by Pallavi Polanki May 25, 2013
National Advisory Council (NAC) member and leading social activist Aruna Roy has come down heavily on the government for its poor performance in the social sector.
Roy, an instrumental force behind the Right to Information Act, criticised the government for stalling on essential legislations such as the Food Security Bill, the Land Acquisition Bill and the Lokpal Bill.
Roy spoke to Firstpost about UPA-II’s record on inclusive growth, the government’s new advertising campaign and the UPA’s biggest challenge as it goes into polls in 2014.
Excerpts from the Interview:
Has UPA-II delivered on its promise of inclusive growth?
While UPA-I delivered on some essential promises in the social sector such as MGNREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) and the Forest Rights Act, UPA-II has made promises which it has failed to deliver.
The Food Security Bill lies in Parliament waiting to be passed with little time left for debate on its provisions or to strengthen its framework. In fact, there seems to be a real danger that it may not get passed at all.
The Land Acquisition bill which has been mired in controversy has also not moved beyond the stage of the Standing Committee. Even the much touted UID-based direct benefit transfer has encountered basic problems and is a non-starter.
Roy has said the government failed to deliver on many promises. Image courtesy: Ibnlive
The UPA-II promised a revamping of the National Social Assistance Programme to move towards universal and enhanced pensions for the elderly, single women, and disabled. However, this too remains unfulfilled. The question of money seems to have dominated all decisions related to the social sector, so much so that many states are talking about a cash crunch in MGNREGA.
The Right to Education Act was passed during UPA-II, but the implementation of its progressive provisions remains crippled due to a lack of resources needed to meet commitments.
Corruption scandals have rocked UPA-II with disturbing regularity. How has government fared in bringing more transparency in governance?
An area where the performance of UPA-II has been deeply disappointing is in its inability to deliver on basic governance legislation of critical importance to the country today. The debate around the Lokpal Bill resulted in several pieces of draft legislation which would undoubtedly help citizens ensure accountability of the government and its officials. Apart from the Lokpal Bill, the Grievance Redress Bill, the Whistleblower Protection Bill, the Judicial Accountability Bill are legislations that should be passed immediately.
The Whistleblower Protection Bill and the Grievance Redress Bill actually affect the right to live of the poor in significant ways. An effective Grievance Redress Bill could have been like an RTI part II for UPA-II. Instead, the Government exempted its premier anti-corruption investigating agency – the CBI from scrutiny under the RTI Act, and has now been forced by the Supreme Court to promise independence in investigation of corruption cases.
If the Government has any intent of addressing corruption and arbitrary use of power, anti- corruption agencies must be made independent, transparent, and accountable, and this basket of accountability legislations, which have come to Parliament after much public action over the last two years, must be passed immediately.
What do you make of the publicity campaign released recently by UPA-II to highlight its achievements in the social sector. Is the UPA making the same mistake that the NDA made in 2004 with the ‘India Shining’ campaign?
It is true that the “game changer” label given to the UID-based cash transfer/direct benefit transfer seems to resonate with the NDAs ‘India Shining’ campaign. In both cases, there is little that is delivered to the poor in real terms and the triumphant claims only served to rub salt in the wounds of large numbers of suffering and marginalised people.
Does the UID system create more problems for the poor? AFP
The attempt to ensure that money reaches the beneficiary without leakages along the way is laudable, but imposing an impractical and untested centralized delivery platform like the UID on a complex development structure can complicate existing systems and exclude large numbers of people.
The results from the roll out districts speak for themselves. Miniscule numbers of beneficiaries have received money through this platform and even in these cases there has been no additional benefit to them. For the poor as a whole, there has been the added problems and irritants associated with having to acquire a UID number on which all entitlements will be tethered.
If wisdom prevails, UPA-II even in its last year would concentrate on delivering on its social sector promises: ensure that food and pension entitlements are made a reality, enact citizen-centred accountability systems to guarantee delivery of entitlements and fix accountability of officials.
What will be the UPA’s biggest challenge as it goes into polls in 2014?
The challenge for any government is to deliver on its promises and the UPA II will be evaluated on its implementation of promises made. The questions it will have to answer are: what are ways in which it has promoted or vitiated the achievements of UPA-I ,vis-a-vis the Right to Information, MGNREGA, Forest Rights Act, etc?
Two, has it delivered on its promises of inclusive growth in UPA II – Right to Food, Pensions, Education, Health, etc? And three, has it provided a real answer to the widespread frustration of people about the lack of accountability at all levels and numbers of cases of grand corruption that have been regularly coming to light?
I don’t wish to speculate on what the results of a particular election will be. I do, however, believe that a government has a duty to deliver on promises it has made to its electorate.
The India Shining Campaign demonstrated that people are shrewd and respond only when real benefits reach them. Tall claims and slick campaigns do not get votes. Slogans are seen as mere rhetoric. It would be a mistake not to recognize that people can understand political intent through delivery.
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