More needs to be done for environment, farmers’ welfare: civil society report
Civil Society group “Wada Na Todo Abhiyan” has released a citizens’ report on two years of NDA government. The two-year-anniversary marks the completion of 731 days from the total 1,826 days-long tenure of the government, approaching its mid-term point.
The report focuses on how the plans and programs of the government have impacted the lives of the marginalised groups in our society. The promise of providing a corruption-free India has met with low performance, finds the report. The government was unable operationlise Lokpal Act and Whistle Blowers’ Protection Act enough though they were passed two years ago. The proposed amendment to the Prevention of Corruption Act may victimise vulnerable citizens who are seeking their rights and entitlements, adds the report.
Agriculture, farmer welfare, urban and rural development, drinking water and sanitation, housing and urban poverty alleviation, road, transport and highways and renewable energy have been given a thrust in budget allocation for 2015-16. However, the report says that allocations to most social sector do not address the critical concerns in health, education and civic amenities. Stress on private providers in core areas of health and education may undermine these public services, adds the report.
Allowing children below 14 years to work undermines the Right To Education Act and may counter efforts to improve education among the marginalised children, says the report. Further, the strategy of providing health care through promoting private insurances may do more harm than good, the report states. The government also lacks a comprehensive plan to address malnutrition among children in the age group of 0 to 6 years.
Despite the focus on children and young people, the budget cut of 29 per cent for children has been the highest ever, claims the report. On the question of youth, the target to be able to train over 40 crore people by 2022 is ambitious in the current scenario, says the report.
Highlighting some of the positive moves of the NDA rule, the report adds that passing of the amendments to the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act is a welcome step. Recognition of Ambedkar as the architect of the Indian state is rightly placed and long overdue. However, the continued poor allocation under the scheduled caste sub-plan and tribal sub-plan holds has kept the communities poor and under-developed, the report says. The flagship Swachch Bharat Abhiyan does not seem to have provisions to improve the lives of Dalit Safai Karmchari communities, it adds.
Environment protection laws have been diluted in the past two years, concludes the report. A high level committee was set up to review important environment, forest, wildlife and pollution acts. The committee suggested radical changes that would undermine the laws and recommended changes to render less effective a number of laws it was not charged to review, the report adds. Between January 2013 and March 2015, a total of 118 projects were granted environmental and CRZ clearances, of which, only four were challenged before the National Green Tribunal.
The report also highlighted the issue of farmer suicides saying crop loss, mounting debt and acute drought situation continue to drive farmers to commit suicide in Maharashtra, Punjab, Telangana, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Rural insurance schemes like Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana and Bhartiya Krishi Bima Yojana could have been used to provide assistance to farmers, adds the report. Agricultural credit, rural electrification and a thrust on increasing the irrigation cover are major challenges that need to be addressed by the government, the report adds. The MGNREGA programme has been continued, which may help ease the pressure on rural economy.
Similarly, the impact assessment of the government’s Make in India push—which intends to transform the country into a global manufacturing hub—is being eagerly awaited. Despite many commitments, the anticipated foreign investment is not evident, the report says. The government has opted for trade and a market-driven economy, bringing concerns over livelihood of small landowners, farmers, rural households and economically weaker sections in the report.
Growth by diversion
The Union environment ministry is turning the NDA government’s commitment to business reforms into reality. In the last two years, 20,000-25,000 hectares of forest land have been diverted each year for commercial and developmental projects, according to environment minister Prakash Javadekar’s statement in the Rajya Sabha during the budget session this year.
His latest announcement on May 16 informs us that 2,000 projects requiring environmental and forest clearances were given the go ahead, resulting in investments worth Rs 10 lakh crore. Javadekar justifies these approvals by stating that many of the projects had been pending since the tenure of the previous UPA government.
Earlier in May 2016, the environment ministry announced that the period for granting project approvals had been reduced from 600 days to 190 days to ensure the “ease of doing responsible business”. Similarly, regional offices have been empowered to divert forest land below 40 hectares with states’ participation. Linear projects such as roads, rail, drinking water canal, irrigation water canal, transmission and laying pipe and cables of any size can be approved by the regional offices of the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC).
The ministry lists the passing of the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Managment and Planning Authority (CAMPA) Bill by the Lok Sabha as one of its achievements. Introduced in the Parliament on May 8, 2015, the Bill proposes to establish National Compensatory Afforestation Fund (NCAF) under the public account of India, and a State Compensatory Afforestation Fund (SCAF) under the public account of each state. The Bill mandates NCAF to allocate 90 per cent of the CAMPA funds received from net present value (NPV) to the states to compensate for the loss of forest cover, regeneration of forest ecosystem, wildlife protection and infrastructure development.
