The Record Is Clear, No Prime Minister Has Done More For The Poor In Seven Years Than PM Modi
Despite Covid-19 reducing the lustre of the government's achievements, seven years of the Narendra Modi-led government has seen significant reforms and all-round development.
On 30 May, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi completed seven years in office.
This has been amongst independent India's most transformative periods, and is a result of decisive measures taken by the government to include the next billion in the financial and digital economy, and drive India’s economic growth by investing in necessary physical and digital infrastructure.
Effective steps to eliminate poverty, India's most significant roadblock to socio-economic progress for 70 years, were rapidly yielding results until 2020.
Amidst the second term, the Covid-19 pandemic has undeniably dented India's growth. During the first wave and 2020’s lockdown, the steps the government took showed strong leadership with decisive measures to curb infection and death rates, and institute response infrastructure.
The second wave in 2021 has claimed more lives. Both waves cumulatively have pushed a large number of people towards poverty.
These destructive effects have caused a negative pushback against the government and the NDA, and shaken confidence in the government's ability to protect lives and livelihoods.
Nevertheless, on the seventh anniversary of the Prime Minister Modi-led government, there is a need to evaluate its track record objectively.
The government has embarked on a multi-modal approach towards improving development infrastructure, health and wellbeing amenities, enhancing India's human capital pipeline, and rapid economic inclusion of India's 138-crore population.
The data indicates step-function improvement in all these areas; in fact, it clearly shows no Prime Minister of independent India has done more for the poor and disadvantaged in seven years as Prime Minister Modi and this NDA government have.
Housing for all: With an ambitious vision to provide pucca housing for everyone by 2022, targets were set to build 1.12 crore homes in the urban scheme and 2.95 crore in the rural project. To date, 1.87 crore homes have been constructed, with an overwhelming 75 per cent in rural areas.
Electricity: 100 per cent electrification was achieved in 988 days, up from 96.7 per cent in 2014. Since October 2017, 2.63 crore houses have been electrified, and 36.7 crore LEDs have been distributed in a massive drive for cleaner energy. There could still be difficult stray areas where electricity is yet to reach, and reliability could be improved, but by and large, most Indians have access to electricity today.
Tap water: Water was one of the first missions tackled by NDA-II. Since the launch of the Jal Jeevan Mission in 2019, tap water connections have been provided to four crore rural households raising the coverage from 3.3 crore (17 per cent) to 7.2 crore (37.6 per cent) to date. The target is to serve 19.2 crore (100 per cent) rural households by 2024.
Rural road connectivity: Today, 97 per cent of Indian villages are connected to a good road network, up from 56 per cent in 2014; 2.3 lakh km of roads have been sanctioned since 2014.
Other infrastructure: More than Rs 50 lakh crore has been invested/sanctioned in infrastructure since 2014 – in power, railways, irrigation, education, health, urban, mobility, and water; 35 new airports have been started. A further Rs 102.5 lakh crore National Infrastructure Pipeline is currently under execution.
Health And Wellbeing
Gas connection: The number of gas connections has increased from 12 crore in 2014 to 29 crore today. Of these, 8 crore connections have been provided free to rural women, enabling them to cook smoke-free, improving their health dramatically. To reach 100 per cent LPG penetration, a further one crore has been committed this year to provide to those left out.
Sanitation: Individual household latrine (IHHL) coverage is now at 100 per cent, up from 38.7 per cent in 2014; 11.4 crore latrines have been built, and all 6+ lakh villages across all states/UTs have been declared ODF (open defecation free). This move has eliminated an old scourge of India's.
Affordable healthcare: The government launched Ayushmann Bharat in September 2018 to provide Rs 5 lakh/family/year health insurance cover. As of May 2021, 1.82 crore free treatments have been dispensed. The target is to benefit 50 crore underserved citizens.
Maternal and child healthcare has dramatically improved through Intensified Mission Indradhanush, which immunises 2.65 crore children and 2.5 crore pregnant women every year against 12 vaccine-preventable diseases. There has been a substantial decrease in the infant mortality rate (from 36.9 per 1,000 live births in 2014 down to 28.3 per 1,000 in 2019, per World Bank estimates. Similarly, maternal mortality rates have persistently declined year-on-year, too; Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan announced in November 2019 that "India is on track to achieving the (WHO) Sustainable Development Goal target for reducing MMR by 2025, five years ahead of timeline of 2030".
Covid-19 Vaccination Programme: India has embarked on the world's largest vaccination rollout, having administered nearly 200 million doses to date. The target is to administer 2 billion by December 2021.
New Education Policy: A new policy was introduced after 34 years, suggesting much-needed structural changes to the country's education system so India can compete better in today's knowledge economy.
Educational infrastructure: The Modi government has driven top-tier educational capacity by expanding the institutes of national importance. The AIIMS system has increased from seven in 2014 to 22 in progress in 2021. The IIT system has grown from 16 to 23 in the same period. Similarly, the IIM system has expanded from seven to 20 in the same period.
Medical personnel training: Medical post-graduate seat capacity has increased by 125 per cent, from 24,000 seats in 2014 to roughly 54,000 in 2021. In the same period, the number of undergraduate MBBS seats increased from 54,000+ to 80,000+.
Access to education: Apart from schools, enrolment in higher education has also jumped from 3.23 crore in 2014 to 3.74 crore in 2019. More Indians, including women, are aspiring to become graduates. The gross enrolment ratio of women has risen from 22 in 2014 to 26.4 in 2019, overtaking men for the first time last year. It is essential to create more formal jobs for all of them now.
