Column: Maximum governance for tackling poverty

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Published: July 25, 2015 12:21:58 AM

JAM, Mudra Bank, Make-in-India and Digital India can work together to do this

The Socio Economic Caste Census (SECC) report released last week has resulted in sobering realisations. The data underscores the fact that India has not made much progress in eradicating poverty: only 10% of rural Indians have salaried employment, over 35% of rural Indians are illiterate, over 51% still engage in casual manual labour, as little as 2.73% have registered enterprises, as high as 56% do not own any agricultural land and almost 30% depend on agricultural labour for their livelihood.

Past assessments of India’s poverty have also painted a similarly bleak account. While the erstwhile Planning Commission pegged the number at 27.5% of the total population in 2007, the same year, the Arjun Sengupta Committee reported that as much as 77% of India’s population lived below the poverty line. In 2009, in a sort of repeat telecast of the same number quandary, the Tendulkar Committee reported that 41.8% of rural Indians, and 25% of urban Indians fell under the BPL category—while the NC Saxena report argued that the number of BPL citizens in rural India was a higher 50%. As is evident, even the most conservative estimates have made it unequivocally clear that several million Indians continue to live a life steeped in abject poverty and deprivation even after 68 years of Independence—a fact the latest SECC data has strongly reinforced.

The fact that a majority of our countrymen/women are still miserably trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty, illiteracy and unemployment is an indictment of the policies of the last 68 years and 11 big-money 5-year plans.

Poverty alleviation and eradication was one of the primary mandates of the Congress’s planned development approach, and evidently, the latter has been an outright failure. The sops and entitlement driven social programs have to a large extent entrenched into the delivery mechanism corruption, leakages and lethargy—and has come at a very high cost with limited results—a form of minimum governance!

In the light of the latest Census, and the current momentum shown by the year-old Narendra Modi government, it is worth reviving the conversation around concrete and systemic policy solutions to address poverty.

Already, there are signs of a new approach introduced by the government as part of its maximum governance idiom—JAM, Mudra Bank, Make-in-India and Digital India are programmes which use a combination of capital, enterprise, direct benefits/subsidies and job creation are designed to decisively and sustainably tackle poverty.

It is clear that inter-ministerial, inter-department and inter-project coordination directly affect the extent of the success of governance programmes in the next decade. This need for a coordinated approach between government programmes becomes evident when we examine the problems of the unorganised workforce.  A cursory examination of SECC data is telling—according to its findings, only 2.73% rural households have a registered enterprise and out of that only 1.61% account for non-agricultural own enterprises. This is directly connected with literacy, which equips their ability to participate in the formal workforce. The SECC reports that about 35% of rural India is illiterate, only 10% have salaried jobs and only 8% households earn R10,000 or more every month; 51.14% of rural India is actually engaged in casual manual labour to earn their bread and close to 56% of the rural population is landless.

Manufacturing still accounts for less than one-fifth of both output and employment. With the Make-in-India programme in full swing, and the forming of industrial corridors there is wide scope to boost manufacturing and increase its contribution to the GDP. However, to get the 51% of rural population presently engaged in manual causal labour to be absorbed into organised workforce it is important for these unskilled workers to be strategically and appropriately trained by the Skill India initiative so that they can participate in the opportunities created by Make-in-India.

With the roll-out of Digital India, there is also an immense scope to apply technology for the purpose of poverty alleviation by improving the efficiency and impact of government run programs in sectors such as agriculture, healthcare and education among others. If implemented innovatively, the Digital India programme can do wonders in this regard and magnify the impact of these well intentioned interventions.

Technology can transform the government-government and government-citizen interface, and ensure that these transactions are transparent, efficient, and accountable.

The NDA government was elected with an overwhelming mandate for change in the last general election—and was handed an economy that was left crippled due to years of profligacy and poor governance. The tasks for this government are therefore not easy. The problems can only be tackled by maximum governance in action!

The time has come to come to leave the dreary, failed habits of the past UPA/Congress governments behind, and move beyond the rhetoric, slogans and poverty photo-ops to a more decisive, determined, outcome-driven approach to eradicating poverty. This is a time for acting and executing. It is about time that narrative about India’s poverty sees a sea change—that the poor in India see a new set of solutions to transform their lives.

The author is a member of Parliament and a tech entrepreneur

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