|Venkaiah Naidu, Union Minister for Urban Development, Housing & Urban Poverty Alleviation and Parliamentary Affairs|
It’s really a pity and a challenge to the system particularly those who are in power, that even after 67 years of Independence, we have a lot of people living below poverty line. We have issues like rural-urban divide and serious economic disparities. Then we hear of farmers’ suicides and sometimes of hunger deaths here and there. And then we get criticisms about the system not being sensitive to the vulnerable sections.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s aim is to empower every Indian. We have a vision and he (PM) is very clear – if you want to eradicate poverty, you have to create wealth. Without creating wealth, if you start distributing wealth, you will end up in poverty and debt for the entire country. P Chidambaram, the former Finance Minister, if I recall correctly, told the Parliament on 24th February 2014 that 43.3 per cent of our revenues are spent on repayment of interest. Then how can you move forward?
I don’t want to be sounding political, but we have inherited a bad legacy – there was a (high) fiscal deficit, trade deficit, a current account deficit and then there was trust deficit. That problem has been taken care of—there is no trust deficit now. There is confidence everywhere. The situation is improving – the economy is coming back on rails, thanks to the hard work of the people and the confidence the leader has given to the country. It will definitely show results.
The PM has given a programme to all of us – I call it MISIDICI (Make in India, Skill India, Digital India and Clean India) programme. We want the welfare of the downtrodden—the suppressed and oppressed sections of all these years—that has to be in the forefront of all our strategies of development. Development and good governance are the two goals he (Modi) has set before us. And that is the mantra, that is the agenda and that is our ideology. Any ideology must aim at uplifting the poorest of the poor. Our leader and mentor Deen Dayal Upadhyay told us that uplifting the poorest of the poor is the real service to the country.
People are not ready to wait for long. We are aware of that. They have waited. They gave a long rope of almost 50 years to one ruling party. We will not have that luxury. I am not expecting that we will be given 48-50 years. But some people are asking achhe din kahan hain (where are the good days)? One has to be patient. Things are changing, the climate is changing and investments are coming.
I was in Barcelona recently, where 240 companies from 180 countries took part in a Smart City World Congress. The amount of interest they were evincing on India, I was surprised. The Mayor of Barcelona made a presentation on GDP growth of various countries and it was very heartening to see only two countries–India and China—moving up and most other countries moving down. It is because of the people of India. They have inherent talent. But there was a lack of governance. There was what we call a policy paralysis. Now it is no more there.
Wealth Creation Must for Eradicating Poverty
My Leftist friends in Nellore, my native place, used to say that distribute everything. If you want to distribute wealth, you must first create wealth. Without creating wealth, you cannot distribute wealth. Otherwise, you will be continuing and sustaining poverty. This is where we have gone wrong. There is a saying in English: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. If you give him a fish, he will start asking for another fresh fish in the afternoon and at night also. This is what has been happening in our country. Whatever welfare measure and development initiative that are taken by the government, you must see to it that they are better targeted and that they reach the needy people. And then use the remaining resources to create wealth and create infrastructure.
Jan Dhan, a Solid Start
It is just a beginning. When PM discussed it with some of us, he said after 67 years of Independence, 58 per cent of the people are excluded from the banking system—it is not acceptable and should be rectified. Some of us said we will rectify it within our term of 5 years. He said it has to be done within one year. Recently we had a review meeting and he told Cabinet that after seven weeks of launching Jan Dhan, 70 million new bank accounts have been opened. What does it mean? It means, where there is a will, there is a way. You have to motivate the people. We are going to extend it to Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT), pension and other entitlements. Whatever (welfare) initiative government is taking, it has to be brought finally under the Jan Dhan Yojana. People will be told that these are the facilities that are coming to them directly without the need for going to a middleman.
The Labour Ministry has come out with a scheme of minimum Rs.1,000 pension per month. While I was giving away the pension to some beneficiaries, I asked one old woman how much she was getting earlier. She said Rs.30. I was surprised. She told me to thank the PM for the new pension scheme.
Unleashing Hidden Talents, Empowering People
My point is you have to unleash the forces of growth. There is hidden talent in everybody in all sections. Those talents have to be given an opportunity. That’s why the PM is giving so much emphasis on Skill India. He has created a separate ministry for skill development and put a youngster Rajiv Pratap Rudy as the minister. The skills that are there in the country, must be upgraded. We have the largest human development resource, which can take care of half the need of the world. So, we have to focus on skill upgradation.
When I was the rural development minister during A B Vajpayee’s term, the Self-Help Group (SHG) movement in Andhra Pradesh, which subsequently spread to Maharashtra and Gujarat also, was magnificent. It has changed the lives of rural poor, particularly rural women. They are organised and empowered now. The repayment of loans by SHGs in Andhra Pradesh was 96-98 per cent because they were made to work and made to understand that they have to repay the debt.
Doles vs Development
Now what has happened and we politicians are partly responsible for the present state of affairs, is that we have developed a psychology among the people that everything is free. Some state governments are offering free TV, mixer and grinder—if there is nothing else to grind, you can go on to grind your fate. Some state governments are even offering mangal sutras for free.
Then there is a popular slogan among farmers of free power. What farmers want is not free power but they want assured power. I always have the feeling that free power first means low power and then no power. No power is free.
