– Neeraj Bajpai
As India prepares to mark its 69th Independence Day on Saturday, people pin hopes on flagship programmes, unfurled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the last one year, kindling optimism notwithstanding sceptics apprehensions that results are a far cry. Power corridors contest criticism and back up statements with piles of data and physical targets accomplished on the ground rubbishing claims of critics who rue, “let us come to the ground reality –nothing extraordinary has been done except for high sounding announcements”.
Much has been accomplished in each and every scheme – may it be “Make in India, Swachh Bharat, Dedicated freight corridor, Jan Dhan Yojana , social security covers, Smart Cities, Digital India, Namami Gange, Skill Development, Indradhanush Yojana for children health, Girl child safety and education- and many others and “we are sure that huge projects will dot the nation’s canvas in next four years,” they say. Eyes are now riveted towards ramparts of the Red Fort for Independence day address, second of Mr Modi who during an interview a few months ago, exuded confidence that the nation was on the march, and his government was clear on the stand. “Any discrimination or violence against any community will not be tolerated. My position on this is very clear: Sab ka Saath, Sab ka Vikas.”
A bird ‘s eye view of today’s scenario reveal that the developmental agenda is surging ahead and results will take time. The economy is showing signs of recovery, though at a slower pace, according to the latest Confederation of Indian Industry-ASCON survey. The survey for the April-June FY16 quarter reveals a reversal from the earlier trend of slowing growth, with indications of a recovery taking shape in the economy. Of the 93 sectors surveyed, the share of sectors recording excellent growth of more than 20 per cent has surged up to 16.1 per cent (15 out of 93 respondents) as against 7.1 per cent (8 out of 112) recorded in the year ago period.
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has recently kept its policy interest rates and other key benchmarks unchanged , choosing to wait for more clarity about monsoon play-out and the indications from the US Federal Reserve for any further accommodation on the cost of borrowing. The Repo rate at which banks borrow from the RBI has been kept unchanged at 7.25 and cash reserve ratio at four per cent in the bi-monthly credit policy review by the apex bank. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley is of the opinion that conditions are favourable for reduction in the cost of borrowings on the back of low global commodity prices. He has said that the prospects of Kharif production has also improved and food inflation is expected to remain under control.
In a major initiative aimed at better implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), the government has given approval for direct release of wages to workers under the scheme.Under the new system, the States will be benefited as workers would be assured of payment of wages on the second day of the pay order generation. Gram Panchayats would be empowered to take up work according to the agreed Labour Budget without struggling for release of funds. In return, the Central Government would gain by releasing the funds as this will lead to greater transparency in the movement of funds and lesser level of corruption.
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar recently informed the Lok Sabha that the policy of ‘One Rank One Pension (OROP)’ for the Armed Forces has been adopted by the Government to address the pension disparities. The modalities for implementation were discussed with various stakeholders and are presently under consideration of the Government.It will be implemented once modalities are approved. The OROP implies that uniform pension be paid to the Armed Forces personnel retiring in the same rank with same length of service, irrespective of their date of retirement and any future enhancement in the rates of pension be automatically passed on to the past pensioners. The government, say officials, is taking care of each segment, may it be poor workers in rural belts or forces on frontiers.
The “Make in India” campaign launched a year ago, they assert, is making steady progress with plans to develop industrial corridors, smart cities, world class infrastructure with state of the art technology and high speed communication. Foreign direct investment (FDI) has been opened up in a big way in defence production, insurance, medical devices, construction and railway infrastructure.
Smart cities, one of the ambitious projects, is on with full steam with an investment entailing Rs 48,000 crore from the Centre. 100 smart cities will be developed in next five years. The Centre has approved spending of about Rs one lakh crore on urban development under two new urban missions in next five years. The twin projects unveiled a few months ago comprise the smart city mission and the Atal Mission for rejuvenation and urban transformation ( AMRUT ) of 500 cities with outlays of Rs 48,000 crore and Rs 50,000 crore.
The smart cities mission seeks to ensure basic infrastructure services to enable a decent quality of life in urban pockets and a clean and sustainable environment and adoption of smart solutions. Fourteen countries have expressed interest in building smart cities. These include US, Japan, China, Singapore, Germany, France , Netherlands, Sweden, Israel, Turkey and Australia. Each selected city, under the mission, would get central assistance of Rs100 crore per annum for five years and each state will short list a certain number of smart city aspirants as per the norms. Work is under way to enlist regions.
Citing progress on the growth agenda, official sources say Rs 15,500 crore contracts were given in the past few months by the Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation Limited (DFCCL). The progress on the ambitious projects could be judged from the fact a sum of Rs 100 crore per month on the Khurja–Kanpur section is being spent alone against earlier investment of Rs 30 crore per month.The value of contracts awarded since November by the DFCCL is a whopping Rs 15,485 crore and it is more than total works awarded by the same organisation in the past six years, that stands at Rs.13,125 crore, said officials. Most of these contracts are for the construction of track and structures and electrical and signalling installations on the Western and Eastern Freight corridors.