Inclusion: Enrolment in higher education by the SCs, STs, OBCs, Muslims and other minorities has risen fast. YoY enrolment growth rates from financial year 2013 to financial year 2019 were 6.3 per cent (SC), 7.8 per cent (ST), 6.3 per cent (OBC), 7.7 per cent (Muslims) and 7.5 per cent (other minorities) as against 3.7 per cent overall due to the decline in general merit enrolment.
Employment: The Employees' Provident Fund (EPF) and Employees' State Insurance (ESI) schemes have started tracking monthly new subscribers since September 2017. In aggregate, 4.12 crore new subscribers have onboarded on the EPF system from September 2017 to February 2021. In the same period, 4.87 crore newly subscribed to the ESI system.
Digital, Financial And Economic Inclusion
Mobile phones: Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) data shows the wireless subscriber base in February 2021 was 1.17 billion, up from 0.9 billion in 2014. Of this, 528.5 million are in rural areas. Access to cellular has transformed how people in rural areas do business and earn a livelihood. Average monthly data usage has increased to around 15GB from 11.2GB in 2019.
Access to the Internet and digital platforms: The Internet subscriber base, per TRAI, has increased from 251.6 million in 2014 to 765 million in February 2021. Apart from this, 1.59 lakh gram panchayats have been connected with optical fibre for rural citizens to access their bank accounts and DBT digitally.
Bank accounts: Through the Jan Dhan Yojana, 42.4 crore bank accounts were opened as of May 2021. Total deposits have crossed Rs 1.44 lakh crore. Over 55 per cent of holders are women. 1.26 lakh bank mitras are delivering branchless banking services in previously underserved regions.
Direct Beneficiary Transfer: DBT has enabled the government to provide Rs 15.2 lakh crore over 427 schemes since financial year 2015, directly to citizens' Jan Dhan bank accounts. This facility was particularly indispensable during the Covid-19 pandemic to provide minimum income support to more than 40 crore beneficiaries.
Small business loans: Through Mudra, 28.8 crore loans worth more than Rs 14.6 lakh crore have been disbursed, as of March 2021, to start their businesses and aspire for a better life.
Insurance cover: Since 2014, more than 28 crore people have availed insurance for accident and disability coverage, life insurance, and so on.
Farmers: 8.94 crore beneficiaries of crop insurance with increased distress relief for crop damage; 11.3 crore farmers directly benefit from the PM Kisan Samman Nidhi scheme, where they receive Rs 6,000 per year minimum income support.
The Prime Minister's vision of ensuring that every Indian citizen has the basic necessities of life by August 2022 – 75 years of the Republic of India – is on track, as indicated by the progress above.
Amid this unprecedented development trajectory, India was struck by the Covid-19 pandemic along with the rest of the world.
The health and economic fallout has been swift, worldwide and simultaneous, causing widespread pain.
Last year, during the pandemic's first wave, the Modi government introduced a Rs 20 lakh crore relief package that included income support for the bottom-of-the-pyramid, food support, and monetary measures by the Reserve Bank of India to inject much-needed liquidity into the economy.
Moreover, despite the 2020 pandemic wave, foreign direct investment (FDI) into the Indian economy recorded its highest ever – at $82 billion in financial year 2021 up from $35 billion in financial year 15 – and stands testament to India's strong growth track record backed by seven years of development under the Modi government.
India's foreign exchange reserves, too, are at an all-time high of $585 billion; for the first time in history, this amounts to more than India's foreign debt, both private and public.
India is now stuck in the throes of the second wave, and undoubtedly there is a large disparity between the two waves.
As of 24 May, 2021, on a per million population basis, India's cumulative confirmed cases stands at 19,385 compared to 75,841 (Brazil), 100,130 (USA), 66,004 (UK), and other developed economies. Similarly, on a per million basis, India's cumulative deaths stand at 220 compared to 2,116 (Brazil), 1,784 (US), 1,885 (UK), and other developed economies.
While the nation has managed to keep the counts per million low, the recurring pandemic waves have exposed the gaps in our healthcare system. Improving medical infrastructure must be of prime focus over the next three years, as discussed in Transforming Indian Healthcare (published on The Sunday Guardian on 16 May 2021).
Foreign policy efforts continue to successfully place India as a top strategic ally in Asia. Global capital continues to invest in India’s markets and innovation engines.
Digital public goods and public-private partnerships hosting technology solutions over the last decade, such as Aadhaar, UPI, etc, have undeniably brought scale advantages to the country and supported the rapid deployment of relief and response.
However, in a country this large, capacity and infrastructure have always been unprepared for peak stress events such as this unprecedented pandemic. The administration needs to evolve to ensure it never exposes its citizens to such pain again.
The primary challenge moving forward, apart from fully containing the pandemic and vaccinating the population, will be reigniting economic growth and employment.
Growth had picked up after last year's global recession — in March 2021, GST (goods and services tax) collections saw a peak of Rs 1.41 lakh crore.
However, with the second wave, growth tapered off in April and May and may only revive in July. Citizens all over the country, from all strata, look forward to a relief package from the government to support lives and livelihoods.
Recycled efforts to decry the Modi government's numerous development achievements by Lutyens Delhi – powerbrokers to a bygone regime – will be a continuing reality.
Understandably, the atmosphere created by Covid-19 has also reduced the lustre of the government's achievements.
Hopefully, the health and economic situations will recover soon. Nevertheless, an objective analysis of India’s progress over this term will serve as a reminder of how far the country has traversed towards a more resilient and inclusive end state.
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