How The Biggest Programmes Of Modi’s First Term Are Helping Mitigate The Effects Of Coronavirus

by Anand Trivedi and Sumitra K - May 11, 2020 12:52 PM +05:30 IST
How The Biggest Programmes Of Modi’s First Term Are Helping Mitigate The Effects Of CoronavirusPrime Minister Narendra Modi distributing gas connections in Uttar Pradesh. 
  • India is setting an example for governments across the developing world on how to build resilience through the pursuit of a more holistic reforms path.

It is in these unprecedented times of more than 180 countries waging a war against the coronavirus global pandemic that the popular quote of Norman Schwarzkopf who said, “The more you sweat in peace the less you bleed in war” holds significant value more than ever.

With governments across the world struggling to get ahead of the spread of the virus in their countries and their health systems and emergency response capacities being tested to their maximum, all the hard work and toil that they have undergone in the normal times are showing its value across the globe.

While the strength and coordination mechanisms of their health systems built otherwise are definitely helping them put up a robust response, it is important to also look at how other reforms and governance measures are helping government and the citizens deal with these times of an unparalleled crisis affecting almost all the dimensions of human life.

While in India, both the central and state governments are showing a great spirit of cooperative federalism in dealing with the crisis at hand through a multi-pronged approach, it would be worthwhile to look at how some of the reforms undertaken in ‘peace’ times are helping our country presently.

India’s Resilience Through Reforms

One simply cannot ignore how the widespread use of digital payments, especially enabled through the UPI platform right down to the smallest of the transactions in the daily lives of Indians is enabling us to reduce the risk of transmission from the use of physical currency notes.

The near-universalisation of Jan Dhan accounts combined with the use of JAM (Jan Dhan-Aadhaar-mobile) trinity in enabling direct benefit transfer (DBT) of various welfare benefits like those under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY) is driving up our economic resilience.

Transfer of LPG subsidy amount up to three refills of cylinder to the needy recently announced under PMGKY has been made possible due to the coverage of more than 8.3 crore BPL (below poverty line) families under Pradhan Mantri Ujjawala Yojana over the last four years.

While the direct impacts of some of these reforms in the recent past are clearly visible, let us also consider the indirect impacts of some of the other developmental programmes implemented on a large scale in India.

In the times of lockdown with the need to maintain social distancing and home quarantine, the benefits of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan to have made available universal sanitation coverage and a toilet in each home cannot be understated.

With reduced risks of community transmission due to the availability of better and more delineated housing in case of Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY), especially in urban areas, the magnitude of the impact of these initiatives definitely warrants an enquiry.

A number of procedures either rationalised or turned online by states and the Centre as a part of the ‘ease of doing business’ ranking improvement project is helping us set up large scale pharmaceutical and medical equipment manufacturing capacities in such a short time.

In some of the cities like Surat, Pune, Bengaluru and Tumakuru, the integrated command and control centres (ICCCs) set up under the Smart Cities Mission are being used to provide up-to-date information about the status of coronavirus in different administrative zones of their cities.

Stories of the pharmacists of the Pradhan Mantri Jan Aushadhi Kendra popularly known as ‘Swasthya ke Sipahi’ delivering essential services and medicines at doorstep of patients and elderly are coming to light.

The use of phased-out Integrated Coach Factory (ICF) coaches of the Indian Railways, due to accelerated shift to safety measures under the Rail Sanraksha Kosh (Rail Safety Fund) for building isolation wards, and benefits of UDAN flights to transport medical cargo to various parts of country, including remote and hilly areas, is also being highlighted.

The use of NGO Darpan portal to reach out to more than 90,000 NGOs (non-governmental organisations) across the country by NITI Aayog and learnings from the Aspirational Districts Programme’s real-time data monitoring systems in enabling better on-ground surveillance systems across the country is also benefitting the country’s response to the Covid-19 crisis.

Even in terms of administrative efficiency, the push within the government to use e-filing system for administrative works or approvals and the Public Financial Management System (PFMS) for enabling and tracking fund flows is helping the government keep the ball rolling while most employees work from the safety of their homes.

Opportunities For Structural Reforms

The current crisis also offers an opportunity for some reforms, which have hitherto been difficult to think or implement.

The possibilities of leveraging technology for telemedicine or online learning in rural areas, bringing back the base of active pharmaceutical ingredient industry to India, building robust data systems to track informal sector employment and using reverse migration to drive reforms in farm-gate processing industry need to be seriously looked at from the public policy perspective.

Furthermore, use of remote electronic voting for enhancing electoral participation especially among the old and the divyang, developing sovereign insurance products for governments, private agencies and citizens to collectively subscribe to and developing cross-sectoral coordination platforms for enabling better Centre-state partnerships, especially in emergency situations can help build greater resilience in the times to come.

Also, some of the government programmes, with greater penetration and success such as Electronic National Agriculture Markets (E-NAMS) enabling better social distancing or widespread use of CCTVs in smart cities for enforcing lockdown measures, completion of dedicated freight corridors to improve cargo haulage and speeds, would definitely help in the future.

All in all, with significant evidence suggesting how critical it is to remember Norman’s quote in the ‘peace’ equivalent times, India offers a great example for the governments across the developing world as to how greater resilience can be built through the pursuit of a more holistic definition of development.

These learnings will definitely go a long way in ensuring urgency in reform actions under normal circumstances to consistently fulfil the motto of ‘Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas’ once we have successfully outmanoeuvred the crisis.

Anand Trivedi and Sumitra K work with the Monitoring and Evaluation office of NITI Aayog.

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