NEW DELHI – Indian economist Abhijit Banerjee, who recently was awarded a Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, discussed on Tuesday structural challenges facing India after meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose economic policies he has been critical of.
Banerjee emphasized the importance of establishing a health care system which would help families avoid losing “all their assets when somebody in the family gets sick” during a press conference in New Delhi organized by the Liver Foundation, West Bengal – a nonprofit with which Banerjee has been associated.
The Nobel laureate stressed the need to pay attention to healers or practitioners that do not have formal medical training, but who play major roles in a country such as India where a large part of the population lacks access to health care.
One could either ignore the healers, who are especially active in rural areas that do not have adequate health infrastructure, or acknowledge their existence and take steps to regulate and train them, he said.
The Indian-origin United States citizen, who was awarded the economic sciences Nobel along with Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer, has spent his career understanding and designing new ways of fighting global poverty.
The crisis in Indian banking – a sector dominated by state-owned banks which has been bogged down by non-performing assets in recent times – is “frightening,” Banerjee also said.
The government has been forced to merge together a number of public-sector banks and inject liquidity into the financial sector in an attempt to strengthen the banking system and boost lending.
Banerjee said he had a cordial meeting with Modi, who the economist has criticized in the past for policies such as the sudden withdrawal of higher-denomination currency bills in 2016, which triggered a liquidity crisis that lasted months.
“The prime minister started by cracking a joke about how the media is trying to trap me into saying anti-Modi things. He has been watching TV, he has been watching you guys, he knows what you are trying to do,” the economist said with a smile, referring to the media focus over his criticism of the Indian government after the economics Nobel was announced.
The meeting comes days after the Minister of Railways and Commerce Piyush Goyal said he did not agree with Banerjee’s work because “his thinking is ‘left-leaning’ and the people of the country have ‘totally rejected’ his thinking.”