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The Daily Fix: Modi’s efforts to improve India’s ease of doing business rankings are paying off

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The Big Story: Easier

Soon after Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge, his government made it clear that it wanted to move up the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index. The list examines the relative business regulation regimes of various countries and ranks them according to how simple it is to conduct commerce. This list is based on metrics such as how many licences are needed when starting a new company and how hard it is to shut one down. The report is based on quantitative data gathered in each of the countries it surveys, although because of the scale of the effort, the details tend to come from just the larger cities in each nation.

On Tuesday, when the most recent World Bank report was released, it was evident that Modi’s effort to move up on the list has paid off. India registered its largest jump on the index, moving from 130 up to 100 in just a year. But the great leap is vindication for the government, which has pushed through a number of changes in the hopes of altering India’s image of being a difficult market for foreign investors to enter.

On a number of metrics, India has seen a significant rise. The new insolvency law, for example, has helped India move up more than 30 places on that section of the list. On paying taxes, India has moved up from 172 on the list to 119, without the impact of the Goods and Services Tax changes being factored in. India remains one of the best in the world in protecting minority investors, moving up from 13 on the list to 4. Getting credit seems to have become easier, with the list saying India has gone from 44 to 29.

There are still some areas where India’s performance leaves much to be desired. In terms of starting a business, India is still one of the most difficult places in the world to do so, coming in at 156 on the list, one worse than the previous year. The index also saw India dropping on its property registration metric, down to 154 from 138 last year. On trading across borders as well as getting an electricity connection, India regressed.

Modi’s government is frequently accused of focusing on PR and managing headlines rather than improving the situation on the ground. But in matters like this, India’s image is about as important as the underlying factors. Since the list is built on what is supposed to be quantitative data, many believe that it is a reliable signifier of what it is supposed to be measuring.

Even if the findings are limited to doing business in Mumbai and Delhi, that is a huge positive, considering those cities are home to a signficiant portion of India’s economic activity. Even more promising is the fact that since GST was only implemented midway through this year, it hasn’t been factored in. This could push India even further up the list next year.

It is crucial for the government to capitalise on this momentum. The insolvency law, for example, is now being tested in real-life situations and the government must watch closely to ensure that it is serving the purpose for which it was framed. Self-goals like demonetisation and the chaotic manner in which GST was rolled out do not inspire confidence about the government’s ability to manage the economy – even if the signals to the outside world suggest India has become a better place to do business in. But overall the big jump in India’s ranking suggests this is one of those rare instances where the government’s promises to improve things are actually bearing fruit. This should set the stage for even more business environment reforms.

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  1. “At present the rise of intolerance is alarming,” writes Soli J Sorabjee in the Indian Express. “Even a moderate expression of a different point of view is viewed with resentment and hostility and there are vociferous demands for bans.”
  2. Newly appointed interlocutor for dialogue on Kashmir Dineshwar Sharma speaks to Vijaita Singh of The Hindu on the Centre’s intention behind the talks and how Pakistan features in the larger conversation.
  3. “The recent issue of recapitalisation bonds by the government is a step in the right direction,” write C Venkat Nageswar and Soumya Kanti Ghosh in Mint. “Recapitalisation is a tried and tested tactic and has been successfully replicated in many countries, including India, in the past.”


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Nayantara Narayanan brings you four charts that explain how climate change is hurting India.

“The most obvious direct impact of climate change on health is the exposure to rising temperatures, especially heat waves. The report estimates that 125 million more people were exposed to heat waves between 2000 and 2016 than in previous years. A record 175 million people around the world were exposed to heat waves in 2015 alone.

India has been disproportionately affected by heat waves, the report finds. Between 2000 and 2016, 125 million in India have been exposed to potentially fatal heat waves.

People over 65 are among the most vulnerable to heat and millions more people over 65 are being exposed to heat waves every year. Between 2000 and 2016, 31 million more people in India above the age of 65 have been exposed to heat waves than between 1986 and 2008.

The heat waves became considerably worse in 2014 when the average number of people over 65 exposed to heatwaves was 150 million more than in 1986-2008.”

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Relying on the power of habits to solve India’s mammoth sanitation problem

Adopting three simple habits can help maximise the benefits of existing sanitation infrastructure.