Power is an essential part of our life. For everything we need power. If power generation comes to a halt, life comes to a halt. Today, in Gujarat there is assured power 24x7. They are giving quality power. That’s why people are not raising any questions (on free power). Consider the health of electricity boards across the country and compare them with those in Gujarat. We must take cue from this and say, you provide us with quality service and people will be eager to pay for that. First of all you have to establish credibility.
Equal Opportunities for All
We have to change the mind-set of people. Let us empower them. That’s why the PM wants empowering all Indians by skill upgradation, financial inclusion, various development initiatives, strengthening MSMEs and by taking care of agriculture which is in crisis. Lot of suicides in agriculture are not just because of lack of remunerative prices for their crops and inadequate insurance coverage, but also due to denial of equal opportunities. You can manufacture a watch here and take it to Washington but you cannot take food grains from Andhra Pradesh to neighbouring Tamil Nadu or Kerala. We are one country but there are so many restrictions. These have to be removed. We are moving in that direction.
And then we need to provide remunerative prices to farmers by taking into account the cost of labour and his investment. The Swaminathan Commission has recommended that the remunerative price should be determined by considering 50 per cent profit over the cost of production. We have to move in that direction because two aspects of rural life that come to my mind are education and health, where expenditure is rising day-by-day and people are forced to take debt. And when they are unable to repay the debt, they are committing suicide. So, you have to make agriculture viable. You have to upgrade the skills of rural and urban poor. And, you have to change the mind-set of people saying we have to work together. We should look at public private partnership.
Engaging Private Sector
Another weakness in our system is that people are made to think that everything has to be done by the government. Saab kam sarkar karega, hum bekar baitne se chalega. This is another aspect why the mind-set has to change. Sometimes people think that private firms are enemies of the nation. The Prime Minister of UK once told a gathering of industrialists that if anyone has a problem after investing in a country, he will argue for and support his case. In India, we deal with businessmen in the night but in the day time we feel shy to support them. They are also partners and stakeholders. You have to create proper climate for them. That’s what the PM is doing. Some people are criticising the government for being business-friendly. What’s wrong in being business-friendly? Business will create wealth, which the government can then distribute.
I have been given the responsibility of smart cities project, urban renewal and urban development. It’s the biggest challenge. We need huge amount of money – there was an estimate that we need Rs.45 trillion. Where do I get that money unless we involve the private sector in a big way in PPP? There has to be regulations and we have to take care of the interests of the people especially the vulnerable sections.
I hope the Parliament will function normally in the coming days because the way it functions is an indication of strength of democracy. Otherwise, what is the impression about our Parliament. Parliament is able to do only two things–either talk out or walk out, and no break out. That’s why I told my friends—you take as much time as you want, discuss, debate and decide, but don’t disrupt. That’s the need of the hour. We have become matured after 68 years. The government has to be proactive and sensitive to the issues raised. Of course, Opposition has to have its say. But the government has to have its way as the people have given their mandate to the ruling party. That should be the approach. We should appreciate each other’s role.
Smart Cities Need Smart Leaders
On smart cities, the first thing I understood is that for a smart city, you need a smart leader. I am not talking in terms of dress, I am talking in terms of smartness in understanding, smartness in vision, smartness in action, smartness in direction and smartness in taking bold decisions. You must be ready to tax people and justify that. On railway fare hike, the PM told us not to defend ourselves by saying that it was a decision of the past government. The PM said tell the people that it was needed for the health of Railways. They (the people) have that much confidence in the government.
Fortunately, we now have a government and leader with a credibility. Otherwise, you cannot succeed by giving out doles and subsidies. What has been happening was that the municipality used to send a memorandum to the state Chief Minister, who would then send it to the Prime Minister. He in turn, would have to ask the World Bank or the Asian Development Bank for a loan. The question is how do you repay those loans?
Instead, you must be able to tell the people that this is the facility the government wants to provide and this is the cost. When former Prime Minister A B Vajpayee announced the Golden Quadrilateral project, eyebrows were raised. People questioned why they have to pay a tax for plying on a road. But because of that (user charges), you have such beautiful road network across the country.
Digital India, online applications and sanctions will also help empower people. When I was reviewing the work of one my department, CPWD, I found 2,500 works are lagging behind schedule. I told them put everything online, put them on the site and let people understand what are the reasons for delay. In future, every application and sanction will be online and there will be no need for the contractor to either meet the officials nor the ministers. These are all initiatives to take care of the weaknesses in the system, which will help in empowering the people.
Reforms Must Perform
I do admit that P V Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh had taken the initiatives of reforms but reforms performed during Vajpayee’s time. Reforms have to perform. They cannot remain in books. Now, this government is committed to reforms—reforms with a human face, reforms for the welfare of all Indians and not just for one section. That is the approach this government is following.
Politicians and policymakers must frequently interact with the people concerned, understand each other’s views and follow the best practices. They should learn from good experiences of wise men. There is an old saying—wise men learn from others’ experience; fools learn from their own experience. We have to learn from others’ experiences, then try to correct ourselves and move forward. A minister should always keep learning, learning and learning. He must be caring and daring to take bold decisions.
God willing, given 15 years, the country’s face will be completely changed by Narendra Modi and his team. Stability coupled with ability will bring prosperity. If you are not stable, you will not be able to bring about change.
(The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of INCLUSION. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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