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Politics

Jobs, Justice and Smart Cities: The Promises BJP Made in Its 2014 Manifesto

Ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, it's imperative to examine whether the BJP has transformed its lofty words into reality.

Bengaluru/Raipur/New Delhi: In 2014, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had presented an ambitious manifesto, promising speedy justice to all. However, recent events, such as the mishandling of the wrestlers’ protest and turning the inauguration of the parliament into a one-man show, has left many wondering whether the party has focused on the promises it made while in power.

These instances, among others, suggest that the ruling party may have prioritised the appearance of justice to flatter the masses rather than genuinely delivering it.

Ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha election, it’s imperative to examine whether the BJP has transformed their lofty words into reality.

There are several domains where the BJP’s performance raises significant concerns.

Price rise

The 2014 manifesto said, “The BJP-led NDA government’s record of holding the prices is a demonstration of our commitment to break the vicious cycle of high inflation and high interest rates.”

However, retail inflation hit an eight-year high of 7.8% in April 2022 and wholesale inflation surged to a nine-year high of 15.08% in the same month of that year.

In fact, retail inflation has remained above the Reserve Bank of India’s 6% for quite some time in 2023.

For a moment, let go of the technical jargons and ask, isn’t everybody (of course, except the rich) feeling the pinch of rising costs of basic commodities?

The persistent high inflation likely pushed household financial savings to a 30-year-low in the first half of financial year 2023. A report by Motilal Oswal Securities indicated that these depleted savings were being used for consumption.

But despite rising prices of essential products, people are still buying them, most probably, by using their savings.

However, not everybody can afford to buy essential products at a high price.

This can be shown from the fact that while cookie demand has grown, biscuit sales have slowed. Two-wheeler sales are in the slow lane. Meanwhile, demand for luxury products is booming.

Several reports also point that inequality and poverty have risen during the Modi years.

Despite rising prices of essential products, people are still buying them, most probably, by using their savings.

Employment

Creating employment opportunities is crucial for the economic growth and social stability of a country.

The BJP had promised in its manifesto that it would transform employment exchanges into career centres to connect youngsters with job opportunities. It had said it would focus on labour-intensive manufacturing, and tourism. It had also emphasised on job creation in rural areas.

“Labour-intensive jobs are the right way to tackle unemployment, if not, this will lead to a social explosion that is politically damaging,” said retired Jawaharlal Nehru University professor Arun Kumar.

However, the professor said that “unfortunately, the government is only promoting capital-intensive jobs like the PLI [production-linked incentive] scheme”.

“The government needs to shore up the micro (48%) and the agriculture sector (46%) in order to strengthen the job environment in India. An urban employment guarantee scheme can be brought in like the rural scheme for which we have been campaigning since 2012. They are increasing the allocation of capital-intensive [jobs] by reducing the allocation of labour-intensive [jobs], so the opposite needs to be done,” he added.

Interestingly, ahead of the 2019 general elections, in an interview to Zee News, Prime Minister Modi had said: “If someone opens a pakoda shop in front of your office, does that not count as employment?”

He claimed that the person’s “daily earnings of Rs 200 will never come into any books or accounts. The truth is massive [that] people are being employed.”

After the prime minister’s comments on the job environment in India, a group of professional degree holders, in February 2018, staged a unique protest, putting up an “acche din pakoda shop” in Lucknow.

In the next year, government data showed that unemployment touched a 45-year high in 2017-18. The data was published as part of a leaked report ahead of the 2019 general elections.

In Noida’s Labour Chowk, a labourer had in January 2022 told The Wire that despite having a college degree in IT (electrical), he’s not able to find a salaried job.

In May this year, the chief of Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, Mahesh Vyas, had told The Wire that India’s workforce – which is usually understood as the set of people who are employed – is not rising. He added that the quality of jobs in India is very low.

So therefore, since 2017, people have been vociferously voicing their concerns over joblessness in the country.

In terms of rural employment, note that the 2023 budget for Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) scheme – which protected the most vulnerable households from income loss during the COVID-19 pandemic – was sharply cut in the Union Budget.

But although jobs have increased in rural areas, there’s a dearth of good quality employment options in recent times. That could have led to a rise in low-paid work in rural India, according to the Hindu BusinessLine.

Also read: How in First Eight Years of Modi Government, Nearly Rs 12 Lakh Crore ‘Disappeared’

Smart cities

Under the Smart City Mission, launched in June 2015, the government selected 100 cities through a competitive process, wherein each state nominated a certain number of cities based on a specific criteria.

The 100 cities were selected to enhance several basic facilities such as quality of living, sanitation, transportation, electricity supply, affordable housing, digitisation, sustainable environment, and good governance.

