Ashok Kotwal
Editor-in-Chief, Ideas for India; University of British Columbia
Ashok Kotwal is a Professor of Economics at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. He served as the Head of the Department from 1995-2000 and as the Director, Centre for India and South Asia Research at the University of British Columbia from 2003 to 2008. His research has focused on development issues such as the process of poverty decline, labour and credit markets in developing countries, the role of agriculture in development, the role of international trade, and rural governance. More recently, he has been engaged in the study of poverty alleviation schemes such as Public Distribution System and MGNREGA (Employment Guarantee Act).

Articles By Ashok Kotwal
I4I Panel Discussion: The challenge of job creation
Posted On: 30 Jan 2018

In a recent I4I editorial, Ashok Kotwal described the challenge of job creation that is facing the Indian economy today. In December 2017, Prof. Kotwal moderated a panel discussion on the topic between Kaushik Basu (Cornell University), Renana Jhabvala (SEWA), and Pronab Sen (IGC India). The panellists presented their views on issues including raising productivity of the unorganised sector; role of manufacturing and services in job creation; impact of automation and artificial intelligence; and binding constraints on growth of the organised sector.

Video and summary of the discussion are available here.

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The challenge of job creation
Posted On: 15 Dec 2017

Topics:   Jobs

The process of economic transformation that entails labour transitioning from low- to high-productivity activities, been much slower in India than in other Asian countries like China. Why is this so and what can be done to generate more productive jobs in India or make existing jobs more productive, faster? In this editorial, Ashok Kotwal discusses the challenge of job creation in the Indian economy.

Ashok Kotwal will be moderating a panel discussion on this topic between Kaushik Basu (Cornell University), Renana Jhabvala (SEWA), and Pronab Sen (IGC India), on Monday, 18 December 2017, 7 pm, at IIC Delhi.

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GST Explainer: Introduction
Posted On: 16 Oct 2017

Seventeen years after its framework was formed, India’s biggest tax reform – the goods and services tax – was rolled out on 1 July 2017. Some consider the ‘one nation, one tax’ system to be a game changer; some are opposed to it; almost everyone has questions around its working and how it affects them. This explainer seeks to demystify the GST.
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Introducing a new feature: ‘Explainers’
Posted On: 16 Oct 2017


Our day-to-day lives are tossed around due to economic changes, resulting sometimes from government policies and sometimes by unidentifiable forces of the world economy. Governments always label every policy change as a ‘reform’ there by signaling an improvement. But it isn’t always so. Often it generates winners and losers and we want to know who these are. Our wellbeing is also affected by the churning in the outside world such as artificial intelligence, automation, global warming, oil prices, and so on. We may not be able to control these forces but at least we would like to understand how they would affect us so that we can safeguard ourselves. Moreover, you – our readers – would not be reading I4I if you were not intellectually curious.

With this in mind, we are starting a new feature ‘Explainers’.

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Debate: The Aadhaar Bill
Posted On: 02 May 2016

Tags:   Aadhaar , IT

In a debate on the Aadhaar Bill, commentators from academia and civil society will weigh in on issues around potential benefits and privacy concerns.

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Introduction to e-Symposium: Ideas for reforms in education policy in India
Posted On: 18 Nov 2015

Topics:   Education
Tags:   schooling

A New Education Policy is being formulated in India based on a time-bound grassroots consultative process. As a contribution to the discussions, Rukmini Banerji of the education NGO Pratham and Ashok Kotwal, Editor-in-Chief, I4I, are hosting an e-symposium on ideas for reforms in education policy. Over the next few days, the e-symposium will bring together key findings from recent research in education and experience-based insights by stakeholders from academia and civil society.

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A symposium on Piketty: Introduction
Posted On: 15 Jun 2015

Thomas Piketty’s book on ´Capital in the Twenty First Century’ has made waves. The fact that a 700-odd page tome full of numbers and graphs can become an international bestseller is itself noteworthy. It may be a testament to the concern that people have over the growing inequality within developed countries. What is startling is its claim that the developed world may be gravitating to the pattern of wealth distribution based on inheritance that characterised the pre-modern world. The contribution this book has made in putting together historical data that clearly indicate the trend of growing inequality is truly monumental. However, the notion that the crux of the matter is the fact that the rate of return on capital exceeds the rate of income growth may be confusing even to well-trained economists. Our motivation in putting together this symposium on Piketty’s book is to clarify the ideas in this important book on the burning issue of the day – ‘growing inequality’.
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Response to the Bhagwati-Panagariya rejoinder on MNREGA
Posted On: 14 Dec 2014

Tags:   MNREGA

In a recent article, Abreu et al. refuted the Bhagwati-Panagariya argument for phasing out MNREGA in favour of cash transfers. In this article, Abreu et al. respond to claims in a rejoinder by Bhagwati-Panagariya, regarding net benefits of MNREGA employment, the self-selection feature of the programme, and rural asset creation.
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(Mis)Leading attack on MNREGA
Posted On: 12 Nov 2014

Tags:   MNREGA

Bhagwati and Panagariya have argued for phasing out MNREGA in favour of cash transfers. In this article, Abreu et al. contend that the argument is based on inflating the costs of the programme and deflating the benefits. While they do not claim that all is well with MNREGA, they believe it needs better governance, not slow suffocation.
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Protectionism under the guise of food security
Posted On: 10 Aug 2014

