Man becomes great exactly in the degree in which he works for the welfare of his fellow-men. Awas yojana to act east, benami act to bankruptcy code, demonetisation to defence procurement, financial inclusion to federalism, E-Nam to ease of doing business, ganga rejuvenation to GST, mudra yojana to make in India, per drop, more crop to positioning India as global powerhouse, rural electrification to road and railways development, swachh bharat to surgical strikes, ujwala to udan, women empowerment to waterways development characterise the many strokes of brush by Modi government. This fiscal year, a watershed moment, continued witnessing these strokes in AAA form - Annadata Aay Sanrakshan Abhiyan, Ayushman Bharat and Aadhaar Act that will transform the lives of millions of Indians with an enduring impact.
Annadata Aay Sanrakshan Abhiyan (AASHA)
Agriculture is the most healthful, most useful, and most noble employment of man and that noble set encompasses farmers who are the backbone of Indian economy. Independent India has achieved self-sufficiency in food grains - popularly known as Green revolution - due to high yielding seed varieties, better irrigation facilities and minimum support price regime. In scripting this historical self-sufficiency, farmers were bulldozed to produce and their welfare resembled writing on the water.
Flipping the pages of budget books reveals a clear pattern. In the 70 years of independence, irrigation facilities were mostly developed in the northern India, be it dams or canal development. Procurement at minimum support prices (MSP) also followed suit but it was predominantly confined to only paddy and wheat in the set of 23 MSP notified crops. Though Economic Survey 2015-16 mentions that there is MSP awareness among significant number of paddy, wheat, sugarcane and pulses farmers in states apart from Haryana and Punjab but the procurement was confined to few districts.
The same report further discloses that procurement was biased towards large land holding farmers. Due to geographically polarized procurement and policy paralysis, nation witnessed regional disparity in farm incomes along with income disparity across crops and size of landholdings.
Since its inception, MSP hike had been arbitrary with no definite return expectation to a farmer. Binding to its pro-farmer stance and fulfilling its manifesto commitment, Modi government announced in the Union budget 2018 and subsequently approved modalities for ensuring a guaranteed 50% return over cost of cultivation to farmers. This scheme known as Annadata Aay Sanrakshan Abhiyan (AASHA) has three components - price support scheme, price deficiency payment scheme and private procurement & stockist scheme - giving the scheme a multi-dimensional approach.
In the current physical procurement, government agencies end up stockpiling food grains, incurring storage costs and significant wastage and leakages as well. AASHA will address the gaps and the plug the holes in the current MSP procurement system through price deficiency payment to farmers and letting private parties plunge in when there is price crash of commodities below MSP. With this scheme implementation, efficiency improves leading to savings for the union government and thus more funds for marketing. Further, this scheme permits a individual farmer to sell up to 25 quintals of produce per day without any taxes and delayed payments will be a thing of the past as the scheme prescribes definite timelines.
Health has never been the most lucrative subject for Congress to talk about or even finding a place on few pages of manifesto. India had its first National Health Policy in 1983 - 36 years after Independence. None of its objectives were fulfilled. Subsequently, Vajpayee government introduced National Health Policy 2002 considering failures of previous policy, trends in the contemporary health systems and vision to fulfill related Millennium Development Goals (MDG).
The subsequent UPA I and II regimes failed to meet the objectives set in 2002 policy and MDG through National Health Mission. Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana, launched in 2008, could cover hospitalization expenses only upto Rs 30,000 for BPL families but studies reported that it had no impact on out of pocket expenditure. It is to be noted that out of pocket expenditure for healthcare in India is over 60% which leads to nearly 6 million families getting into poverty due to catastrophic health expenditures.
The ambitious Ayushman Bharat - National Health Protection Scheme, launched in September 2018 by Modi government as a result of National Health Policy 2017, aims to cover over 10 crore vulnerable families (approximately 50 crore beneficiaries based on Socio-Economic Caste Census) and provide quality secondary and tertiary healthcare cover up to Rs 5 lakh per family per year without any cap on family size and age. The program, also known as Modicare, is touted as the world’s largest health protection or insurance scheme. The cashless benefits of the scheme are portable across the country from any of the public/private empanelled hospitals.
The insurance scheme will cover pre and post-hospitalisation expenses and defined transport allowance per hospitalisation will also be paid to the beneficiary.
Ploughing without a purpose, design of an initiative or economic policy without any devolution of benefits will die natural death. A case in point is Aadhar initiative - by UPA regime in 2009 - whose boundary was drawn to identification. Aadhaar is the world's largest biometric ID system and World Bank chief economist Paul Romer described Aadhaar as the most sophisticated ID program in the world but it lacked an element of economic engagement. To top it, the exchequerwitnessed a drain on financial resources. Ironically, a purposeless and hollow initiative has drawn attention of international community.
Congress, to date, has won elections primarily on the plank of innate community appeasement, inciting hostility among communities and introduction of welfare schemes on a grand scale sans benefits flowing to the beneficiaries.
The system for one unit of currency transfer from the consolidated fund of India to the beneficiaries was impaired with inefficiency during the congress dispensations. That system was marred with soft swindling by middlemen leading to beneficiaries receiving only a tenth of the transfer. There had been political convenience for Congress to let the poor remain poorer perpetually as it creates space for running new welfare schemes and in the course, middlemen were moulded to become permanent agents of Congress. The successive Congress governments’ public policy inherently had the aforesaid orientation.
Modi government pumped life into the so called identification initiative through a historic legislation, Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other subsidies, benefits and services) Act 2016 and thus ensured middle-men remained mute spectators. PAN and GSTIN are efficient and effective way of mobilizing financial resources from enterprises and entities to exchequer. Similarly, Aadhaar aids efficient devolution of financial resources from the exchequer to economically deprived citizens lower in the echelons of social order. Also, it ensures that government has direct contact with common man.
Not only did India witness accountable and leakage free monetary transfer to the beneficiaries but also identified and rooted out elements that were not meant to be. Subsequently, India could save 90000 crores through linking Aadhaar with 260 welfare schemes. Since its legislation, Aadhaar act was tested in various courts of law against the privacy concerns, passage of act as Money bill and persistence of government to link the same for availing services and welfare schemes. But on 26th September 2018, the judgement of the honourable Supreme Court ensured the ingrained intent remained intact by upholding the constitutional validity of Aadhaar Act and it’s passage as Money bill. What was momentous is that the apex court approved the continuity of linking Aadhaar for availing benefits under welfare schemes.
Welfare's success is measured by how many people leave welfare, not by how many are added and that welfare's purpose should be to eliminate, as far as possible, the need for its own existence. Modi government has implemented or taken initiatives out of the ambit of this AAA system ensuring that welfare system is not perennial; These initiatives will help transition people into a democracy of progressive economic system. Eternal to ephemeral welfare is the central intent of the present dispensation led by Narendra Modi.
(Sandeep Vempati - The writer is Member, Manifesto sub-committee on Social Welfare, BJP, Telangana)