for breakfast….I think culture and strategy are interlinked, a good strategy rightly executed will help change the culture the way we want.

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