By – Maj Gen Ashok Kumar, VSM (Retd)
Various occasions have been used by the governments in power to announce major schemes or policies, including foreign policy overtures, besides articulating their views on burning national and social issues. Independence Day on August 15 every year is one such occasion when the Indian Prime Minister unfurls the national flag at the ramparts of the Red Fort in Delhi and addresses the nation.
Though this tradition was started by the first Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, it has continued since then as a mark of our democratic win against imperialism of the British power. Be what it may, the Independence Day speech has its own flavours that differ from year to year and from PM to PM. Invariably, the platform has been also used to showcase the work done in the past year in addition to indicating future policies. Some of the major welfare schemes also get announced on the eve of Independence Day or through the PM’s speech on the day. This day needs to be now utilised to address some of the basic concerns of the Indian masses against so-called big-ticket announcements.
On August 15, 2023, when the nation celebrates its 76th Independence Day, some of the basic announcements could be as under:
No Indian Below Poverty Line (BPL)
The government has fixed income criteria of Rs 27,000 per year for a family to get BPL
No Labour Chaurahas
It is a common sight in almost all cities in the country to see ‘Labour Chaurahas’ at designated places where workers come with the hope of getting a daily wage job. Since these places are known to a large segment of the population, it is easier for the job providers to go to these places to pick these workers. While it is also a way to connect the job seekers and the job providers, it does help marginally where job seekers are far more in number than the jobs on offer. It is a painful experience to see the dejected faces of many young people not getting jobs. A categorical norm of ‘service at doorsteps’ could be provided which could be linked digitally. Once this announcement is made, it can be very well achieved with the first point of No Indian BPL as well as the digital ecosystem reaching the grassroots.
No Deaths Due to Hunger/Malnutrition
Nothing could be more disastrous to see some Indians dying due to hunger/malnutrition at a time when the country is grain surplus and capable of taking its population to the healthy domain. While central as well as state governments have launched multiple good schemes, reaching all the beneficiaries especially the migrant labourers still remains a challenge.
No Deaths due to Cold/Heat
It is something surprising to see Indians dying due to extreme cold as well as hot weather conditions. The strange part is that the states like Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand which are prone to extreme cold climates have hardly any deaths due to cold but these deaths do take place in UP, Bihar, Odisha and West Bengal, among others. On similar lines, while hot weather conditions are more acute in Southern India, people die of heat strokes more in UP, Bihar, Odisha etc. The coming Independence Day must address these issues to ensure no Indian needs to die due to these reasons, especially when we boast of being the fifth-largest economy and are apparently living in the ‘Amrit Kaal’.
It is a common sight to encounter beggars at road crossings/road stops besides religious institutions. The beggars can be classified into two categories- those who are able-bodied but have chosen begging either in absence of getting a job/being used to easy money and the second category of those who are suffering from some disability/ailment/too frail to work. The first category should be brought into the job circuit whereas the second category should be suitably rehabilitated. The ‘Amrit Kaal’ should be free from the beggars in the country and all Indians must lead a respectable life.
No Farmer Suicides Due to Crop-Related Reasons
Farmers’ suicides take place due to multiple reasons. While all political parties resort to blame game, there are two prime reasons – one is crop failure, and the other is excessive production followed by plummeting prices. These reasons surface year after year but an appropriate resolution is far-fetched though some progress has been made in these fields. The failure of crops must be addressed by the insurance provisions while excessive production should be addressed by a network of cold storages, networked supply in heavy demand areas and exports so as to ensure that the farmers resort to neither destroying the crop produce nor selling it below input costs.
Universal Health Scheme
The country needs a free universal health scheme for all Indians irrespective of their income criteria. It’s time one sheds the income criteria-based health care and extends it to all as this will be the best social security to address the national concern. The models exist in some countries around the world and need to be emulated with suitable modifications to Indian conditions. The multiplicity of healthcare schemes must be done away with and replaced with quality universal healthcare schemes.
Right to Education Act and NEP 2020 have addressed educational concerns marginally while a substantial number of countries in the world have accorded priority to free education up to different levels. India has been a late entrant in this field. It is now time to announce free education at least up to graduation level available to all Indian nationals, another social security need. There are countries in the world that have already adopted such norms and India needs to catch up with these on the forthcoming Independence Day.
There are far too many critical national challenges that need to be addressed in addition to the above eight recommended to be announced from the ramparts of the Red Fort on the coming Independence Day. The policy-makers need to identify the executors who can execute the national vision of such a high magnitude. In addition to the government, public participation is also needed for success in the above thoughts as well as in all other fields.
(Author is a Kargil war veteran and defence analyst. He is a visiting fellow of CLAWS and specialises in neighbouring countries with special focus on China.)
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