The chairman of the prime ministerís economic advisory council is contemplating whether to conceal his next report to the prime minister from the people. His concern has a basis. The finance minister will table his Economic Survey in Parliament in less than a week. It is supposed to be a confidential document, meant only for the eyes of members of parliament, until it is tabled. There was an unholy row some years ago when a premier newspaper of the country bribed a junior official of the industry ministry, obtained a chapter of the Survey and plastered it over its front page. As far as is known, no one was punished for this immature revelation. But it was nevertheless improper; no one in the media has tried to repeat that trick. The Economic Outlook, as Chakravarthi Rangarajan calls his report to the prime minister, should have appeared some weeks ago. But he does not wield the same power as the finance minister. The various ministries he has to get his data from prevaricated; so it is only now that he knows what to say. However, he cannot be sure that it would be what the chief economic advisor to the finance ministry would say in his survey, and is worried that the two representatives of the government may speak in different voices. He has doubts about its propriety: whether the government is right or wrong, it must speak with one voice.
This is not too worrying a problem. It is only this time that the two voices want to speak at the same time. Otherwise, the finance ministry keeps pretty quiet. It has recently started bringing out a mid-term report which, if it were published on time, should come at the end of September; it is usually a month or two late, and this year came out only in December. Then there are the Reserve Bank of Indiaís reports on macroeconomic and monetary developments. Thus, the government has always spoken with many voices; Mr Rangarajan has added only modestly to the din.
A single official view would be desirable if the government could know what was right. Unfortunately, the science of economics has not advanced to a level where it would tell the government precisely what it should think. That is presumably why the prime minister, who has as much access to the economic affairs department as the finance minister, has nevertheless asked Mr Rangarajan to give him an exclusive portrait of the economy every once in a while. If the prime minister does not get confused by a cacophony of economic voices, there is no reason to think that the nation will. While no one knows economic truth, one can get closer to it by taking a number of views, and by letting those that hold them dispute and debate. Let the economic council proclaim its views boldly and fearlessly.