UPA Report Card: Development Quotient

Akrita Reyar THUMBS UP Rural Development The government’s ambitious Bharat Nirman and National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) scheme took development to the common man, keeping with the government’s Aam Aadmi image.

Bharat Nirman, the six-pronged programme, was launched in 2005 and aims to give a fillip to rural infrastructure by ensuring that all villages covered under the scheme are provided safe drinking water, pucca roads, electricity and telephone connections. It also means to augment already existing rural housing and irrigation resources. Meanwhile, NREGA, for the first time, recognized the right to work as a fundamental right and thus entitled the rural poor employment for 100 days per annum ensuring food security. Both the schemes were seen as government’s response to the often made accusation that economic reform has benefited only the urban populace. The figures about the money allocated to the schemes and the number of people benefiting from it are colossal. Forty five lakh houses are believed to have been constructed, 17,000 habitations connected by road, 38 lakh hectares of land brought under irrigation, 45,000 villages given electricity connection, and the number of rural telephones doubled. NREGA, the largest attempt at rural employment anywhere in the world, was meant to cover 200 districts of the country in its inception, but has been expanded to cover all 604 districts of the country in April 2008. Official figures indicate that already 3 crore people are being provided employment annually in 330 districts. Over 17 lakh works had been taken up, of which 8 lakh had been completed by last April. Health Meanwhile, the plan outlay for health was increased by nearly Rs 10,000 crore, and healthcare reach has increased especially by way of outpatient care, better facilities for deliveries because of availability of trained midwives and significant gains have been made in the immunization programme. There is also greater focus on spreading awareness about AIDS. In rural India specifically 4.8 lakh ASHAs(Accredited Social Health Activists) have been established for basic health care. Another 2.1 lakh Village Health and Sanitation Committees have been formed to ensure better cleanliness and sanitation at the village level. Budgetary allocations have also been made for upgrading 13 existing medical institutions on lines of AIIMS, while six new 850-bed hospitals have been sanctioned. A highly useful addition has been the introduction of 108 service on National Highways, which would ensure availability of ambulances instantly in case of accidents. Trauma Centres are also being upgraded along the Golden Quadrilateral and East West Corridor. Education The government has increased by five fold allocation for education, which now stands at Rs 34,400 crore compared to Rs Rs 7024 crore, when the UPA took over. Due to Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan out of school children have come down to 76 lakh from 360 lakh previously. Emphasis has been laid on girl child schooling to reduce gender disparity in education. Despite Renuka Chowdhary’s brain waves about pre-cooked meals like nutritional biscuits, the Cooked Mid-Day Meal scheme was extended to upper primary classes raising the number of children covered to 14 crore. Additionally, 1.58 lakh rural schools have been given safe drinking water connections. Another 6000 model schools are to begin functioning from this year and public sector banks now provide flex-loans without collateral for higher education to meritorious students. An Indian Institute of Management has been set up in Shillong, Central Institute of Technology at Kokrajhar and National Institute of Technology in Tripura to take specialized education to the North East. All state level universities have also been upgraded to ensure a Central University in each of the seven states. Three IISERs have been set up in Mohali, Pune and Kolkata while Indian Institute of Information Technology for Design and Management established in Kanchipuram. Provision has been made in the 11th Plan, 30 new Central Universities, 30 new colleges, 8 new IITs, 20 new Indian Institutes of Information Technology, 7 new IIMs, 2 more Indian Institute of Science Education and Research and 2 Schools of Planning and Architecture. A large number of these commissioned projects will be ready for operations from this year. Above all the National Knowledge Commission has been set up to ensure India grabs the advantage of becoming the next knowledge and research hub of the world.

