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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 16 New Delhi April 7, 2018

An Anti-people Regimen

Saturday 7 April 2018

by Sandeep Pandey and Rahul Pandey

The 2018-19 Budget of the Narendra Modi Government has been touted as catering to the interests of the farmers, rural workers, women, Dalits and small businesses but nothing can be farther from the truth. A strikingly paradoxical feature of this Budget is the announcement of new schemes for farmers and poor accompanied by a reduction in the funds actually allocated in the Budget. For example, allocation for the Deen Dayal Upadhyay Gram Jyoti Yojana (rural electrification scheme) has been cut by 30 per cent, from Rs 5400 crores to Rs 3800 crores. This government of the Bharatiya Janata Party that has drafted this Budget is probably the most anti-people in the history of independent India as it believes more in publicity than real change.

The farmers have been guaranteed a Minimum Support Price 1.5 times the cost of their production for kharif crops, which has been a long-standing demand of the farmers’ organisations and is a recommendation of the Swaminathan Commission. However, it has also been said that for some crops farmers are already getting 1.5 times their production cost. It is unclear how the costs are going to be calculated and therefore this has not generated much enthusiam among the farmers. With the past experience of demonetisation and implemen-tation of the Goods and Services Tax now people are skeptical of the announcements of the BJP Government.

For boosting the rural economy the number of rural agricultural markets or Mandis will be increased from 7600 to 22,000. A Rs 2000-crore Agri Market Infrastructure Fund for developing these 22,000 Grameen Agricultural Markets was announced without any actual allocation in the Budget. Similarly, a Rs 10,000-crore Fisheries and Aquaculture Infrastructure Development Fund and Animal Husbandry Infrastrcture Development Fund has been announced with actual allocation in the Budget of merely Rs 47 crores. There is also a promise to increase the irrigated area under cultivation. The loans to be given to farmers have been increased by 1 lakh crore to a total of Rs 11 lakhs crores but the Budget is completely silent on the most burning issue of farmers today—waiver of past loans, which would be instrumental in arresting their suicides. The government believes that it would empower the farmers so that they will not end up in debt. But the point is: they will be able to reach such a situation only when they emerge out of the present crisis. What use are all the measures if we don’t free them from the current debt, expecially when the governments have demonstrated leniency towards big corporate defaulters? The amount of money wasted in urban areas in the name of development, like providing air-conditioners to big government buildings, airports, educational institutions and purchase of expensive furnitures and vehicles for government functionaries, etc. must be diverted to providing relief to the farmers.

A few schemes which have witnessed a good hike in fund allocation, such as the Crop Insurance Scheme, are likely to transfer a majority of the monetary benefit to private service providers in the garb of helping the poor. A farmer has to register for compulsory insurance when s/he takes loan from banks as a certain amount is automatically deducted from the loan amount before it is credited into his/her bank account which is not the case with urban housing or car loans. But how many farmers have got insurance amount when their crops are damaged due to natural calamity? We hear of only compensation from governments.

Funds allocated to the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme are at the same level as the previous year, implying a reduction in real terms as the wages will increase due to inflation. In addition, there are a lot of pending arrears for unpaid wages from the past years. This will inevitably result in a significant drop in the total number of person-days of work that will be offered under the MGNREGS.

One of the major highlights of the Budget is the National Health Protection Scheme which is being referred to as Modicare under which health insurance for about 10 crore poor or vulnerable families or 40 per cent population has been raised to Rs 5 lakhs from the amount of Rs 30,000 offered under the Rashtriya Swasthya Beema Yojana. The NHPS was first offered in the 2016 Budget with a cover of Rs 1 lakh but it never materialised. The fate of the revised version remains to be seen. It is unclear what is novel about Modicare except that the quantum of coverage has been increased. This government has a knack for taking more credit than they actually deliver.

The United Progressive Alliance Government under Manmohan Singh for the first time offered insurance cover for treatment in private hospitals empanelled by the government. A common phenomenon was that the private hospitals would defraud the poor by inflating the bills so that the entire amount of Rs 30,000 was exhausted in a single visit to a hospital leaving the patient without any real cover for the remaining year. Hence Modi, as is his wont, has come up with a fantastic scheme to transfer public money to the private health care sector leaving the government sector in all respects poorer even if the common citizen goes there for treatment. The NHPS will be a big blow to the public health care system. Justice Sudhir Agrawal and Justice Ajeet Kumar of Allahabad High Court have recently delivered a landmark judgement saying that people receiving government salaries must get themselves treated at government hospitals without any preferential treatment for Very Important Persons. This is something which will improve the functioning of government hospitals.

