I had chosen to refer Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the ‘Wizard of Small Things’ in the previous article because unlike the tradition of his predecessors announcing big ticket schemes from the Red Fort, he had preferred to address the masses on basic issues like poverty and development, equal treatment of son and daughter while being raised by parents, safety and protection of girl child and woman, need for basic amenities including sanitation and toilets in all village households and schools, inculcating the habit of keeping surroundings clean, creation of model villages, indigenous manufacturing of all goods of common use, etc.
National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government led by Prime Minister Modi has completed its 100 days in office on 2nd September, 2014. On the occasion, news channels have telecasted programmes and debates, and several articles have appeared in dailies with columnists giving their own opinion and assessment of the functioning of the government and outcomes.
While taking a review of this short period of Prime Minister Modi’s government, one can easily notice certain position and trends. Immediately after winning the elections with an overwhelming mandate, he was seen paying obeisance to the Parliament, indicating his preference for consensus rather than majority, sending goodwill gestures to SAARC countries by extending invitation to their leaders to attend the oath ceremony, interacting with top bureaucrats in an one to one meeting, tightening up of the government offices for punctuality and prompt disposal of work and even setting trends for his own colleagues and party men to act in a certain ethical mode.
The message during all these routines was direct and unambiguous that the rules of the game have changed in the new order. As against the practice of jumbo size cabinet of previous regime, he settled for a much smaller team for his council of ministers. There were talks of pressure and conjectures for imminent expansion due to the coalition government within weeks but there seems no sign as yet of Prime Minister buckling under pressure to make compromises in the governance.
After taking the reign of the Central Government, Prime Minister Modi and his government have taken several path breaking decisions. Born and brought up in a humble origin, he appears to be a genuine taker of ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’. He appears to have conviction that this can be achieved only with everybody’s (including groups, communities and rival parties) sustained and long term cooperation and willful participation in national building process. Though there is always an iota of doubt whether divisive forces with vested interests equally among rivals and supporters would allow this dream vision to materialize ever. Let us have an objective look at some of the more important decisions taken by Modi government during this short period:
Swachh Bharat Abhiyan
Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Mission) was announced in the Union Budget 2014-15 in a mission mode with a vision to provide total sanitation in every Indian household by 2019. This is intended as a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi on his 150th birth anniversary.The necessity to launch such a drive has been felt for many years as despite spending crores of rupees under various rural development schemes, an estimated about 626 million people still continue to defecate in the open having no facility of toilets in their houses.
The previous UPA government was working under the programme Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan with a plan to ensure sanitation to the entire populace for all rural households in the country by 2022. This programme has been replaced by the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan with a goal of tackling sanitation and issues in management of wastes in the country. Earlier in one of his speeches, Indian President too said, “We must not tolerate the indignity of homes without toilets and public spaces littered with garbage.” Under this project, toilets will also be built up in every school.
According to a Report recently released by the World Health Organization (WHO), India continues to be a country with the highest number of people in the world practicing open defecation - about half of its population. The prime minister's Independence Day speech also gave a call to India Inc to come forward to endorse the mission of providing modern sanitation facilities nationwide under their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
Within days of Prime Minister’s call to the corporate for undertaking the work of building toilets in schools on priority, a prompt and encouraging response was received from many corporate houses. Two major corporates namely Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) and Bharti Foundation, an arm of Bharti Enterprises announced a contribution of Rs 100 crores each as part of their CSR initiatives for constructing toilets in schools. TCS believes that the company would be able to finance sanitation facilities for girls in about 10,000 schools in the country with the allotted sum. Larsen & Toubro, another major company in the infrastructure sector, announced construction of 5,000 toilets on priority. On 15 August itself, the Oriental Bank of Commerce had agreed to spend about Rs 2 crore to construct over 200 toilets for girls and boys in government primary schools in villages.