Experts are skeptical about the effectiveness of these new rules. According to former member of National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) Kishore Rithe, even 10 per cent of CAMPA funds presently granted to states for afforestation is not yielding results. “If 90 per cent of funds are allocated to the state, the money should be put in fixed deposit and only interest should be spent on relocation of villages where forests have been diverted,” Rithe says.
The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India also found that against the receivable non-forest land of 103,381.91 hectares from 2006-12 for compensatory afforestation, only 28,086 hectares (27 per cent) was received. Actual compensatory afforestation done over non-forest land received was 7,280.84 hectares or merely 7 per cent of the requirement. Degraded forest lands also fared badly with only 49 per cent of the required area being brought under afforestation, the CAG report states.
Rights of forest dwellers
Attempts are also underway to dilute the Forest Rights Act, 2006, threatening the rights allotted to scheduled tribes and other forest dwellers who traditionally depend on forests. States like Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh are notifying their own rules to give the state forest department the power to decide on matters related to forest management. This violates the Forest Rights Act, according to non-profits working on tribal rights, because it dilutes the powers of the village council and defeats the purpose of the Act. The Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA), which had protested these developments, has now been silenced by Union ministers Prakash Javadekar and Nitin Gadkari.
Growth in forest cover
Despite gaps in forest governance, the ministry has a few achievements to boast of. Mangrove cover has increased by 100 sq km and forest and tree cover has increased by 5,081 sq km. According to the India State of Forest Report (ISFR) 2015, the total carbon stock in the country’s forests is estimated to be 7,044 million tonnes, registering an increase of 103 million tonnes over previous assessments.
The environment ministry must, however, note that India has also lost 2,511 sq km of prime forests, a situation that demands attention beyond the rapid granting of project clearances and easing the process for businesses alone
Is public health really on the agenda of the NDA government?
It has been two years since the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government was formed. But even as different Central government ministries organise events to highlight their achievements, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), responsible for taking care of the health of billions, seems to hardly have anything to show.
Whereas health experts have been urging the ministry to increase expenditure on health, it seems to be satisfied with its miniscule efforts at de-worming and vaccination. For instance, on May 23, it boastfully tweeted saying that almost 20 crore children were given de-worming tablets in a nationwide initiative. Similarly, the ministry keeps publishing the number of children it has vaccinated so far. It has launched a programme named “Indradhanush”, under which, it wants to immunise 90 per cent of Indian childrren by 2020.
Other than this, the ministry also came out with a new list of essential medicines in December 2015 and increased the medicine under-price cap from 684 to 875 medicines. In March, 2016, Union Minister for Health J P Nadda, launched “Bedaquiline”, a new drug for Drug Resistant and Multi-Drug Resistant Tuberculosis (MDR-TB) as part of the Revised National Tuberculosis Control Program (RNTCP).
The ministry also came out with a draft policy on public health, though it could not be formalised. In it, the government had promised to come out with a “Right to Health”.
However, all these efforts do not seem to be having any effect on the ground and several reports have appeared highlighting the plight of the common man.
In his Budget speech this year, Union Minister of Finance, Arun Jaitley announced a new health protection scheme for poor and economically-weak families against unforeseen, out-of-pocket expenditure, with a health cover up to Rs one lakh per family. According to the minister, senior citizens (aged 60 years and above) belonging to this category would get an additional top-up package of up to Rs 30,000. However, it has to be seen what kind of change it makes on the ground.
After coming to power, the NDA government has gone on to satisfy the long-awaited demand of fiscal devolution in which it is supposed to give 42 per cent of its income through tax collection to states. Earlier, the share of states was only 32 per cent. After this change, the Central government also decided to relieve itself from several responsibilities. One of these was public health, which was given to states. It is not yet clear how state governments are responding to the call of dealing with public health.
Vandana Prasad, Convener of Public Health Resource Network says that the government has done nothing for public health. “Fiscal devolution is good but the government has given more responsibilities to the states without monitoring their performance,” she says.
On the nutrition front, though the ministry has talked a lot, it seems to be investing less in comparison to previous years. For instance, it spent Rs 27,220 crore in 2012-13 which went up to Rs 25,572 crore in 2016-17, as per Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA), a Delhi-based non-profit working on budget analysis.