But note that the Smart City Mission does not involve developing entirely new cities from scratch. Instead, it aims to transform existing cities and improve their infrastructure, services, and overall liveability.

For instance, Delhi, Pune and Udaipur are cities already. But they are not ‘smart’. The definition of ‘smart’, as per the government, however, is still unclear.

A view of Udaipur. Credit: Pixabay

But there are hits and misses in this mission, too. While some projects are in progress, several others have been shut.

In 2021, the mission was extended till June 30, 2023, due to a delay in the completion of the projects because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has again got an extension till June 2024.

The Indian Express, however, reported that of the 100 cities, only around 20 will be able to meet the June deadline.

In addition, concerns have been raised on whether the ‘smartness’, which has been promised by the government, is matching with what people want and need.

Environmentalists, experts and historians say that the Dehradun Smart City mission – which deployed Rs 1,400 crore between 2015 and 2022, to transform the city of Uttarakhand – has hardly made any impact on the city’s ability to manage waste, rapidly rising urban population and of slums, check pollution, and protect biodiversity.

The Wire reported in February that the city’s freshwater streams that were once the source of the famed basmati rice cultivation on the city’s periphery have all but vanished. Added to that, the city does not have a working master plan. The only industry that is alive in the city is the real estate sector.

A smart city needs a proper sewage system, an effective administration, good air, decent commute time, etc.

However, it appears that the idea of ‘smart’ for the saffron party means promoting religious tourism, real estate, technology, and the infrastructure of the city, irrespective of the available resources.

While launching the Smart Cities Mission, Prime Minister Modi had said: “…if anything has the potential to mitigate poverty it is our cities.” He said the mission aims to ensure access to basic services for the people, including affordable houses for the urban poor.

However, several news outlets highlighted how this mission leaves the poor behind.

Therefore, it’s important to ask whether the Smart City mission is only beautifying the areas marked, or are they also supporting the poor by giving them access to basic facilities.

Smart cities could create 250 million jobs over the next 10 years, as written in the BJP’s manifesto. But, as analysed earlier, it’s still to be seen how the job scenario pans out over the next few years with rising inflation and lack of incomes.

Also read: The Contradictions of the ‘Urban’ in India

Namami Gange

“It is my destiny to serve Maa Ganga,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said in parliament in May 2014.

The ‘Namami Gange’ programme was launched by the BJP government in June 2014. The flagship programme is a conservation mission to ease pollution and to rejuvenate the national river.

With a budget of Rs 20,000 crore, the National Mission for Clean Ganga was planned to be implemented in three stages, depending on the intensity of the work.

The Wire had reported that the Namami Gange project has accorded undue prominence to establishing sewage and effluent treatment plants, shifting the focus away from the river’s minimum flow. Therefore, first, the government needs to come up with a realistic plan, and second, it should abandon its belief that the river will be cleaned anytime soon.

In 2018, Down To Earth had highlighted why the river Ganga won’t be clean by 2020.

The Diplomat had in July 2022 reported, citing research, that the “river’s lower stretch is the most polluted, with glaring evidence of algal bloom and signs of eutrophication compared to the middle or upper zones.”

Eutrophication is the process by which the water body becomes excessively enriched with nutrients, leading to an increase in the production of algae and macrophytes.

The research revealed the poor quality and sewage runoff in the lower stretch of the river.

In addition, a 2019 report released by the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board had said that the Ganga at Prayagraj, both upstream and downstream, is unsafe for bathing and could expose people to extremely high levels of coliform bacteria, mostly the faecal coliform, Escherichia coli, Mongabay reported.

Devotees gather to offer prayers during the third shahi snan of the Kumbh Mela 2021, at Har ki Pauri Ghat, Haridwar, April 14, 2021. Photo: PTI

Also read: Manual Scavenging Is Continuing Unabated in India – And Even Children Are Forced Into It

Manual scavenging

In its manifesto, the BJP had said that it’s committed to eliminate manual scavenging. But in another long line of hollow promises, it appears to have not fulfilled this promise as well.

As many as 330 people have died due to ‘hazardous cleaning of sewer and septic tanks’ from 2017-2022. But, according to the government, none of those people died due to “manual scavenging”.

Manual Scavenging is the practice of removing human excreta by hand from sewer lines or septic tanks. It is banned under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013. However, the practice remains prevalent in many parts of India.

Between March 22 to April 26, 2023, as many as eight people died while cleaning sewers in various parts of Gujarat, the Hindu reported.

Official data show that over 1,000 workers have died while cleaning sewers or septic tanks since 1993, but activists say the number is much higher as many are involved in manual scavenging.

Iti Dewangan and Mervin Preethi are interns at The Wire.