It seems that Prime Minister Modi's call to make India a ‘Swachh Bharat' campaign is sounding well among all groups of the society. Apart from the TCS and Bharti, the Corporate houses like Aditya Birla Group, HUL, ITC, Adani and Dabur have responded well. The message has gone wide and clear across the nation and even common man has started realizing the importance of having toilets at home. Many of them who were following it just as an age old practice despite being reasonably well off, have now started constructing own facility in their houses. In a recent incident, six newly-wed women left their in-laws' house because there was no toilets available. This indicates how the mindset of people is changing now.
PM Jan DhanYojana
While the announcement was made from the rampart of Red Fort on the Independence Day, Prime Minister Modi formally launched his government's mega scheme 'Jan DhanYojana' on 30th August, 2014 declaring that the scheme was aimed at eradicating financial untouchability by providing bank accounts to the poor. As per reports, a record 1.5 crore bank accounts were opened in various bank branches across the country. The scheme was simultaneously launched at many places by chief ministers and union ministers with almost 600 programmes and 77,852 camps on the inaugral day to open bank accounts.
The scheme aims at targeting about 7.5 crore people by January 26, 2015, who will be provided with zero-balance bank account and a RuPay debit card besides the life insurance cover of Rs 30,000 in addition to accidental insurance cover of Rs 1 lakh. Each account holders will also be provided an overdraft facility up to Rs 5,000 in due course.
"If Mahatma Gandhi worked to remove social untouchability, if we want to get rid of poverty, then we have to first get rid of financial untouchability. We have to connect every person with the financial system. And for that this programme has been given impetus," Mr Modi said, adding further, "when a bank account is opened, it's a step towards joining economic mainstream."
For the records sake, it can be stated that public sector banks have never opened such a large number of accounts on one day ever in the banking history. Also insurance companies have never issued 1.5 crore accident insurance policies in a single day and the government has never organized any programme of this scale i.e. over 77,000 locations at a time.
The Chief features of the ambitious Jan DhanYojana are as under:
The scheme provides for a zero-balance bank account with a RuPay Debit card and accidental insurance cover of Rs 1 lakh. People who open bank accounts by 26 January, 2015, they will also be provided with a life insurance cover of Rs 30 thousand.
Account holders can avail bank loan of Rs 5,000 within six months of opening of the account.
The facility of funds transfer, checking of balance would be available through a normal phone, earlier restricted to smart phones only, with the introduction of new technology by the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI).
Mobile banking for the poor would be available through National Unified USSD Platform.
Digital India Campaign
The NDA government led by Mr Modi has launched yet another ambitious 'Digital India' programme as a focus area with the cabinet approving it in the recent past. The programme is aimed at targeting broadband connectivity to about 2.5 lakh villages, which is over one third of the total villages of about 6.41 lakh in the country as per 2011 census, and as many schools too with Wi-Fi by the year 2019.
Digital India will be an umbrella programme for the government's initiatives in the area entailing an expenditure of over Rs one lakh crore in the existing and future plans. Earlier The Congress led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had shown interest in digitally connecting India's villages but could not pursue it on priority.
The government plans to pursue the project of “Digital India” aggressively by making the country a manufacturing hub. It aims at reduction of imports in electronic goods with simultaneous increase in domestic manufacturing. With Prime Minister himself taking keen interest in implementing National Optical Fiber Network (NOFN) as backbone of “Digital India” campaign, the programme is likely to yield quick results with simultaneous employment to thousands of youth.
As per an estimate, currently about one third of India's 252 million internet users, and one fourth of mobile internet users, are in rural areas. But internet penetration in villages is very low as compared to Indian cities.The ambitious Digital India programme aims to offer a one-stop solution for government services making use of the mobile phone as the backbone of the delivery mechanism. This Rs 1.13 lakh crore initiative is intended to transform India into a connected economy as also to attract investment in electronics manufacturing and create millions of jobs particularly for the talented youth.
