Lovers and haters of the ruling Narendra Modi government at the Centre will concur on one thing: this government has not been at a loss for ideas and schemes! From Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas to Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, the people have woken up to a steady stream of campaigns and programmes, with catchy christening and smart packages.
While the actual performance of the government has broadly been praised in the area of foreign policy (where it has simultaneously reached out to small neighbours and the big powers) and in bringing down inflation (though this is attributed more often to the lowering of global crude oil prices), it has been sharply criticised for its inability to handle an increasingly communalised environment where minorities, mostly the Muslims and the Christians, have been attacked by right-wing fundamentalist forces in a series of communal violence episodes over the last one year.
But beyond such broad platitude and censure at the two extremes, it makes sense to assess objectively the performance of the government vis-à-vis the major schemes which it announced during its tenure and the slogans it has evolved over the period.
Policies on black money
One of the biggest promises of Narendra Modi during the election campaigning is related to the repatriation of black money invested in foreign countries and its subsequent utilization for development of the poor in India. In the pursuit of its promise, the first step it took was to appoint an SIT (Special Investigation Team), as ordered by the Supreme Court, to investigate the unaccounted-for money stashed by Indians in foreign banks.
To curb the generation of black money, the Parliament has passed the Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets (Imposition of Tax) Bill 2015, in short ‘The Black Money Bill’. The Bill criminalises tax evasion in relation to foreign assets, punishing it with imprisonment up to 10 years and a penalty of 300 percent.
India has been lobbying at the G20 and in other global forums for automatic information exchange on matters relating to taxation and banking. G20 members have agreed to share information by 2017, which will open the road to locate the illicit wealth stashed in foreign banks.
The government however, reneged on its promise to reveal publicly the names of the people holding illegal money in foreign banks once the list had been submitted to the Supreme Court. It disclosed only two names. It is the same list which the UPA government had.
PM Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY)
The Prime Minister announced the launching of the biggest ever project on financial inclusion in India during his independence day (August 15) speech in 2014 whereby the poorest of the poor will have zero balance bank accounts. In about 8 months, by April 2015, the government had opened 1.5 crores (150 million) new bank accounts.
Key features of the PMJDY include savings bank accounts with zero balance facility, access to credit, remittance facility, an overdraft facility of rupees 5000 ($82 approx), pension and a general accidental life insurance cover etc. It also provides a RuPay Debit Card to the account holder. The scheme aims at channelising all government benefits to the beneficiary’s account and pushes the Centre’s Direct Benefits Transfer (DBT) programme.
Earlier too, efforts had been made for financial inclusion, though not in this scale. Census 2011 figures show that while 58.7 per cent of Indian households had access to banking services, almost half of the deposit accounts are dormant. RBI data shows that as of March 2014, only 7.2 per cent of Indian villages were covered by banks.
Therefore, the challenge for the PMJDY would be to ensure spread of the rural banking system and the usability of bank accounts. As there is no additional incentive for banks to promote the scheme, which is only an additional burden for their officials, the success of the scheme will hinge on this crucial aspect.
Although PMJDY provides bank accounts to the weaker sections, it has not come up with an operating model to ensure credit availability for them. It is, therefore, likely that the deprived sections will continue to depend on informal credit sources and the bank accounts will either remain dormant or used only for the government’s DBT scheme. The scheme as on its website is also silent on the mainstreaming of 23 million homeless people (Census 2011) with this facility.
Make in India
“Come, make in India”, “Come, manufacture in India…,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed to people all over the world.
The programme aims to make India a manufacturing hub, promote innovation, create investment opportunities, attract foreign investment, build skills for the youth and supply of goods and services to the world. This will, the government claims, create adequate employment opportunities for the youth of the country. It will also reduce dependence of India on foreign countries for imports, for example of electronic goods, by encouraging their manufacture in India.
In line with the programme, the government has put in place an investor-friendly policy on foreign direct investment (FDI), under which FDI up to 100 percent is permitted under the automatic route in many sectors. FDI has now been opened up in defence production, insurance, medical devices, construction and railway infrastructure in a big way.
The Make in India programme targets creation of 100 million additional jobs by 2022 in the manufacturing sector alone and creation of appropriate skill sets among rural migrants and the urban poor for inclusive growth. The government proposes to train about 300,000 youths annually in first two years and by the end of 2017 it has set a target of reaching out to as many as 1 million rural youth.
To the government’s credit, FDI between October 2014 and February 2015 has been $21.2 billion, which marks a 56 per cent jump over the $13.5 billion received in the same period a year ago, as per data from the Ministry of Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion (DIPP).
However, some genuine concerns remain. First, increasing FDI does not always guarantee generation of employment. The other is about the proposed amendment of the land acquisition law, facilitating massive transfer of land to the corporate sector. The amendment has been criticized on various counts and labelled ‘anti-people’ by civil society activists.
Aggressive manufacturing also has the potential to damage the environment irreparably, an aspect strongly highlighted by civil society. Unfortunately, the government, instead of engaging in a constructive dialogue and deliberation over the same, has in fact been trying to gag these voices, labelling the acts of NGOs as anti-national and imposing several direct and indirect restrictions on their activities.
The NDA government announced its vision to set up 100 smart cities across the country soon to cater to the demands of fast urbanisation and mass migration from rural to urban areas. It will also modernize the existing mid-sized cities.
The draft concept note on smart cities defines ‘smart’ as “smart design, smart utilities, smart housing, smart mobility, smart technology…” It states that at least 20 per cent residential units should be occupied by the Economically Weaker Sections. The concept sounds attractive, as it promises basic infrastructure like assured water and electricity supply, sanitation, a clean and sustainable environment through application of smart solutions.