Topics:   Trade , Agriculture

India has backed out of the commitment it made at the WTO negotiations in Bali in November 2013. The implicit explanation is that the government needs to accumulate food grain stocks to provide subsidised grain to the poor and ensure food security. In this article, Kotwal, Murugkar and Ramaswami critique this reasoning and India’s position on the issue.
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Emerging challenges: Economic and social
Posted On: 06 Aug 2014

Topics:   Political Economy

To mark the second anniversary of I4I in July 2014, we invited two eminent scholars – Abhijit Banerjee (MIT) and Mukul Kesavan (Jamia Milia) – to discuss the emerging economic and social challenges in India, post the recent parliamentary election. Take a look at a ‘highlights’ video of the discussion here!
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The challenge of fulfilling aspirations
Posted On: 15 Jul 2014

This year’s election is a watershed in Indian history. This editorial discusses possible reasons for the stunning defeat of the previous government. While there is no denying that the previous government could be faulted for many things including creating a leadership vacuum and letting corruption go unchecked, the knockout blow came from its inability to reform the institutions that are responsible for fulfilling legitimate aspirations of the masses. What should the central government do?

Ashok Kotwal will be moderating a Panel Discussion on “Emerging Challenges: Economic and Social” between Abhijit Banerjee (MIT) and Mukul Kesavan (Jamia Milia) on 16th July, 6-8 pm, Le Meridien Hotel, New Delhi.

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The perplexing case of Gujarat
Posted On: 07 Apr 2014

Topics:   Economic Growth
Tags:   Gujarat

The common perception is that Gujarat has performed a lot better than the rest of India in terms of development, particularly in the past decade. This column demonstrates that while Gujarat has been among the top performing states in terms of output growth, the fast growth has not translated into meaningful development in the state.
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Bali conundrum: WTO and Indian agriculture
Posted On: 15 Jan 2014

The outcome of the recent WTO meetings at Bali is a stopgap arrangement, which implies that the Indian government does not have to make any changes in the implementation of the new Food Security Act in the near future. In this article, the authors suggest disentangling consumer support and producer support via cash transfers so that India can build a safety net for its poor without violating WTO agreements.
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Some reflections on the National Food Security Act
Posted On: 10 Dec 2013

The Food Security Bill became an Act with little parliamentary opposition. Yet the public debate has lingered. Would subsidised food grains reduce malnutrition? Won’t it be better to invest in health and education instead? Can we afford the cost of subsidising food for such a large chunk of the population? Should we continue to waste money on the flawed PDS system? How will the grain markets be affected? This column offers a perspective on these important questions.
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A suggestion for WTO negotiations
Posted On: 02 Dec 2013

India’s new food security law is likely to breach WTO’s limit on farmer support. India is keen to ask for a temporary exemption from the rule so that the law can be implemented unhindered. But, in return, it may have to agree on trade facilitation. This article argues that while our food procurement policies do need reform, there is no link between the food security law and free trade.
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Doing a number on the Food Security Bill
Posted On: 11 Nov 2013

In a recent article, Kotwal, Murugkar and Ramaswami pointed out errors in estimation by Surjit Bhalla that led him to assert that the Food Security Bill will increase cost of food subsidy by 336%, and presented correct costs of the Bill. Bhalla then defended his methodology and calculations and criticised the authors’ arguments. This article responds to Bhalla’s defence, and says that the astronomical estimates of the Bill are irrelevant.
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Correct costs of the Food Security Bill
Posted On: 28 Aug 2013

In a recent article, Surjit Bhalla has asserted that the Food Security Bill will increase costs of food grain subsidy by 336%. Correcting errors in his calculation brings this figure down to 18%. In this article, the authors explain the errors and present the correct cost figures of the Bill.

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I4I turns 1!
Posted On: 06 Aug 2013

Tags:   I4Iturns1

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What explains the steep poverty decline in India from 2004 to 2011?
Posted On: 29 Jul 2013

Ashok Kotwal, Editor-in-Chief, Ideas for India, interviews Pronab Sen on the recent poverty figures that show a steep decline in poverty in India between 2004 and 2011. According to him, the shift in terms of trade in favour of agriculture and higher rural wages accelerated the trickle down of the fast economic growth to the poor.
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Food Bill: Neither populist nor unaffordable
Posted On: 19 Jun 2013

Criticism of the National Food Security Bill has led to the government dropping the idea of issuing an Ordinance and instead, saying it would try to get the Bill passed in a special session of Parliament. This article addresses some of the key questions raised by critics of the Bill.
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Why is poverty declining so slowly in India?
Posted On: 25 Feb 2013

Despite two decades of fast growth of per capita GDP, India has experienced a very slow decline in poverty. The column suggests that this disconnect between GDP growth and poverty decline can largely be attributed to the positive feedback emanating from a skill biased growth pattern.
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For the New Year
Posted On: 21 Dec 2012


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On ideology
Posted On: 12 Sep 2012


In recent debates over issues such as the National Food Security Bill or the use of the Unique Identification, we seem to find people with similar values in opposing ideological camps. This editorial seeks to understand why that might be, and argues that we should steer clear of misidentifying the mechanics of achieving certain goals as fundamental ideological differences.
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A new voice
Posted On: 18 Jul 2012


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