As it completes two years in power on 26 May, 2016, the Modi government has accumulated plenty of criticism and a smattering of praise on its performance from civil society. A report released on Monday by Wada Na Todo Abhiyan (WNTA), a conglomerate of civil society groups, delved deep into several areas of governance and gauged the NDA government's performance against its electoral promises.
The report criticized the government for faltering on its promise to bring down corruption in the country, noting that there was an attempt to "dilute" the Lokpal and whistleblowers' protection laws by introducing amendments in Parliament. "Instead of putting in place an effective grievance redress mechanism to ensure proper delivery of rights and services to people, the government is seeking to amend the existing Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA) to make all bribe givers offenders, which would criminalize even those who are forced to pay a bribe to get their legal entitlements," added the report.
The report [noted] that there was an attempt to "dilute" the Lokpal and whistleblowers' protection laws...
In the budgetary allocation in 2015-16, the major thrust for development was on investment in infrastructure. On the other hand, most allocations to the social sector fell short or increased only marginally in comparison to last year, leaving unaddressed critical concerns regarding healthcare, education and civic amenities. The government encourages private investment in the health and education sectors, but this has a debilitating effect on the poor and marginalized. "While India is making its mark at the global level, social and economic inequalities continue to grow and marginalize communities and their quality of life," claimed the report.
Despite the rhetoric on young people as the future of India, the 29% budget cut for children in 2015-16 has been the highest ever. There has even been an attempt by the government to bring in amendments to the child labour law that legitimize certain types of work done by minors.
While the passage of the amendments to the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act is a welcome step, the continued poor allocation and implementation of economic provisions under the SCSP and TSP (Scheduled Caste Sub-Plan and Tribal Sub-Plan) holds the communities in the grip of poverty and underdevelopment, sayid the report.
Crop loss, mounting debt and acute drought continue to drive farmers to commit suicide in states like Maharashtra, Punjab, Telangana, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. The government could have done better to address the critical situation of rural distress. Rural insurance schemes have not given enough relief to farmers, and agricultural credit, rural electrification and a thrust on increasing the irrigation cover are major challenges that need to be addressed by the government.
Despite the rhetoric on young people as the future of India, the 29% budget cut for children in 2015-16 has been the highest ever.
It is reassuring that the MGNREGA programme is being continued. But the question of community say on their land remains unresolved and the final shape of the Land Bill will be known only after the government's stand towards the outcome of its examination by a parliamentary committee. The balancing act that the government eventually does between industrial development and market growth on the one side and the rights of the vulnerable sections on the other has to stand the test of time.
Similarly, the impact assessment of the government's Make in India push -- which intends to transform the country into a global manufacturing hub -- is being eagerly awaited. Despite many commitments, the anticipated foreign investment is not evident. By now, however, there is no doubt that the government has opted for trade and a market-driven economy as its core mantra for development. Concerns, therefore, over livelihood of small landowners, farmers, rural households and economically weaker sections are not misplaced, says the report.
On the human rights front, civil society continues to get strictures from the government. Communal tensions are palpable and there has been a clampdown on the voices of students expressing dissent. Fissures along the lines of caste in universities are evident.
Communal tensions are palpable and there has been a clampdown on the voices of students expressing dissent.
Participating in the report release event in New Delhi on 23 May, Brinda Karat, a politburo member of the CPI (M), said, "There has been drought for more than two years. Thus... food security is in peril. There is class bias in the current establishment. There is huge concession to the corporate [sector] in forms of tax benefits, where as the budget allocation is cut in social sectors." She added that civil society has been attacked under the current dispensation.
Even more scathing was D Raja of the CPI, who said, "This government is also pitting the Lok Sabha vs. Rajya Sabha. How they have [sic] declared the Aadhaar bill as a money bill and presented to the Parliament? This government is full of rhetoric: Skill India, Make in India, Start up India! They should now get to work."
Sandeep Dixit of the Congress said, "There is attack on the very idea of India by NDA government," while the AAP's Raghav Chadha opined, "The government has failed in the foreign policy front, fighting against corruption, bringing back black money to the country, maintaining communal harmony and controlling inflation."
Amitabh Kundu, a professor at JNU, posited that the government has policy confusion on the Smart City mission given its dilly-dallying on resource allocation and expenditure in the last three budgets.
Amitabh Behar of WNTA said that the report looks at the government's performance from the prism of Constitutional provisions. Thomas Pallithanam and Annie Namala, the conveners of WNTA added that the report's assessment of the government was intended to highlight its performance on "how it has impacted on the poor and the marginalized."
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