The Indian economy is running the risk of a structural crisis, and could soon be ensnared in a "middle-income trap", eventually becoming like Brazil or South Africa, according to Rathin Roy, member of the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council and Director of National Institute of Public Finance and Policy.
Mr Roy's comments come at a time of mounting concerns over an economic slowdown.
The Ministry of Finance in its Monthly Economic Report of March 2019 warned that "India's economy appears to have slowed down slightly in 2018-19. The proximate factors responsible for this slowdown include declining growth of private consumption, tepid increase in fixed investment, and muted exports."
Mr Roy suggested the risk runs much deeper.
"We are heading for a structural slowdown. This is an early warning. The economy since 1991 has been growing not on the basis of exports... but on the basis of what the top 100 million of the Indian population wants to consume," he said.
Those 100 million or 10 crore Indian consumers who were "powering" India's growth story, he said, have started to plateau out.
"It means in short we will not be South Korea. We will not be China. We will be Brazil. We will be South Africa. We will be a middle-income country with large numbers of people in poverty seeing rising crimes. In the history of the world. Countries have avoided the middle income trap but no country once in it, has been able to get out of this," he said.
This phenomenon is known by economists as a middle-income trap.
When asked how this squares with the government's rhetoric that India is the fastest-growing economy in the world, he said, "India is the fastest growing economy in the world. But this not the fastest growing economy in India's history. India is the fastest growing economy in the world because China is not the fastest growing economy in the world. We are growing at 6.1-6.6 per cent. and that is great. But this consumption slowdown is going to put that under threat. Sure, India will grow at 5-6 per cent, year-on-year for the next 5-6 years, but a time will come when that will stop."
When asked whether he has had a chance to share this with those in the government, he said he has " written (about these concerns) in the public domain, and have written in other official forums."
The state of the economy and employment figures have been made a major election issue by the opposition, especially the Congress, in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections. Politically, the BJP-led government has firmly maintained that any talk a crisis is overstated.
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