India’s sanitation problem is well documented – the country was recently declared as having the highest number of people living without basic sanitation facilities. Sanitation encompasses all conditions relating to public health - especially sewage disposal and access to clean drinking water. Due to associated losses in productivity caused by sickness, increased healthcare costs and increased mortality, India recorded a loss of 5.2% of its GDP to poor sanitation in 2015. As tremendous as the economic losses are, the on-ground, human consequences of poor sanitation are grim - about one in 10 deaths, according to the World Bank.

Poor sanitation contributes to about 10% of the world’s disease burden and is linked to even those diseases that may not present any correlation at first. For example, while lack of nutrition is a direct cause of anaemia, poor sanitation can contribute to the problem by causing intestinal diseases which prevent people from absorbing nutrition from their food. In fact, a study found a correlation between improved sanitation and reduced prevalence of anaemia in 14 Indian states. Diarrhoeal diseases, the most well-known consequence of poor sanitation, are the third largest cause of child mortality in India. They are also linked to undernutrition and stunting in children - 38% of Indian children exhibit stunted growth. Improved sanitation can also help reduce prevalence of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Though not a cause of high mortality rate, NTDs impair physical and cognitive development, contribute to mother and child illness and death and affect overall productivity. NTDs caused by parasitic worms - such as hookworms, whipworms etc. - infect millions every year and spread through open defecation. Improving toilet access and access to clean drinking water can significantly boost disease control programmes for diarrhoea, NTDs and other correlated conditions.

Unfortunately, with about 732 million people who have no access to toilets, India currently accounts for more than half of the world population that defecates in the open. India also accounts for the largest rural population living without access to clean water. Only 16% of India’s rural population is currently served by piped water.

However, there is cause for optimism. In the three years of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the country’s sanitation coverage has risen from 39% to 65% and eight states and Union Territories have been declared open defecation free. But lasting change cannot be ensured by the proliferation of sanitation infrastructure alone. Ensuring the usage of toilets is as important as building them, more so due to the cultural preference for open defecation in rural India.

According to the World Bank, hygiene promotion is essential to realise the potential of infrastructure investments in sanitation. Behavioural intervention is most successful when it targets few behaviours with the most potential for impact. An area of public health where behavioural training has made an impact is WASH - water, sanitation and hygiene - a key issue of UN Sustainable Development Goal 6. Compliance to WASH practices has the potential to reduce illness and death, poverty and improve overall socio-economic development. The UN has even marked observance days for each - World Water Day for water (22 March), World Toilet Day for sanitation (19 November) and Global Handwashing Day for hygiene (15 October).

At its simplest, the benefits of WASH can be availed through three simple habits that safeguard against disease - washing hands before eating, drinking clean water and using a clean toilet. Handwashing and use of toilets are some of the most important behavioural interventions that keep diarrhoeal diseases from spreading, while clean drinking water is essential to prevent water-borne diseases and adverse health effects of toxic contaminants. In India, Hindustan Unilever Limited launched the Swachh Aadat Swachh Bharat initiative, a WASH behaviour change programme, to complement the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Through its on-ground behaviour change model, SASB seeks to promote the three basic WASH habits to create long-lasting personal hygiene compliance among the populations it serves.

This touching film made as a part of SASB’s awareness campaign shows how lack of knowledge of basic hygiene practices means children miss out on developmental milestones due to preventable diseases.


SASB created the Swachhata curriculum, a textbook to encourage adoption of personal hygiene among school going children. It makes use of conceptual learning to teach primary school students about cleanliness, germs and clean habits in an engaging manner. Swachh Basti is an extensive urban outreach programme for sensitising urban slum residents about WASH habits through demos, skits and etc. in partnership with key local stakeholders such as doctors, anganwadi workers and support groups. In Ghatkopar, Mumbai, HUL built the first-of-its-kind Suvidha Centre - an urban water, hygiene and sanitation community centre. It provides toilets, handwashing and shower facilities, safe drinking water and state-of-the-art laundry operations at an affordable cost to about 1,500 residents of the area.

HUL’s factory workers also act as Swachhata Doots, or messengers of change who teach the three habits of WASH in their own villages. This mobile-led rural behaviour change communication model also provides a volunteering opportunity to those who are busy but wish to make a difference. A toolkit especially designed for this purpose helps volunteers approach, explain and teach people in their immediate vicinity - their drivers, cooks, domestic helps etc. - about the three simple habits for better hygiene. This helps cast the net of awareness wider as regular interaction is conducive to habit formation. To learn more about their volunteering programme, click here. To learn more about the Swachh Aadat Swachh Bharat initiative, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hindustan Unilever and not by the Scroll editorial team.