By Nantoo Banerjee
The present government is effectively in power for over 40 months and spent nearly 70 per cent of its life before the mandate of the next Lok Sabha election is due. The period may be short to bring about a sea change in the country’s administrative environment to push economic growth and all that feed the growth and social stability. This is more so after the prolonged political and administrative inactions that paralysed the economy, especially during the second part of the 10-year Congress-led UPA rule under two distinct authorities — all-powerful chairperson Sonia Gandhi with little public accountability and prime minister Manmohan Singh with little power and full responsibility. In contrast, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in full control of the BJP-led NDA government. Yet, its performance factsheet shows the government is still way behind fulfilling BJP’s key electoral promises. It has been scratching mostly on surface with programmes such as Jan Dhan Yojna, Swatch Bharat, Clean Ganga and controversially all-pervasive Aadhaar linkage covering such things as cellphone connections, bank accounts, cooking gas supplies, poor man’s ration, etc. Such programmes hardly create jobs and sustain life and livelihood of the masses.
If the job creation has been the biggest area of failure of the Modi government, it is mainly because most of its 27 cabinet ministers and 11 independent ministers of state neither have clear output targets, nor specific delivery plans to generate jobs that would have changed the life of the people and profile of the economy. BJP as a party seems to have forgotten that it made an election promise to create at least five crore new jobs. On November 22, 2013, Narendra Modi at an election rally in Agra had promised one crore jobs every year if his party won the election. Where are those jobs? The government’s own labour bureau data shows that job creation in the last three years could be at their lowest in eight years. The average annual job creation under the present government has been only around three lakhs. On the other hand, several thousands employed in the BPO, IT and construction sectors lost jobs in the last one year alone because of major contraction of business in these areas. Moreover, quality of new jobs created under the present government has been mostly poor. Generally, they are contract jobs and temporary or part-time in nature catering mainly to the services sector. These jobs don’t provide security, assured earning or even modest livelihood, leave alone retirement benefits such as pension, gratuity and PF. Large industries providing secured jobs are not expanding. The existing ones are going for automation, contract employment and headcount reduction. According to the government’s labour bureau, only 2.31 lakh jobs were created during April-December 2016. The job creation remains the single biggest failure of the government.
The healthcare in the public sector continues to stay primitive and inadequate for want of a clear government policy and initiative to set up top class medical collages, para-medical institutes, hospitals and health centres. The expansion of this critical sector under the government would have created thousands of jobs, apart from providing quality healthcare to the needy. The department of chemicals, under Ananthkumar, is doing an excellent job by restricting the prices of essential drugs and medical devices against strong opposition from a few MNCs as well as large local manufacturers. But, this needs to be complemented by expanding the government’s own healthcare services, instead of leaving them under private business sharks. The annual per capita drug consumption in India is among the lowest in the world. Yet, the country’s pharmaceutical exports were over $16 billion, last year. Big drug firms are more interested in the export market in the absence of large domestic demand. Similarly, the government could have spent substantially on education that would have created big employment opportunities and prevented massive exodus of rich children seeking expensive foreign education. The latter liberally draw hard-earned foreign exchange from RBI, mostly through exports of farm products, carpets, leather goods, readymade garments, processed foods, auto parts and handicrafts, among others.
Against such a depressing backdrop of economic development, serious independent efforts by ministers such as Nitin Gadkari, Dharmendra Pradhan, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, Ananthkumar and Arun Jaitley to push the economy and grow employment stand out. Only last week, the government cleared a massive investment of Rs.6.92 lakh crore in highway construction to develop 83,677 kms. of roads by 2022. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s “bold and unprecedented” Rs.2.1 lakh crore fund infusion, though mostly via recapitalisation bonds, to strengthen banks under NPA pressure is also expected to have a long term positive impact on the economy. The mega roads rollout plan establishes Narendra Modi’s full confidence in Gadkari, who has been given additional charges in the last cabinet reshuffle to implement some of the prime minister’s pet projects, to deliver.
In the last 40 months, Gadkari has done extraordinary work in the roads and port sectors. The road construction that was in the range of two km a day earlier has been increased to 23 km a day. The aim is to have a four-lane road wherever the traffic is 10,000 PCU (passenger car unit) and a six-lane highway wherever it is 20,000 PCU. Gadkari’s action helped revive the financial fortunes of major ports in the past three years. The 12 major ports put together have nearly doubled their operational profit to Rs 5,070 crore in this period. Gadkari is easily the best performer in the government.
Similarly, Dharmendra Pradhan has been doing excellent job to grow the petroleum sector and expand its presence globally to ensure the country’s energy security. Ms. Harsimrat Kaur Badal too has helped create a tremendous global awareness about India’s food processing potential, leading to the possibility of a $10-billion FDI inflow in this sector creating jobs and boosting exports. The nation wished other Modi ministers too delivered well to push the economy and employment. (IPA Service)