Officials feel that the two DFCs would free up 70 per cent of railways cargo carrying capacity, but land acquisition challenges face the iconic project.This is despite the fact that 84 per cent of land acquisitions have been completed in both the corridors-including 88 per cent in the western and 79 per cent in the eastern corridor. Sixteen per cent is hanging fire, awaiting the new land laws.The Joint Parliamentary committee on the Land bill has decided to defer tabling of the report to the winter session in wake of non-finalisation of the report. Now, a fresh ordinance will be brought to go ahead with work plans.
Other highly trumpeted plan which evoked public response is the Swachh Bharat campaign launched by the Prime Minister on Rajpath on October 2 last year.The Mission was launched with the objective of ensuring by 2019 cleanliness and open defecation free urban areas in all 4,041 statutory cities.Estimated cost is Rs 66,009 crores out of which the Centre’s share is Rs 14,643 crores.As many as 3.64 lakh toilets had been constructed in schools till August 3 last,official sources say. States and union territories, public sector undertakings from 15 Central ministries and more than 10 private sector entities are involved in construction of toilets in schools, Union Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani said recently.
Mr Modi says the ‘Swachh Bharat’ mission has been started to see that health and hygiene issues of the poor do not affect their working capacity and output. Official sources said physical targets include 1.04 crore household toilets ,2.52 lakh community toilets seats and 2.54 lakh public toilet seats and assisting 30 crore urban population with solid waste management practices.During 2014-15, about Rs 800 crore has been released to 28 states/ UTs.Over two lakh household toilets have been built besides 12,000 community toilets during the year.In a survey, Mysore city has topped the Swachh Bharat rankings of 476 cities in the country with three more from the state of Karnataka figuring in the top ten.West Bengal was ranked 25th finding a place in the top 100 cities. The top ten ranked cities were Mysore, Thiruchirapalli (Tamil Nadu), Navi Mumbai, Kochi (Kerala), Hassan, Mandya and Bengaluru from Karnataka, Thiruvananthapuram (Kerala),Halisahar (West Bengal) and Gangtok (Sikkim).
As many as 39 cities from the Southern states were among the top 100 followed by 27 from the East, 15 from the West, 12 from the North and seven from the North-Eastern states.These rankings were based on the extent of open defecation and solid waste management practices. Mysore leads the cities with minimal open defecation and extensive adoption of solid waste management practices. Fifteen of the 27 capital cities surveyed figured among the top 100 performers while five were ranked beyond 300. Bengaluru leads the list of capitals at 7th rank while Patna came at the bottom at 429. Among the bottom 100 cities, 74 are from the North, 21 from the East, three from the West and two from the South. Damoh (Madhya Pradesh) came at the bottom of 476, preceded by Bhind again from MP, Palwal and Bhiwani, both in Haryana, Chittoragarh (Rajasthan), Bulandshahar (UP), Neemuch (MP), Rewari (Haryana), Hindaun (Rajasthan) and Sambalpur in Odisha at 467th rank.The survey conducted during 2014-15 was commissioned by the Ministry of Urban Development as required under the National Sanitation Policy of 2008.
” Namami Gange ”is also generating people’s involvement especially among those residing on river banks.The plan to depollute the Ganga river is also going ahead in full cry. Union Minister for Water Resources Uma Bharti recently met Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and the two leaders agreed to set up a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) for the cleaning-up and rejuvenation of the Yamuna. A blueprint elaborating steps to clean up the river would be prepared during the next 45 days.
”Namami Gange” is an integrated conservation mission under National Ganga River basin authority, the ministry of water resources and river development.The Union government is pumping in an unprecedentedly huge amount to clean up the country’s holiest of rivers that emerges from the icy Gomukh almost bordering China and empties into the Sunderbans delta that spills over to Bangladesh. The Ganga, which is ironically also the world’s fifth most polluted river, now floats on hopes of regaining by year 2020 its grandeur and sanctity . But there is much more to it than spirituality or even religiousness. ‘Namami Gange’ seeks to clear the river of all the dirt and row in a string of projects to sustain its efficacy.The three-tier mechanism will monitor the projects, with a high level task force chaired by the cabinet secretary.The Rs 20,000-crore outlay, which the Cabinet cleared at a meeting chaired by the Prime Minister three months ago, is in addition to Rs 2,307 crore the government sanctioned in July last year at the launch of the endeavour.