The education budget has been slashed from 3.8 per cent to 3.71 per cent of the GDP. While the government, which is very good at coming up with acronyms, is going to start Revitalising Infrastructure and System in Education (RISE) by awarding Prime Minister Research Fellowships to encourage engineering students from institutions funded by the Central Government to pursue research in select institutions, it is silent on how it will improve the quality of basic education. The government hopes to build a ‘smart’ India and create skill-based jobs without strengthening the foundation of the education system. In fact, the ground reality is that in spite of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act being in place, about half the children don’t cross the Class VIII stage. The obstacles which the government itself is creating are—making Aadhar compulsory for admission to primary schools and taking a decision to not construct any more new primary schools as the enrolment in government schools is dropping in spite of the fact that the RTE Act says that every child should have a primary school within a kilometre from her home.

Lottery is being used to decide admissions in schools where more applications are received under the RTE Act’s section 12(1)(c) whereas the Act clearly says that at least 25 per cent seats have to be filled with children from disadvantaged groups and weakers sections. This means if necessary more than 25 per cent children should also be admitted if the parents so desire. Ideally, lottery should be banned in deciding admissions and every application should be entertained and the child admitted if s/he fulfills all the required criteria.

An additional sum of Rs 4800 crores has been provided to increase the number of beneficiaries under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjawala Yojana for free cooking gas to poor rural women from five crores to eight crores. The ground reality is that because only the connection is free and the beneficiaries have to pay full amount for subsequent gas cylinders, which is unaffordable for the poor, most of them have fallen back on traditional cowdung cakes or biomass-based fuel sources and keep the gas connection only for emergency. What the government doesn’t mention in Ujjawala advertisements is that there will be no subsidy for people who get free connections in spite of the fact that they belong to the category of rural poor.

The allocation for the PM Awas Yojana with the objective of housing for all has been cut by over five per cent, from Rs 29,043 crores in 2017-18 to Rs 27,505 crores in 2018-19, while at the same time the Finance Minister announced the intention of constructing 51 lakh houses in rural India in 2018-19. The housing available to the urban poor under the Central Government’s Basic Services for Urban Poor scheme for about Rs 16,000 for SC/ST families and about Rs 19,000 for others in Uttar Pradesh during the previous government’s regime is no longer available. The PMAY talks of giving subsidy on loans assuming that the poor will have a land of his/her own or will be able to get land allotted in cities. Recently, the District Urban Development Agency, Lucknow conduced a lottery for allotment of urban poor housing in which only applications made on the portal of the Chief Minister were considered and all applications given by hand in the Project Officer, DUDA’s office were not taken into account. Genuine applicants, especially those not having a mobile phone which is required for registering a complaint on the CM’s portal, were left out. The DUDA conducted a lottery without even any screening process which means a number of undeserving people would have got in. This is a good example of how the poor will be excluded from the digitalisation of the services in New India, for which the PM doesn’t lose an opportunity to give a clarion call. Moreover, how can a process of lottery be used to decide a basic need like housing when the government has promised ‘housing for all’?

The banking sector ‘reforms’ are making life difficult for the poor, especially after the horrendous experience of demonetisation. When some parents complained about not receiving the Rs 5000 from the UP Government for buying books and uniforms for their children admitted under section 12(1)(c) of the RTE Act, they were told by the Basic Shiksha Adhikari’s office in Lucknow that funds could not be deposited into their account as they did not have the required minimum balance of Rs 3,000. The government, which allowed zero balance accounts to be opened for the poor, expects parents from disadvantaged and weaker sections to maintain a balance of Rs 3000. When an activist, who works with beggars, went to get an account opened for a beggar he was told that the Jan Dhan Scheme was over. When the Socialist Party (India) gave a cheque for Rs 3000 to one of its candidates for the Assembly election, the cheque was not deposited as the bank told the account holder that an activity was required in the Jan Dhan account before any cheque could be deposited.

And finally the tokenism of the Modi Government is best reflected in the most publicised programme of Swachch Bharat. When a Gram Pradhan, Bhola Singh, of Gram Panchayat Uttar Kondh in Sandila tehsil of Hardoi district was asked about how much funds he had received for construction of toilets, he revealed that because the population of his GS, of about 750 families, was big, he had not received any funds. Only small GSs are being given funds so that more number of villages can be declared ‘Open Defecation Free’. Even in the declared ODF villages not every family has a toilet.

Noted social activist and Magsaysay awardee Dr Sandeep Pandey is the Vice-President of the Socialist Party (India). He can be contacted at e-mail: ashaashram[at]yahoo.com

Rahul Pandey is a scholar and entrepreneur. He can be contacted at e-mail: rahulanjula[at]gmail.com

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