The annual budget actually does not inform people beyond telling them how much money is proposed to be spent on what. It also gives the amount of money spent the previous year. But all the money spent means nothing in the light of what Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi said in the 1980s that for every rupee spent only 16 paise reaches people. That being so, has Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government delivered anything better?
“When the Modi government completed five years, I thought I should write an account of the performance of the government. Then I thought: Since I am a party MP, people might think that I am writing the book to flatter those in power. So I gave up the idea. But it was in the back of mind all the time. I thought it was necessary in a democracy for people to know what is going on,” K.J. Alphons, the live-wire former bureaucrat and current Rajya Sabha member, told IANS in an interview of the book, “Accelerating India – 7 Years of Modi Government” (OakBridge), that he has edited.
“Nobody had ever written a comprehensive book on the performance of any government…I decided that the country deserved to have the most authoritative information. Who had the most authoritative information? Who else better than former Secretaries to the Government of India, who were responsible for implementation on the ground for a particular sector and former Chief Secretaries?
“I had other yardsticks as well: they should have been officers of great integrity and honesty. They had to be politically neutral as well,” Alphons explained.
To this extent, “Accelerating India” qualitatively and quantitatively evaluates the policies of the government in the last 7 years and their impact on the citizens and the nation. The book focuses on 25 key sectors, including Education, Digital Revolution, Agriculture, Industry, Environment, Rural Development, Sanitation, Energy, Infrastructure, Health, and Economy.
Each chapter is contributed by domain experts and eminent civil servants with experience in the sector, giving their insights and understanding on the influence and impact of the various government policies and schemes in accelerating India.
Some of these sectors have witnessed a complete overhaul, while others have been streamlined to bring in efficiency. The book aims to present an objective and empirical analysis of the journey that the Indian democracy has traversed under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi and the road ahead in each of the sectoral domains covered.
Releasing the book, Vice President M.Venkaiah Naidu appreciated the efforts of the 28 eminent authors who contributed its 25 essays in the and referred to Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) as the defining moment in the transformative journey of governance in India.
Highlighting the importance of inclusivity, he emphasised that the benefits of developmental programmes must reach all segments of society, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized, pointing to path-breaking schemes such as Aspirational Districts programme to accelerate development in areas which were lagging.
He also lauded the government for setting an ambitious target of providing tapped water connections to nearly 20 crore households by 2024.
The Vice President said that as India celebrates 75 years of Independence, it is also the time to evaluate the progress of the constitutional promise of a “dignified life” to the common man. The right to a dignified life, without discrimination against any individual or community “is a pledge we have given to ourselves at the beginning of our Republic, to be upheld at all times”, he said.
Highlighting the importance of skills and opportunities in improving living standards of the people, the Vice President suggested that along with good education, we need to equip our youth with the requisite skill set for them to achieve success. He called upon the private sector to complement the government’s efforts in skilling the youth and making them conversant with the latest technologies to improve their employability.
Lauding the government for creating a dedicated Skill Development Ministry, Naidu expressed happiness that industry leaders, through CSR funds and NGOs, are contributing to this sector. He advised that every industry must have a skill development centre to up-skill trainees and employees.
Naidu also underscored the importance of improving infrastructure, creating a conducive business environment and adopting the latest technology to fully tap the inherent skills and talent among people.
This is not to say that the book is without its flaws and one of the most glaring is the chapter on the defence sector that glosses over the fact projects worth some Rs 3 lakh crore are stuck largely due to bureaucratic bottlenecks, long-winded procedures and commercial and technical wrangling.
One of the most critical of these is the Indian Air Force (IAF) requirement of Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCAs) to phase out its ageing fleet of Soviet era MiG-21s acquired in the 1960s
The IAF had floated a tender in 2007 for 126 aircraft with the proviso that 18 would be purchased in a fly-away condition and the remaining would be progressively manufactured in India by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) under a Transfer of Technology (ToT) agreement. Six companies were initially in the fray and after a laborious series of trials, the choice was whittled down to two — the Dassault Rafale and the Eurofighter Typhoon and finally to the Rafale.
The final negotiations were then bogged down on a clause inserted by India that while HAL would manufacture the aircraft, the “responsibility” would be that of Dassault. The French, quite naturally dug in their heels on this. Then, in 2015, the tender was scrapped after Modi, during a visit to Paris, announced that India would purchase 36 Rafale jets in fly-away condition.
These jets began arriving in July 2020 and while one full squadron of 18 aircraft has been raised, another is in the process of being raised and the process is likely to be completed by the end of the year.
Two things have happened in the midst of all this: the IAF has floated another tender, this time for 110 aircraft while its sanctioned strength has plunged from 42 squadrons to only 30. This, at a time when the IAF has to be prepared for a two-front war ï¿½ with Pakistan and China.
“Every Prime Minister who has been in power has done something good for the country,” Alphons writes in the Epilogue. From Jawaharlal Nehru “who loved the country passionately” and laid the foundation of science and management education to Manmohan Singh, who brought economic expertise into governance, “many of them had their share of failures, some colossal”.
“Then Modi stormed into power, a novice to the capital, but with a hard reputation for delivering what he promised as chief minister of Gujarat. He brought with him a reputation for integrity and clarity…The facts speak for themselves. I strongly believe that he has initiated policy reforms and implemented them like never before, with a huge sense of purpose,” Alphons writes.
“That’s why it is important for all those who are formulating policy to read this book to get a comprehensive idea of what has been done. This book is important for all those who support this government, as they should know why they support the government. This book is important for all the critiques of the government as they also should know the facts before they criticize. It is important for every citizen to read the book because he has the right to know what has been done by the government elected by him,” Alphons said during the interview.