The government has already approved the Smart Cities Mission for development of 100 such cities. It has also launched the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) of 500 cities, replacing the UPA’s Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM), launched in December 2005.
Housing and sanitation are among the most critical problems of our cities. Slums have visibly expanded across the urban areas along with rapid urbanization and crumbling of the village economy. The concept of smart cities, however, does not go well with the ongoing demolition of the slums.
Demolition of slums across cities has been witnessed during the tenure of earlier governments too. But the continuation of ruthless demolition by the municipal authorities in Delhi, Mumbai, Faridabad, Chandigarh, Gurgaon, Rajkot, Surat, Jaipur, Bhopal, Udaipur and Ghaziabad over the term of the current regime raises serious doubts about the intent of the smart cities. Whom are the smart cities meant for?
Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (Save and educate the girl child)
The Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (BBBP) initiative was announced in 2014 to arrest the shocking decline in the country’s child sex ratio (CSR), which stands at 918 girls per thousand boys in the 0-6 age group, it’s a decrease from 927 in the last 10 years (Census 2011).
The programme aims at the prevention of sex selection and female foeticide, survival and protection of the girl child and education and participation of the girl child. The initiative is being implemented in 100 districts, most of which perform poorly on the parameter of child sex ratio.
While the launch of this scheme has signalled a progressive intent of the government in a deeply-embedded patriarchal society, uncertainty looms large over its implementation due to slashed budgetary allocation to the ministries dealing with its implementation. The National Health Mission (NHM), which plays a critical role in ensuring health and survival of women and children and meeting the BBBP targets, has faced a budgetary slash.
The implementation of the Right to Education (RTE) law is also critical to the success of this scheme. The Economic Survey 2014-15, while flagging issues of out-of-school children, pointed out that over 10 million children were missing out on the benefits of RTE.
In May, the Union Cabinet approved an amendment to the Child Labour Act that would allow children to work in families. Such amendments legitimising child labour could have an adverse impact on girls’ education.
Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India campaign)
In a mark of tribute to Mahatma Gandhi on his 150th birth anniversary, on 2 October 2014, the NDA government launched the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and declared its intent and objective to make India free from the practice of open defecation by 2019. Ensuring dignity to women and girls was the collective responsibility of all, stressed the Prime Minister while announcing the scheme earlier.
The mission aims to eliminate open defecation by constructing toilets, sanitary complexes, drainage, and building solid and liquid waste disposal mechanism. It also intends to eradicate manual scavenging by converting dry latrines into sanitary latrines. Building awareness among people about health is a key aim.
The scheme has been promised an allocation of Rupees 134,000 crore for five years. However, the Union Budget 2015-16 slashed the allocation to Rupees 3,500 crore from the earlier allocation of Rupees 4,260 crore for sanitation programmes.
Behaviour change components would be the main drivers for sustainable sanitation in SBM. However, in the allocated budget, the percentage of allocation towards such components has been reduced.
Swachh Bharat Koshas had been set up to tap resources under corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives and non-resident Indian (NRI) contributions. But it is yet to be made clear whether states can use funds from the Swachh Bharat Kosh. The Kosh has purportedly disbursed funds worth Rupees 56.69 crore, but there is no clear information on the source and the amount of money that actually came to the kitty, indicating a complete lack of transparency regarding the Koshas.
In the first year about 4.9 million toilets were built. It is estimated that about 5 million toilets will be built in 2015-16. But this is much below the target. To ensure that the country has as many toilets as it needs by 2019, approximately 111.2 million toilets need to be constructed! In the next four years, 26 million toilets need to be built annually, which is five times the number of toilets currently constructed in a year.
Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas
Among the several slogans popularised by Prime Minister Modi gave before election, one was Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas, which means solidarity with and development for all sections of the people. This promised a development model that would be all-inclusive and the government will take all the communities together in the process of development.
According to The World Bank, one third of the world’s poor lives in India. Every third illiterate in the world is an Indian and about half of the country’s children are malnourished. India ranks deplorably high in maternal deaths. This is the condition despite the fact that India is one among the few countries in the world which has witnessed high GDP growth over the last two decades.
While capital intensive development model has generated wealth and reduced the percentage of people living under the poverty line in the country, the wealth has reached only a few, with an alarming increase in inequality within society.
Modi’s approach to fast industrial development by placing a thrust on more FDIs, opening up new sectors of economy to foreign investment, and his attempts to ease land and environment laws clearly signal the continuity of the same economic development model. Whether this can deliver on the promise of ‘solidarity with and development for all’ is a seriously debatable issue.
Another aspect that needs scrutiny is the alienation of minorities over the last year. The period has witnessed a plethora of communal flare-ups where minorities have been targeted. In May and June 2014 alone, 15 persons were killed and 318 others injured in such incidents, as reported by the honourable Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju to the Rajya Sabha.
Despite the PM’s call for an end to communal and caste violence, the situation on the ground has not improved. On the contrary, we find several ruling party MPs and ministers giving out irresponsible and communally insensitive statements, which further encourage the fringe elements and the perpetrators of communal violence.
If the PM is indeed serious about keeping his promise of Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas he should take a ‘zero tolerance’ stand on caste and communal violence.
To conclude, the schemes, which this government has initiated, are exemplary by nature. But their performance over one year does not paint an encouraging picture, though a year may not be adequate time to judge performance on such schemes. One would just have to wait patiently and assess the progress objectively, rising above the din created by the extremes of opinion.