"We want to ensure that all the services can be provided through a mobile handset, especially, health, education, various government services and retail," Recently Telecom Minister announced highlighting futuristic vision of Prime Minister Modi. There is no doubt that in order to make use of the mobile phones to meet this objective, the government will need to endeavor the delivery mechanism of financial services in a manner to suite a villager or small city dweller with little education to go for mobile banking. Perhaps the Jan DhanYojana seeking a bank account to every rural household is also a part of this grand design.
Apart from the above, almost daily various announcements have been made by the NDA government and schemes launched intended to cover benefits to mass population and all inclusive growth of the economy. The government intends to work on a plan to issue national identity cards to all Indian citizens. The government also appears to be keen for working out revised norms for security projects with a view to attracting more foreign direct investment (FDI) in the country. Some of the more important key decisions taken by Modi government with long term implications during the last 100 days are as under:
Enacting legislation for the Judicial Appointments Commission at the national level replacing the existing collegium system of making appointments to the higher judiciary.
Decision to scrap the Planning Commission to be replaced with most probably a new body of the National Development Council (yet to be constituted).
Discontinuance of the erstwhile practice of Groups of Ministers (GOMs) and Empowered Groups of Ministers (EGOMs ) in order to expedite decision making process through the single decision-making entity.
Legislation to make amendment in the Juvenile Justice Act so that the juveniles over 16 years in age but guilty of heinous crimes such as rapes could be tried in regular court.
Working on a ‘Look East policy‘ with Prime Minister visiting Bhutan, Nepal and now Japan on priority in order to improve bilateral relations and give boost to political and economic cooperation with these countries.
Scrapping several defence deals with alleged kickbacks and scandalous past including Italian conglomerate Finmeccanica, whose subsidiary Agusta Westland is involved in offering kickbacks for the purchase of VVIP helicopters.
Setting up a Special Investigating Team (SIT) under retired Supreme Court Judge (Justice MB Shah Committee) to investigate the black money including source and beneficiaries of estimated Rs.50,000 crore ($8 billion) allegedly parked in tax havens abroad.
Making it mandatory for all government officials to declare their non-movable and movable assets and properties including their spouses and dependents in the family by the stipulated date.
Apart from the various financial schemes and administrative reforms, the pulse of the government could be measured by even a person of ordinary prudence provided he (or she) does not wear tainted glasses and have objective considerations. Reportedly past practice of queuing up of Corporate houses in PMO has stopped yet corporate world appears to be upbeat. “Prime Minister Narendra Modi has earned a ranking of eight out of ten in India Inc survey,” Recently Assocham quoted from a survey. The belief is gradually gaining ground among people that the Modi government is pitching for showing preference for implementation rather than big bang announcements with little or no follow-up.
On one hand, Mr Modi took personal initiative to show his government’s priority for improving relations with the neighbouring countries by inviting their heads on the very day of taking oath to join the government; on the other hand, his government has also made it clear that there cannot be compromise on national sovereignty and integrity by refusing secretary level talks with Pakistan opting to have prior dialogue with secessionist leaders of the disputed land. Of course, skeptics and critics will always find reasons to find fault with every action. For illustration, I was amused to find that a veteran political analyst and author is suggesting foreign hands behind the cancellation of talks.
The government is also seriously contemplating keeping to work on schemes like 100 smart cities, housing for all by 2022, efficient public transport and 24 hour electricity supply for all. In fact, a sum of over Rs 7,000 crore has already been allotted in the Union Budget 2014-15 for the smart cities possessing all modern facilities. Places like Dholera in Gujarat, Greater Noida in UP, Vikram Udyogpuri in MP are stated to have been selected to begin with.
