PM Modi and the government have been attempting to project that the economy is doing well. However, the ground reality appears to be different.
During current times, it takes a lot of courage to speak one’s mind. The polity is divided as never before. It is also very difficult to convince those around you that one can like and appreciate some, and dislike and criticise other actions/policies of the same government. It is even more difficult to convey that all criticism is not opposition. Here is an attempt to undertake this difficult task of outlining some of the wonderful work done by the present government and highlight areas where it has not.
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In 38 years of my experience as a civil servant, I had the occasion to work with various governments, both at the state and central level, I had never come across as decisive a government as the present one. In my capacity as Secretary, Government of India from 2014 to 2018, I saw the functioning of this government from close quarters.
There is absolutely no doubt that the government has done extremely well in terms of reining in corruption in high places. The UPA government was beset with scams and allegations of corruption against many Cabinet Ministers, one of whom had the dubious distinction of having a “tax” named after her (She was subsequently dropped from the Cabinet. A full chapter is dedicated to this Minister in my book, “Ethical Dilemmas of a Civil Servant). The NDA government managed to clean the coal mess and auctioned coal blocks in a transparent manner that was hailed all over.
On the political front too, the government, with a comfortable majority in the Lok Sabha (now almost there in Rajya Sabha as well), there have been no hiccups. If anything, NDA has gone on to consolidate its gains. There were tough choices in Kashmir but despite apprehensions from some quarters, it is evident that J&K has not ‘imploded’ and it appears that the government is working diligently to see how the political process is restored.
Despite initial problems in managing the migrant workers during the unprecedented COVID crisis, the government has been able to take care of the fallout of the pandemic. This was possible on account of the relentless efforts of medical and paramedical workers. Now the country has even emerged as one of the foremost suppliers of COVID vaccine to the world, thanks to our scientists.
Some of the social sector schemes like Swachh Bharat and PMJAY (the health insurance scheme as a part of Ayushman Bharat) have done very well. These schemes have earned appreciation both within and outside the country. The National Education Policy (NEP) provides a framework that has the potential of transforming school education.
On the international front too, the withdrawal of Chinese forces in Galwan is a feather in the cap of the government and this was possible only on account of the relentless pressure and unyielding approach adopted by the government.
A lot of it is going well for the NDA government. Then why is Modi angry? The uncharacteristic IAS Babu outburst of the Prime Minister in the Parliament a few days ago surprised many. Was this a consequence of frustration with the higher civil service only or was it the inability of the government to deliver what should have been delivered? What exactly went wrong? Only time will perhaps reveal the cause though there are a number of issues that are a cause for concern.
PM Modi and the government have been attempting to project that the economy is doing well. However, the ground reality appears to be different. For the first time since independence, the rate of growth of GDP has been coming down consistently. Percentage of GDP growth in India during 2016-17, 2017-18, 2018-19, 2019-20, 2020-21 has been 8.2, 7.2, 6.1, 4.2 and -7.2 respectively. COVID impacted the rate of growth during 2020-21 but what about the years before that? The unemployment situation was a serious cause for concern even before COVID arrived. Is there a disconnect between the ground reality and what is presented by the officers to Modi? Is that making him angry?
The PM is rightly concerned about the delays in the execution of projects. But there is a solution available. The Project Monitoring Group (PMG) did remarkably well even during the UPA government. Why isn’t PMG being revived in letter and spirit? Why should everything be done at PMs level through Pragati (though unlike PMG, Pragati does not consider private sector projects). Is it possible for the PM to push everything? Why can’t, through better human resource management, someone be positioned to “drive” these projects?
The World Bank studies indicate that India has climbed up the ease-of-doing-business ladder. However, does it reflect the ground reality? The real “wealth creators” are exasperated though they don’t have the courage to say so. And, this impacts the GDP.
The biggest employment creator, the real estate sector, is still to come out of the hit it got as a consequence of demonetisation. The infrastructure sector as a whole has had a tough time. Most of the investment in roads is now being made by the government. The public-private partnership that was the hallmark of road development for more than a decade is languishing. The power sector continues to be in trouble. It is baffling to note why the successful Gujarat model hasn’t yet been implemented in other states.
The real problem, however, is in the banking sector. NPAs are piling up. Public sector banks are being rightly criticised for their inefficiencies but what happened to Yes Bank proves that not all the private banks are in the pink of health. In fact, a former IAS officer, Girish Chaturvedi had to be drafted to clear the mess in ICICI Bank, one of the largest private sector banks.
So, the economy is in a bad shape.
No legislation or action is perfect. Farmer legislations fall in the category. In my understanding, these legislations are beneficial for the farmers and were long overdue. There is always scope for improvement. The government is willing to discuss but now farmers are unwilling. What then went wrong? It was perhaps the management of the Bills in the Parliament and the impression that the legislations were being pushed down the throat. How about attempting to build consensus in all such cases as was done for Coal Sector and GST by the master strategist, late Arun Jaitley?
This government has done some phenomenal work but like any institution, there have been some mistakes and failures. If these mistakes are pushed under the carpet, as they have been in some cases, it would be difficult to find a solution. It is the job of those around the PM to present the ground reality even at the risk of annoying him on occasions though my personal experience with him has been to the contrary. He gives a lot of space to the civil servants. Some of us are not utilising this space. Perhaps the anger of Modi is on account of this. The mistakes have to be accepted, analysed and corrected.
There is another aspect that has to be kept in mind. There can’t be public versus private approach. Both sectors have to play an important role in nation-building.
And, finally, public outbursts against the instruments that are responsible for carrying out the mandate of the government will only demoralise them. If someone is not doing his job, he should be warned (not publicly) and if there is no improvement, shown the door. Efficiency, effectiveness and integrity, instead of regional bias and personal preferences, have to be prime criteria for positioning officers. The choice of the right person for the right job is critical.
—Anil Swarup is former Secretary, Government of India and author of the book 'Not Just A Civil Servant'. The views expressed are personal
(Edited by : Ajay Vaishnav)
First Published: Feb 27, 2021 8:02 AM IST