After two years, the Modi government’s sanitation targets have only become tougher
As the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government completes two years in office, there is not much to write about its ambitious sanitation programme except for the fact that it has become a more difficult task.
Two years ago, the newly-formed government had promised that India would become Open Defecation Free (ODF) by October 2019. India is known as the “world capital of open defecation” as nearly 60 per cent of the country’s population defecates in the open.
There are still three years to go till the current government completes its full term in office. However, Down To Earth’s calculations show that the target of achieving OFD status has become more complex. The calculation shows that while last year (2015-16), the government’s target was to construct seven toilets per 10 seconds, this year (2016-17) that has increased to eight toilets in every 10 seconds i.e one toilet per second. (See table).
The government’s inability to achieve the target last year is due to an acute shortage of funds as well as lack of grass roots capacity to implement this scheme.
- Number of rural households without toilets (according to the 2011 census)-113 million
- Toilets constructed from 2011-12 to 2015-16- 36.87 million
- Number of toilets to be constructed in the next three years-76.13 million
- Number of toilets to be constructed in one year–25.4 million
- Number of toilets to be constructed in a day–68,602
- Number of toilets to be constructed in an hour-2,858
- Number of toilets to be constructed in a second-0.80
- Means almost one toilet per second
The journey so far
In the last one year (2015-16), although the speed of construction of toilets has increased in comparison to the previous year (2014-15), it still falls short of the required target.
2015-16’s target was to construct 23 million of toilets but it fell short by half. The government has been able to construct only 12.7 million toilets. (See table)
|No. of toilet constructed (in million)
|Source: Ministry of Drinking water and sanitation
In 2014-15, the new government assessed that providing every household a toilet required an expenditure of Rs 1.32 lakh crore. But the Centre has not allocated funds as per requirement.
According to the 12th Five Year Plan (2012-17), the proposed outlay for the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan was Rs 44,116 crore. But funds released in the first four years (2012-16) totaled around Rs 14,175 crore.
The current year’s budgetary allocation is Rs 9,000 crore instead of the Rs 14,000 crore proposed by the NITI Ayog, the new government think tank which replaced the erstwhile Planning Commission (See Table). In all, the total budgetary allocation in the last five years has been Rs 23,645 crore.
|Proposed by NITI ayog
“After the change in funding pattern from 75:25 to 60:40, the required funds for 2015-16 were 12500 crore, against which Rs 6,525 crore were provided. For 2016-17, Rs 9000 crore have been provided against the requirement of Rs 14,000 crore. The ministry is following up for the balance funds,” says an official.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee report on the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation has also pointed out lack of fund availability as the main hindrance for the implementation of the scheme. Other reasons cited include state governments’ less prioritisation of the scheme as well as lack of capacity at the ground level.
Startups see surge in investment
Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Startup India initiative in the midst of great expectations on January 16, 2016. Four months down the line, we take a look at the impact of reforms such as self-certification, tax exemption for three years and the simplification of registration through a mobile app.
All these reforms have led to a surge in investment for startups, experts said. According to Xeler 8, a startup curation and deal intelligence platform, investment in Indian startups rose by 14 per cent in the first quarter of 2016.
Indian startups have raised US $1.733 billion as a result of 344 deals from 312 investors during this period. On an average, this means four startup fundings per day between January and March.
However, the number of venture capital deals fell by 35 per cent during the same period to 90 as compared to 138 in the same period a year ago, according to data from risk capital data monitoring service, VCCEdge.
“2016 has been a down-year for venture capitals not only in India, but in the US too. I think there was an over exuberance of VC markets in 2015. But this was based on a market trend rather than business fundamentals. In 2016, investors have become more cautious,” said Mohammad Ali, the founder and CEO of Primaseller—a seller platform intended to standardise multiple channels of sale.
India’s ranking in the Global Innovation Index has dropped consistently since 2011 and international patent applications filed from the country have also come down from 1,428 in 2014 to 1,423 this year, according to the Geneva-based World Intellectual Property Organization.
A major problem with the central initiative is how it defines a startup. According to the Startup India action plan, a startup is “an entity working towards innovation and development of new products or services driven by technology or intellectual property”.
“It is too early to say if Startup India has worked or not. I haven’t observed on-ground benefits yet,” Ali added. He believes that the government should focus more on regulating startups. “We need better systems of registering startups and clear definitions. For instance, as per definition, employee stock ownership plans can be given only to employees and directors of a company. What about including advisors, mentors etc?” he questioned.