Infrastructure Outlay for infrastructure has increased from 5 to 9% of the GDP. While state governments are being encouraged and assisted to upgrade infrastructure in major cities and metros, a separate corpus has been formed for Mumbai in particular. Private-public partnership tenders have also been cleared to modernize all international airports. A new international airport has also been set up in Hyderabad, while 35 non-Metro airports are being upgraded. A National Maritime Development Programme has been drafted to modernize ports and for their capacity expansion. A massive Rs 24,000 crore is also being pumped to give Jammu and Kashmir a boost in development. The Railways have been one of the success stories of the UPA with Lalu Yadav at the helm. This loss making leviathan has been turned into a profit making enterprise. This is despite the fact that enormous sums have been invested to either expand existing lines or introduce new trains at same or even lower costs of passengers. Such has been the fame of the project that our very own rustic Lalu has been invited for lectures to students from Ivy League colleges like Harvard.

The mobile phone revolution has brought in several new players lowering prices and increasing the numbers of Indians who can stay connected. The best part is that lowest strata of our society can been seen as directly beneficiaries. Science and Technology The feather in country’s cap has been India’s Mission to the Moon – Chandrayan I. The success of the mission has secured India’s place in the elite group of nations having capabilities to carry out a space programme to that scale. Plans to put a man on the moon are also on the anvil. The impact of the operation has been such that US President Barack Obama cautioned his scientists lest India and China take the lead. Besides, India now commercially launches space satellites for foreign countries. The establishment of the Indian Institute of Space Technology will ensure young brains with eyes set on the stars will be given the required training. Besides, a Nanotechnology Mission has been launched in keep with the latest science fad of going small. A scientific team has also been sent to the Arctic for the time while a Bioinformatics Network, covering 65 institutions, has been established.

Governance, Minorities & Women The Administrative Reforms Commission has been set up for providing better governance, but the real achievement at least on paper has been empowerment of civil society through the Right to Information Act. Through RTI citizens can examine government papers related with applications, development projects etc thus ensuring full transparency. National e-Governance Plan has also been implemented while land records across the country are being computerized. The UPA government has been particularly keen to show itself as pro-Minority. It revived the National Integration Council, and introduced the Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) bill. It also set up the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions, brought out a plan to modernize madrassas and purged school text books of communal references. A commission was also set up to identify measures for welfare of backward sections among minorities and comprehensive study undertaken under the leadership of Justice Sachar to study in-depth the condition of minorities. Generous provisions have been made in the Union Budget since then for Minorities to fund a 15-point programme to facilitate their uplift. The government has also identified 90 minority dominated districts for development and made a Rs 3780 crore provision in the 11th Plan. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act provided civil remedies to women in abusive/violent relationships. But the clincher was law to make Hindu women equal co-parcenars for inheritance of ancestral property. A law was also introduced to bar arrest of women in the night, permit flex-working hours. This is a government that has started gender budgeting and funds have been earmarked for women under National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.

