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More autonomy to bank branches, removal of obstacles by Govt can revive economy post-COVID: expert

By R Dutta Choudhury

GUWAHATI, June 4 - All banks should give more autonomy to the branches to provide loans and the government should remove the obstacles in the way of economic development for revival of the economy in the post pandemic period. This is the view of economist Tridib Sharma, a professor at ITAM, one of the most prestigious institutes of higher education in Mexico.

Following are excerpts of an interview with Sharma, an alumnus of Hans Raj College and Jawaharlal Nehru University who did his PhD from the University of Southern California:

Assam Tribune: What will be your suggestion for revival of the economy of Assam following the COVID-19 pandemic?

Tridib Sharma: Revival, I believe, will and should be carried out by individuals. The best that the government should do is to help in the process and not create obstacles. It is extremely important that the provision of credit is not delayed. Credit need�not be cheap, but it should not be delayed. Banks, both public and private, should�decentralise decision-making and endow local branches with more autonomy. What reconstruction is feasible, and how, depends on local information and expertise. Such information and expertise should be respected. This time around, babus and politicians should hold back on their �all knowing� egos and �do good� attitudes and give up on grandiose plans. They should let people lead the recovery and help as much as they can in the process. But I doubt that this will happen. As usual, grand schemes will be announced with money directed toward the greasing of political wheels.

AT: The lockdown following the outbreak of COVID-19 exposed several weaknesses of Assam. One of the major�weaknesses�that came to the fore is that the State is heavily dependent on other states of the country on essentials. What will be your suggestion to deal with the issue in the days to come?

TS: On the contrary, we should depend on more sources, not less. This will act as insurance. At the same time we should expand our markets. It is high time that we looked toward our�neighbouring countries as trading partners. Expansion of markets does not merely depend on the application of marketing mantras. It�crucially depends on our attitudes and ability to build trust. Chauvinism and fundamentalism will not help.�

AT: This year the lockdown posed a major threat to the farmers, mainly because they failed to sell their products. A weak system of marketing seems to be a major issue in Assam. What will be your suggestion to improve the marketing system?

TS: Again, the solution has to come from the ground, not me. Trade, labour and transport networks have been destabilised. I would be lying to you if I were to tell you that I know how they can be rebuilt. This is a time for us to learn from grassroots organisations and institutions.�

AT: Tea industry is one of the major industries in Assam and according to an estimate, the industry suffered heavy losses during the lockdown. As imports are coming down over the years with China, Kenya and Sri Lanka marching ahead in tea exports, what will be your suggestion to boost the tea industry?

TS: The industry has been suffering for quite some time. New methods of organising production and marketing have to be introduced. Labour�reforms are absolutely necessary. Foreign investment is also necessary, right from production to international marketing. But without political stability, and a desire to foster competition, I do not see this happening.�

AT: Unemployment is always a major problem for Assam and because of the lockdown, more than five lakh youths from Assam working mostly as security guards, hotel waiters, etc., in other states of the country, are returning home. Is there any possibility of providing them with self-employment opportunities?

TS: If by �employment opportunities� you mean the dismantling�of ridiculous regulations, then yes. Absolutely. If you mean a reduction in the �fees� that the vegetable vendor has to pay the �authorities�, then yes. But our �wishing� will not make this feasible. It has to do with collective action. As long as chauvinism and fundamentalism remain the dominant discourse in our election, I do not see any change in the near future.

AT: Despite best efforts, Assam has not yet been able to attract investors from outside to the desired extent. What will be your suggestion in this regard?

TS: Underdeveloped infrastructure, lack of law enforcement and political rent seeking act as deterrents to outside�investment. On the other hand, local talent will attract investment. I am very optimistic on this front, not only regarding Assam, but the entire North East. Along this direction, we have to put tremendous emphasis on education.

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