This narrative highlights two key areas pertaining to liberalization. Mr. Sanjay Gandhi recounts the difficulty in obtaining kerosene, due to stringent quotas and limits on distribution. The ‘kerosene license’ referenced to in the story, is a document granting permission to sell kerosene, but in pre-determined amounts and a fixed price. Kerosene falls under the purview of The Essential Commodities Act of 1955. The Act was instituted to determine the supply of goods deemed to be “essential” for livelihood, at a price ordained as equitable. The classification of goods in this category is a unilateral exercise by the state, and the evolving list of goods placed under or revoked from the Essential Commodities Act is often indicative of political considerations. Section 3 of The Essential Commodities Act empowers the Central and State governments to control the production, supply and distribution of essential commodities. Kerosene, and other petroleum based products, continues to be governed by Essential Commodities Act, and their circulation in economy is largely driven by civil supplies departments of various states, and through licensed “retailers” and “wholesalers” who have to file for the license at their respective District Magistrate. The second part of essay highlights the “pro-market” approach of the 1991 liberalization reforms, and its implications for entrepreneurship. The ease of opening businesses, online registration of companies and the state assistance in skill-development ascertain how liberalization bestowed ordinary citizens with economic agency.
I was born in 1971 in the Raigarh District of Goregaon, Mumbai. My mother was a housewife. But my father worked as a goods distributor for different agencies. He was distributing goods to as many as 40 surrounding villages, and agencies such as Hindustan Unilever, Proctor and Gamble amongst others. At the time when my father worked, there was a license known as a Kerosene License. People would come and collect kerosene, but the collection of kerosene was not open or free. People back then did not have the purchasing power to obtain kerosene directly from the market. To purchase it, everyone needed to have a ration card and we were allotted a quota for the amount of kerosene we could get. So, we were allotted half a litre of kerosene and had to manage our household activities with only that amount. But today, things have changed. You can see that people don’t even require kerosene anymore. People can easily get gas connections and manage their activities. So these things have truly transformed.
I also remember back then, close to a hundred people used to line up outside the shop every day to get kerosene. The shop was mapped to the villagers who went there daily to purchase Kerosene, but at a subsidized rate. So this was a very troublesome experience for us. Even if the shopkeeper wanted to give us more kerosene, he couldn’t, because that was how License Raj was. Before he could sell half a litre of kerosene he had to fill up a document showing that he had sold the exact amount as permitted. Similarly, if I applied for a passport back then, there were a lot of hurdles before I got it. Your name was on the waiting list and there were long queues. Those days have gone now. You can apply for a passport online and get it in a few days. Earlier, it was a task of 4-6 months. Getting an appointment, filling the information, collecting the documents was a long process. So there were lot of restrictions.
I completed my high school from Raigarh in Mumbai and then came to Pune to complete my engineering degree. At that time, the education was highly one-way, very face to face. It was like a Guru-Shishyaparampara. Now things have changed. Now, you can receive the same training in 6-7 different ways. I have developed an image processing app. A student can just place his smartphone on an image, and he can understand the whole concept visually or an audio-visual format. Earlier, it was very theoretical. But now, a student has access to e-learning, visual learning methods, a lot of apps and material from Google. Earlier, we didn’t have all this. Earlier we had to go to the library and search for references and books which were useful for our syllabus. Now, technology has changed so much. If a student is doing assembling of computers, immediately he can recognize if there are any errors in his process through software. Even artificial intelligence has been embedded in training. Also, the way I used to teach computer assembling before and the way I teach it now is totally different compared to earlier. A student has access to a lot more references. There have been a lot of changes in Education. There was no policy earlier which allowed setting up of autonomous education centers. The psychology then was to get into government endorsed education. People were concerned about the college, whether it was government recognized and government certified. That thinking is not present in youngsters mind today.When it comes to education, we have to set up the centers for which we require a lot of vendors to get all the equipment required. A lot of technology driven equipments are required. Earlier, it was tough to obtain them. Say, earlier there were no private universities and hardly any colleges. But that is no more the case today. There are lot of openings, opportunities and colleges.
The government is also giving licenses to private institutions. I started my company around 18 years back in Pune and today it is scattered across 4 states. Back then, an entrepreneur had to face a lot of hurdles. For example, to set up an organization he needed to first get an establishment license. To get this license, he had to wait for at least 2-3 months. Completing the formalities required a lot of time. But now this is online. There is no human interference. To start a business in India is too easy now. All he has to do is go online, apply for the license and he will get it. So, this has been quite a dramatic transformation.I have been involved in allied areas, for example staffing. Wipro has given me a contract to digitalize all police stations across Maharashtra. The project name for this is CCTS. Under this project, I have to select 450 engineers to complete this task in one year. The staffing of these engineers is on my payroll. Earlier it was tough to get skilled manpower. But now, because of the reforms the government gives funds to set up skill centers. Once we set up the center, people can easily be trained. Earlier, the government did not provide funds. Now it is very easy for an entrepreneur to set up a center and because of this, students are getting good training and he is absolved from the company. So, companies are able to get skilled manpower easily. I would further like to add that because of liberalization, foreign investment has started coming in a lot. For example, consider the medical sector. Earlier, they did not have any foreign investment coming in. But today, most hospitals are establishing chains, like Apollo or Ruby, and their norms are as per international standards. So, customer service has changed a lot and they are getting direct FDI. There is a lot of medical tourism, which was earlier not there. Because of these open policies, services to society are changing. Any segment is now open. People are competing better with the global market and it has also given foreigners confidence to invest in India. Earlier, people did not have the vision for such things. Earlier, this thought process was not there. This has totally changed. The reforms managed to transform this and the whole society, in general.
The story was collected by IndiaBefore91 fellow Praneet Jaswani, and edited by Simran Uppal, Intern for IndiaBefore91.