THUMBS DOWN Lack of the Trickle Down Effect Over 20 years back, when Late Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minister of the country he had lamented that of every Rupee sanctioned by the government for uplift of the poor only 15 paisa reach the intended beneficiary. Red tape and corrupt middlemen have ensured that little in India has changed since those days. Of the mammoth sums sanctioned by the UPA government for the overall development of country, tardy pace of administration or vested interests have kept the full fruits of theses measures from being realized. Because despite the government having done much through NREGA, or the upward revision of MSP for agri produce or eventually the debt relief package, the fact remains that back breaking poverty and the treacherous rain gods have led farmers to commit suicides leaving their families in more misery than even before. In some case their desperation has led them to poison their families along with themselves. One major reason failure for these ambitious schemes like Bharat Nirman and NREGA has been the local administration’s inability to organize public information programmes. In many areas the poor country folk are not even aware that they can apply for an employment scheme whereby they would be granted food grain for work. And sometimes those registered have not even landed with jobs, and at other times only at pay scales much lower than the market rates. Better still have been the sudden vanishing acts – of both food grains and money, and tracing them back is nearly an impossible task due to local connivance of babus in the first place. Basic health facilities mostly still remain out of reach for our rural population and even in urban areas, government hospitals are overcrowded and short of resources. In many cases, schools don’t have proper furniture or teaching aids or simply no teachers. And there are other places where there are too many teachers for too few students. Moreover faulty planning is to blame in many cases. The drafters of policy have not taken into consideration unique features of the local area when executing rural development schemes. For example, excessive boring in some areas has meant that irrigation infrastructure constructed has not been able to deliver the desired results due to lack of ground water. In case of irrigation the 10th Five Year Plan showed only an additional 1.4 million hectares being covered by irrigation. Even with the government claiming figures of 3.8 million hectares, the target of 10 million hectares under Bharat Nirman programme remains a mirage. The problem also crops up from the fact that the implementation of several projects that are planned or sanctioned by the Centre have to be implemented by the state governments as they come under the state subject. Immediately there is a gap in thinking and method or operation. It is for this reason that only a handful of states have achieved over 50% targets. In several cases acquisition of land from locals becomes a major issue and state leaders choose vote bank politics over genuine effort towards development. Take the infamous case of Narayana Murthy having to step down as the Chairman of Bangalore International Airport project due to persistent opposition of Deve Gowda, who literally harassed this very well meaning and honest entrepreneur. Sometimes projects remain only as proposals. Of 276 projects sanctioned at the cost of Rs 100,000 lakh crore under National Maritime Development Programme for completion by 2011-12, 113 projects have not moved beyond the drawing board. Some of the ambitious programmes unveiled by the NDA government also languished. The Golden Quadrilateral project is a classic case in point, where NHAI missed every deadline related with the project. Finally in terms of governance, while the Right to Information Act is path breaking, it has been mired by so many problems in terms of scope, manpower shortage, simply load of ridiculous queries that it is not able to achieve worthwhile transparency. Minorities and OBCs One of the most controversial statements made by Prime Minister in Parliament was that the minorities in this country had the first right to its resources, clearly indicating the Muslim community. But all the good intention expressed or the range of measures announced by this government seems to have come to a naught, when one considers the findings of the report of Sachar committee, appointed by the PM himself. The report finds that the lot of Muslim community is even worse that of SC/STs, communities considered underprivileged for years. On every front – education, jobs, loans, incomes etc- the community seems to be lagging. This though is the outcome of years of neglect and it would not be fair to put the blame on UPA’s door alone. Based on findings the Finance Minister immediately sanctioned Rs 63 crore towards the share capital of National Minorities and Development Finance Corporation from the then existing Rs 16.47 crore equity. The UPA also announced its intention of concentrating on development of minority dominated districts. But clearly, the government has a long way to go on this front.

Meanwhile, the one issue that brought the country, and especially medical services, to a grinding halt was the proposed reservation for Other Backward Castes(OBCs). HRD Minister Arjun Singh sought to provide for 27% reservation for the community in all Central educational institutions in addition to the 15% reservation for SCs and 7.5% for STs. The quota was to include some our finest institutes like the IITs and IIMs. Quite obviously, protests erupted across the country by the general quota students. An undeterred HRD Minister, who was even at odds with the PM on the issue, also wanted reservation in faculties, which had some of brainiest educationists in throes about the imminent decline in quality of teaching.

Finally a solution was found when the total number of seats in institutes was raised, but the problems of infrastructure to execute the same remain. The minister’s imagination than expanded to include the private sector, but was thankfully immediately the idea drew condemnation from all quarters and was firmly rejected. If ever a measure undertaken, this surely was the one with eyes on the vote bank. Because the fact remains that already existing quotas, especially in government jobs and institutes which require clearance of tough entrance criteria, yet remain unfilled.

An expected fallout is that standards of entrance have to be lowered, and even when students make the cut, many of OBCs did not find themselves equal to the courses they are pursuing and soon drop out. The government itself is struggling to fill job vacancies, but the reality is that there are just not sufficient number of OBCs who qualify. And on top of this the government is oxymoronic enough to want to extend the quota to promotions, thus taking away all incentive for a meritorious performance. The unrelenting government then wanted reservation for Panchayat and Municipal Corporations, when the Supreme Court intervened to ask where the requisite number candidates were!

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