In its bid to cast social security network across the nation through low cost insurance schemes,Government has decided to launch a Suraksha Bandhan drive, coinciding with the Raksha Bandhan festival, to reach out to the targeted groups for enrolment into the three flagship social security schemes implemented by the Modi government in May this year.In order to build on ”very encouraging response” to the two very affordable and convenient to subscribe insurance schemes, namely the Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana (PMSBY) for accident and disability cover of up to Rs 2 lakh at an annual premium of Rs 12 and the Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana (PMJJBY) for a term life cover of Rs 2 lakh at an annual premium of Rs 330, the special drive is being launched by participating banks and the insurance companies during two months period August and September, Finance Ministry officials say.
This “Suraksha Bandhan” drive aims to give boost to the Government’s objective of creating universal social security system in the country, targeted especially at poor and the under-privileged masses. The envisaged social security initiative also includes the Atal Pension Yojana launched along with the two insurance schemes, which addresses the issue of old age income security by facilitating regular contributions during the working life of the subscriber for a guaranteed pension at the age of 60, with certain Government contribution for eligible subscribers who enrol by December 31 next.
The drive, envisaged in the backdrop of Raksha Bandhan, will be supported through the Jeevan Suraksha Gift Cheques, which will be available for purchase for Rs 351 in Bank branches by persons wishing to gift them to facilitate one year payment of premium for PMJJBY and PMSBY by the recipient.Mr Modi had launched three schemes in Kolkata on May 9 this year.The Pradhan mantri surkasha beema Yojana (PMSBY) providing an accidental cover of Rs two lakh has enrolled several million people. Within days of the launch, it had enrolled about ten crore people.The Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana (PMJJBY), which gives a life cover of Rs two lakh, was lapped by people and numbers are swelling though the Atal Pension Yojana (APY) – a long term pension plan is picking up slowly . Under the APY, subscribers would receive a fixed minimum pension of Rs 1,000 per month, Rs 2,000 per month, Rs 3,000 per month, Rs 4,000 per month, Rs 5,000 per month, at the age of 60 years, depending on their contributions.
Nation locked itself in spirited debates on Digital India plan with many raising questions on existing poor infrastructure where call drops and slow speed internet connections are still the order of the day in many regions. Work is under way to further spread the optical fibre network.On the launch day, an upbeat India Inc pledged over Rs 4.5 lakh crore, creating 18 lakh new jobs. Mr Modi, on the occasion, said that the government wants the nation to be self reliant in electronic goods production and turn it into a leader in cyber security and innovations.
Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said recently the impact of Digital India by 2019 would range from broadband connectivity in all panchayats, Wi-fi in schools and universities and public Wi-Fi hotspots. “The programme will generate huge number of IT, Telecom and Electronics jobs, both directly and indirectly. Success of this programme will make India digitally empowered and the leader in usage of IT in delivery of services related to various domains such as health, education, agriculture, banking,” he added.
Leading industrialists Cyrus Mistry, Mukesh Ambani, Anil Ambani, Kumar Mangalam Birla, Sunil Bharti Mittal, Azim Premji and many others who have pledged millions in investments feel that the government’s Rs.1.13 lakh crore programme would go a long way to wipe out the digital divide besides offering a slew of digital solutions in almost all sectors, including education, health,agriculture and administration.
The programme, envisaged by Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY), with coordination of ministries of communications & Information Technology, rural development, human resource development, health and others, will benefit all states and Union Territories (UT).The existing ongoing e-Governance initiatives would be revamped for the alignment with the principles of Digital India.
In the energy sector, the Centre has revised cumulative targets under National Solar Mission from 20,000 MW by 2021-22 to 1,00,000 MW- a quantum jump.
If the goals set for the solar energy are realised, the country will surpass Germany which is a global leader in solar power generation by producing three times higher energy from the source. Though technology is getting cheaper , experts feel that the sector might be a game changer so the government should revisit its policy of financing of projects. They feel that at present India Renewable Energy (RE) projects are financed for 10-12 years with an annual interest rate of 12-13 per cent while in Europe and US, the projects are funded for 17-18 years with an interest rate of 4-5 per cent.
Mr Modi, in a recent review, directed tough action against power pilferage which make the energy sector economically weak. Extra steps are being taken to ensure 100 per cent electrification within a stipulated period besides ensuring adequate power generation in both thermal and hydel plants.The country’s footprints in foreign countries were noticeable.The Prime Minister brought a rare energy to India’s foreign policy, infusing it with a dash of colour and his own personal warmth in ties with world leaders even as he has kept up a frenetic pace in his diplomatic engagement-visiting more than 20 countries.His distinctive style was evident from the day he took over in May 2014.
His gesture to invite seven South Asian neighbours, from the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), to his swearing-in was an assertion of his government’s neighbourhood policy. The sight of so many leaders from neighbouring countries, including Pakistan, was a surprise.