The citizen’s collective Wada Na Todo Abhiyan has called out the government’s pro-corporate policies that have marginalised the poor further.
Even as the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is celebrating its second anniversary, citizens’ collective Wada Na Todo Abhiyan, comprising more than 4,000 non-governmental organisations, released an appraisal report that is in sharp contrast to the government’s claims about its own accomplishments over the last two years. The report, titled Citizens’ Report on 2nd Year of the NDA Government – 2016: Promises & Reality, focuses on how the government’s programmes have impacted the lives of nine constituency groups, including Dalits, women, minorities, children, Adivasis, etc.
Released on May 23 in the presence of senior opposition leaders, the report takes a critical look at many areas of social welfare and implicates the Modi government for being too expansive in speech while being low on the execution front. “If verbosity were a virtue, the NDA dispensation has definitely lived up to it in its second year. This becomes all the more evident because the relative ‘silence’ of the earlier United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime had come under much criticism,” the report states. While highlighting in a sector-wise analysis the increasing gap between what Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party, the BJP, had promised before the 2014 elections and what has actually been done over the last two years, the report urges the government to ‘walk the talk’ now.
The report uses the government’s own figures to analyse how the government has performed in 16 areas – accountability, budget, civil society engagement, education, environment, food and nutrition, parliamentary affairs, health, housing and urban poverty, human rights, labour and employment, agriculture, land rights and livelihood, peace, security and justice, water and sanitation.
Unprecedented budget cuts
In all these sectors, the report found that there has been an unprecedented cut in budgetary allocations, as the government has increasingly been interested in outsourcing essential public services to private corporate bodies.“…the major thrust for development is on investment in infrastructure and housing projects in both rural and urban areas. Data analysis shows allocations to most social sectors fell short or had marginal increase which does not address the critical concerns in health, education, civic amenities,” says the report.
It alleged that the Modi government’s amplified drive to privatise critical social sectors may end up marginalising the poor more than ever. “There is no sign of improving the low tax-GDP ratio that can contribute to increased investments. The stress on privatisation in core areas of health and education stands to undermine these tottering public services,” the report notes.
The report says that the idea of a ‘corruption-free India’ as promised by Modi in his campaign is a distant reality as the government has not taken the minimum possible steps to steer the country towards that dream. “The promise of providing a corruption-free India has met with low performance on constituting the Lokpal, protecting whistle-blowers and creating a robust grievance redressal mechanism. On the other hand, the proposed amendment to the Prevention of Corruption Act may victimise vulnerable citizens who are seeking their rights and entitlement,” says the report.
Speaking at the event, Communist Party of India leader D. Raja said: “People say that the the opposition is not allowing the parliament to run properly. But must we not ask why the parliament has not been functioning properly? The government has undermined Constitutional morality and parliamentary practices like never before. Article 356 (imposition of President’s rule) is being used indiscriminately. Aadhar was forced upon us as money bill. Even the International Monetary Fund, known for its advocacy of open economy, is now saying that inequality in India is on the rise. In opposition, we have to look at these problems politically.”
In a similar vein, Communist Party of India (Marxist) politburo member Brinda Karat said, “The national food security law is being subverted. Many parts of India have been living in drought conditions for more than two years. Clearly, the class bias of the current establishment favours the rich. At one level, there are huge concessions to the corporates in the form of tax benefits, and at another level, the budget allocations in all social sectors which may benefit the poor and the wider citizenry is being cut systematically. The unemployment figures, too, are much worse than the previous UPA regime.”
Undermining the rights of the marginalised
While pointing at the ‘the extreme rightward shift of both the economy and the polity’ under the government, she added that the government has plans to dilute the powers of ‘consent’ given to Adivasis to approve mining projects in India. Such measures, she said, will undermine the minimum entitlements of marginalised communities.
The Congress leader Sandeep Dikshit felt that there is a systematic attack on the very idea of India in the last two years. “I do not think the government is serious on improving the social sectors. Its agenda is to propagate the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s idea of cultural nationalism,” he said.
Most of the leaders present at the event viewed the Modi government as unprecedentedly inaccessible and one that evades all forms of accountability. “It is, perhaps, for this reason most who have been critical of the government are being attacked. Be it Teesta Setalvad or Priya Pillai of Greenpeace, all critical voices are under the scanner,” said Karat, while emphasising the need to keep a vigilant eye on such assaults by the government in future.
The Wada Na Todo Abhiyan has been coordinating such reviews with emphasis on elimination of poverty and social exclusion every year since 2005, when the UPA was in power. Annie Namala, the editor of the report, told The Wire: “Our fundamental yardstick is the Constitutional mandate. Our report does not claim to do a performance review of the government per se, but how the government has fulfilled its social contract with the most marginalised communities of India as it had promised earlier. The 2016 report shows that much of the promises to the marginalised population have been sought to be implemented through popular campaigns – the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the Beti Bachao-Beti Padao Abhiyan, Jan Dhan Yojana and schemes like Skill India, Make in India, etc. While the need to capture the public imagination is well understood, the financial allocations do not match the demand from these campaigns and schemes. They are piggybacking on multiple ministries, without delineating adequate funds for these schemes. Hence, their potential to substantially change the existing conditions on ground is negligible.”
She questioned the design of these schemes and says that these programmes throws up more problems than solutions. “How can the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan become successful without ensuring the dignity of the safai karmacharis who have been highlighting manual scavenging, sewer deaths and poorly paid non-secure contract jobs? Similarly, how can Skill India successfully fuel the aspirations and potential of millions of young people from Dalit, tribal and migrant communities without community-level support to facilitate their entry into the skill and job markets? In addition, the NDA government has been on a spree to dilute various rights-based legislations vis-à-vis child labour, public education, forest rights etc. The important electoral promise of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’ seems hollow in this context.”