On the flip side, the government has not been able to curb inflation so far and more particularly the rising prices of commodities (food grains and vegatables) affecting the common man. In a recent opinion poll conducted by a media group in the national capital, inflation (26.3%) appears to be the leading cause of concern with issues like electricity (15.9%) and corruption (11.8%) seen as much lesser problems. Also there is a suspicion among the minds of some people that the government is not doing enough to check inflation. Now that the government has started selling grains from food reserves and this will sure bring down grain prices to some extent. Critics of Jan Dhan Yojana brand it as being utopian or populist. To my mind it is neither of two but of course ambitious and frought with certain risks if there is laxity in supervision and execution during implementation.
Then the government also need to remain vigilant of extremist elements within the party and Sangh Parivar to dispel any efforts of communal polarization. There is a need to discourage party leaders and MPs making any controversial or provocative remarks on religious issues from public platforms which may flare up communal feelings and tensions among communities. On the international forum, the failure to ratify WTO treaty too has led to a global criticism that India has scuttled international trade agreement but it would remain debatable whether it might have been worthwhile to agree to it without securing country's concerns on food security.
To my mind, one of the most crucial impediment to our development is a wide spread uncivic sense of people. Be it a village, city or railway platform, it is so common to see men peeing in full public view or relieving themselves in open. For illustration, at least in many cities if the person takes trouble of finding and walking to a short distance, he can find a public toilet yet many people opt to urinate in the open. Then we routinely discard our garbage and litter in the public places and roads / streets with no consideration who will clear it and when. I record it with regret that I live in one of the posh localities in the national capital supposedly among the most highly placed, priveleged and cultured people, yet the place is not free from these hiccups. So this is going to be main obstacle in the success of the Clean India Mission.
Message is clear, a majority of us Indians are not socially planned and mentally programmed with adequate civic sense. As a citizen, a majority of individuals are faltering on this parameter. So perhaps the government also need to simultaneously make some investment to undertake a massive education and awareness programme including may be severe penalties as deterrent, in addition to what some individuals or NGOs are doing voluntarily, so that the physical investment and efforts made in the Clean India Mission do not go awry and waste due to mental laggardness of people.
The Prime Minister’s Independence Day speech was indeed a hallmark and breakthrough event. Whether a follower or critic, who can forget his emotional remarks ‘one daughter worth five sons’ in the context of protection of girl child and safety and education of girl students. Various schemes affecting masses, unconventional yet right approach to neighbouring countries, strengthening of ties with Bhutan and Nepal, diplomatic upsurge with counties like Japan, USA and China appear to be acts in right direction to earn rightful place for the country in the world fraternity. Instead of big bang economic reforms and dramatic announcements, the approach of people centric schemes rather quietly but decisively with focus on implementation appears to be a better approach on date. Also rather than finding faults and trashing all the decisions of the previous government, the NDA government’s endorsement of the Aadhaar Scheme and Food Security Bill indicate a mature outlook and right approach.
Notwithstanding above, let us agree that hundred days is too short a period to judge performance of a Prime Minister or his government. I still remember the economic reforms undertaken by Narsimha Rao government in early nineties of the previous century which actually started yielding positive results only around mid-nineties. We live in optimism. In response to my previous article, our valued reader and writer Mr Madathil Rajendran Nair said, “Modi is a wizard of big things. Just wait and see. May God bless him with a long innings. The Nation prays in unison.”
So it is important and wise to repose faith in the leadership and government and allow them reasonable time to work before we start being judgmental. In the earlier articles on topical issues, on more than one occasions I mentioned that it is not the lack of policies or legislation in this country but the poor execution which leads to failure or only partial success in handling issues and problems. It is heartening to note that Mr Modi's priority and emphasis is to improve execution at all levels of the governance.
A compelling feature of course of Modi government is that they have earned massive mandate of people which invariably gives rise to soaring expectations also. In such a scenario, the daily problems of common people such as price rise of commodities, amenities like electricity and water, health and education, public infrastructure and transport etc. acquire greater relevance. Unless these problems are simultaneously attended to urgently and on priority, people would soon start getting restless and disillusioned with the governance.