IN HIS first year in power, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has brought in banking for the poor, set up campaigns to improve sanitation and curb the abortion of female foetuses - but slashed funds for education, health, women and children.
In “Promises and Reality” - a report focusing on policies affecting the poor and marginalised - charities gave a mixed verdict on Modi’s National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coalition, which took office exactly one year ago.
Compiled by Wada Na Todo Abhiyan (WNTA), a coalition of more than 4,000 civil society groups, the report examined budgetary allocations, changes in laws and initiatives against Modi’s 2014 election campaign slogan that “acche din” or “good days” were coming.
“For children that make up 39 per cent of the population, ‘acche din’ appear very far away,” the Delhi-based group which has members across India said in a statement.
“With slashes in budgets to the ministry of women and child development, and in health and education, it will be near impossible to deliver on the right to education and ensure health and well being.”
The report commended Modi for launching the “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” (Save the Daughter, Educate the Daughter) campaign to stop sex-selective abortion and ensure girls’ education.
But the charities said the campaign jarred with massive budget cuts in flagship social welfare programmes.
The National Health Mission and the Integrated Child Development Services - public health schemes which reach out to millions of poor - have seen their federal government budgets cut by 17 and 52 per cent respectively in 2015/16 from 2014/15.
Outlays for programmes promoting education for all and giving hot meals to students in government schools have been slashed by 28.5 per cent and 31 per cent respectively.
Government officials say they have not cut funds to these schemes, but have decentralised some social welfare programmes by giving money to the states to spend how they see fit. Charities say there is no guarantee that states will prioritise these schemes over projects such as infrastructure.
The report also said that NDA moves to pass “regressive” amendments to some laws would put children at risk.
One change would allow children aged 16 to be given adult punishments for serious crimes, another would let children under 14 work for their families out of school hours.
“The new amendment to the Child Labour prohibition law, which intends to not ‘disturb the social fabric’, would provide sanction to girls being kept at home, counter to the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao initiative,” it said.
Modi’s first anniversary was greeted with much fanfare with ministers and senior officials of his Bharatiya Janata Party holding rallies, conferences and press events to mark the occasion.
In an open letter to the public on Tuesday (May 26), Modi said his government had not only reined in inflation and rejuvenated the economy, but had also brought in laws to ensure transparency, stem graft and alleviate poverty.
“Our Government is dedicated to the poor, marginalized and those left behind. We are working towards empowering them to become our soldiers in the war against poverty,” said the letter, widely published in Indian newspapers.
Modi listed numerous schemes launched in the past year, such as the “Clean India” campaign to promote better sanitation and the “100 Smart Cities” initiative for the homeless.
The government’s universal bank accounts scheme has brought banking to the poor - more than 150 million bank accounts have been opened so far.
But the WTDA report said it was not clear whether poorer account holders would be allowed overdrafts and at what rates.
The charities also questioned the Smart Cities initiative, Housing for All and the Clean India campaign, saying they appeared to be overly ambitious plans which lacked detail.
“The NDA government has announced ‘Housing for All by 2022’ without studying the technical feasibility of building millions of houses in such a short time,” the report said.
“Given the huge housing shortage (26.53 million and growing), it needs to build more than 8,000 houses per day to reach the target.”