The passage of the landmark Bhartiya Nyaya Samhita and Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Nyay yatra has brought back the focus on Justice/Nyay as a constitutional value albeit for different reasons.
Every government since independence has ostensibly strived for justice- socio economic and political.
India was ruled by one political party for more than 50 out of last 75 years, therefore a like to like comparison on the yardstick of justice may not be feasible.
However, Rahul Gandhi's quest for 'Nyay' in the backdrop of his party's legacy, and the transformative governance of Modi, unfolds like a tale of two eras, each distinct in its impact and resonance with the people of India.
One of the much-touted steps for economic justice after independence was the nationalisation of banks in 1969. A step taken to enable common people to be part of the formal banking system and prevent concentration of capital in the hands of a few.
This step achieved limited success until the launch of the mission mode Jan-Dhan scheme in August 2014 .More than 50 cr bank accounts and accounting, it is now globally accepted as a benchmark for financial inclusion.
It was the success of this scheme that enabled microcredit schemes like Mudra( 40 crore loans disbursed) and PM-Swanidhi (collateral free loans to street vendors) to achieve what nationalisation intended decades back.
Financial inclusion along with Aadhar authentication and Direct Benefits Transfer have led to removal of duplicate/fake beneficiaries and plugging of leakages, resulting in cumulative savings of more than Rs 2.73 lakh crores upto 2022.
This is in stark contrast to the days when a former PM lamented that only 15 paise of a rupee reaches the intended beneficiary.
It is noteworthy that both Aadhar and resultant DBT did start under congress rule. Direct transfers amounting to Rs 7376 cr were made in 2013-14 but DBT took the present all-encompassing shape, benefitting the common man, through genuine efforts like establishment of the JAM trinity post 2014. In FY 2022-23 the total direct benefit transfer was Rs 7.16 lakh crore (100X increase compared to 2013-14)
Another key aspect of economic justice was prevention of corruption. One of the most important fountainheads of corruption was accumulation of property through the “Benami Channel”. An important legislation in this regard, Benami Transaction Prohibition Act’ was first passed by parliament in 1988. The act remained unimplemented for more than 25 years because rules were not prescribed by the govt with the result that the government was not able to confiscate properties. This was a classic case of political lip service to the cause of economic justice. A new Act was finally notified in 2016.
Providing basic amenities to the poor is probably the highest form of social and economic justice previously captured in political slogans like “Garibi Hatao”.
In the last 10 years, more than 10 crore Ujjwala (subsidized LPG) connections, 9 crore piped water connections have been provided and more than 4 crore houses constructed under PMAY. The number of beneficiaries on all three counts are more than the cumulative beneficiaries from 1947 to 2014. All enabled by a change in mindset aimed at saturation-based on non-discrimination and systemic reset.
Government schemes are no longer perceived as discretionary distribution of largesse from a mai-baap sarkar but are seen as outcome-based delivery mechanisms where the government is held accountable, setting the ground for social justice.
Past Congress governments since independence may claim credit for establishing basic public health infra at the district level over the years but the vital links to ensure accessibility and affordability through schemes like Ayushmaan Bharat and Jan Aushadhi kendras had to wait for a long time.
An important component of justice is trust and dignity of every citizen. Even after so many years of independence, the archaic requirement for attestation of documents led to long queues before gazetted officers, a practice ended by the incumbent govt post 2014.
As Rahul Gandhi champions political justice through this yatra, we are reminded of his opposition to the abrogation of Articles 370 & 35A, which relegated women and SC/STs in J&K to second-class citizens. Several governments since independence made tall claims but contributed little to the cause of political justice for the women of India . It was only recently that the Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam, provided for affirmative action through reservation of one-third of the seats in the Lok Sabha and all state assemblies for women.
It is interesting that the Nyay Yatra started from the North East, a region often ignored by the political establishment of Delhi, which got its due (Nyay) after formation of a dedicated Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region under the Vajpayee government and was brought to the centre stage of development by Modi government through its Act East policy.
The author is a freelance columnist, is on the board of IIM Shillong and was OSD to the Finance Minister.
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