This restricts the scope to technology-powered internet-run businesses, thus leaving out enterprises with an offline business model, experts said.
According to the Economic Survey Report of 2016, exit options for startups remain bleak. “It is important that startups, too, see exit, which would take the form of these companies being listed, allowing the original private investors to cash in on the initial investment and plough it back into other similar ventures,” it read.
Another problem that needs to be resolved is granting of patents. In response to a question raised in the Parliament on March 9, Commerce and Industry minister Nirmala Seetharaman said that 2.37 lakh patent applications were pending with the government as of February 1, 2016.
To take stock of the issue, the amended patent rules released last week have reduced the time period for granting patents from five to seven years to two-and-a half years. It is further expected to come down to a year and a half by March 2018.
Teacher shortage mars higher education sector
“Education is the most powerful tool for the advancement of the nation and the most potent weapon to fight poverty.”
This is what the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had said in its election manifesto in 2014. It had promised that it would accord the highest priority to address the acute shortage of teachers and researchers, quality of education and research and also keep in mind the employability factor associated with most courses.
On the second anniversary of the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance government, a look at the country’s education sector shows a bleak report card marred not only by controversies and unrest in various universities, but also lack of infrastructure and reduced fund allocation.
The “highest priority” to address the shortage of teachers seems to be missing when it comes to higher education in the country. Highlighting this gap, a recent report by a parliamentary panel warned that the “situation continues to be grim with no improvement foreseen in the near future”.
According to the report by the department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on human resources development tabled last month, the acute shortage of faculty has been the biggest handicap for growth and development of higher education vis-à-vis maintaining quality.
The BJP had also promised, in its manifesto, that public spending on education would be raised to 6 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP). The number has dropped in two years and is far from the 6 per cent as promised.
According to an analysis done by the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA), the Union government’s spending on education as per the 2016-17 was 0.48 per cent of GDP. It was 0.5 per cent in 2015-16, according to revised estimates.
The government’s spending on education as percentage of the budget has also shown a downward trend. The CBGA analysis shows that it stands at 3.7 per cent for the current fiscal, down from the 3.8 per cent as per the revised estimates for 2015-16.
Government spending as part of the total budget in percentage terms stood at 4.7 per cent during the United Progressive Alliance’s rule in 2012-13 and 4.6 per cent in 2013-14. For the fiscal 2014-15, the spending on education was 4.1 per cent.
Talking of gross enrolment ratio (GER) in higher education, which is the participation rate for age group of 18-23 years, the parliamentary panel report said that India lagged behind many nations.
According to government data, the gross enrolment ratio in higher education in India is 23.6 per cent. The same for male population is 24.5 per cent and for females is 22.7 per cent. For Scheduled Castes, it is 18.5 per cent and for Scheduled Tribes, it is 13.3 per cent.
The parliamentary panel report observed that the Twelfth Plan Approach Paper mentions around 18 per cent of all government education spending (or 1.12 per cent of GDP spent) be spent on higher education. This funding should be raised to 25 per cent and 1.5 per cent respectively, it said.
“However, the overall scenario regarding the declining allocation over the years shows a different picture. This is also reflected in the low achievement of gross enrolment ratio (GER) which is taken as an indicator of the growth and development of the higher education sector in the county. As may be seen from the comparative figures, India ranks at the bottom regarding GER amongst those nations,” it said.
The committee reiterated that to achieve higher GER and make India an education hub globally, not only more allocations were required, but the utilisation of allocations had to be more efficient.
Coming to initiatives in the sector, the National Education Policy is among the most talked about.
Minister for human resources development Smriti Irani has said at various fora that the government would bring out a National Education Policy on its second anniversary.
“The Government of India would like to bring out a National Education Policy to meet the changing dynamics of the population’s requirement with regards to quality education, innovation and research, aiming to make India a knowledge superpower by equipping its students with the necessary skills and knowledge and to eliminate the shortage of manpower in science, technology, academics and industry,” the nodal ministry’s website reads.
The minister has hinted at a web portal which would teach subjects in various languages, research parks, private participation and greater autonomy to educational institutions.
However, it remains to be seen what the policy actually has in store.
The government had also announced in the budget 62 new Navodaya Vidyalayas to be opened in the remaining uncovered districts of the country over the next two years.
It also announced a Higher Education Financing Agency with an initial capital base of Rs 1,000 crore that will leverage funds from the market and supplement them with donations and corporate social responsibility funds. These funds will be used to finance improvement in infrastructure. Details on the initiative are awaited.