Make in India? How?

India has been hobbled by bureaucratic red tape for decades. Indranil Mukherjee / AFP
India has been hobbled by bureaucratic red tape for decades. Indranil Mukherjee / AFP

In a stirring speech last September, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi caught the public imagination with a simple slogan: “Come, make in India.” Since then, he has been trying to make the case for turning India into the world’s next great manufacturing hub. But, as one incident illustrates, it won’t be easy.

AK Verma, an executive engineer with India’s Central Public Works Department, took leave in December 1990 – and never returned to work. Astonishingly, it took more than 24 years for the department to fire Mr Verma for “unauthorised absence from duty”.

Under India’s labour laws, it’s almost impossible to dismiss civil servants for any reason other than criminal misconduct. They stay in their jobs – or as Mr Verma did for unusually long – stay away from them while the work of government suffers. The 24-year absence has become a bit of a joke on social media but it does illustrate a serious point. India’s vast bureaucracy needs to do much more if “make in India” is ever to be anything other than a fine aspiration.

Published: January 11, 2015 04:00 AM

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