Current General Studies Magazine: "Social Sector Strategy" May 2016

Current General Studies Magazine (May 2016)

General Studies - III "Economy Based Article" (Social Sector Strategy)

In broad terms, two features distinguish the social sector strategy of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. First, it endeavours to make existing programmes more efficient by cutting leakages. And second, it gives priority to empowerment over entitlement.

Early in its tenure, the government achieved a major success in financial inclusion with empowerment through the Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana. This scheme proposed to give a bank account to every family. The programme entered the Guinness Book of Records for opening 1.8 crore accounts in one week from August 23 to 29, 2014. By May 2016, the scheme had opened 21.74 crore accounts, with Rs.37,445 crore in deposits.

Straight to the beneficiary

Alongside this, the Prime Minister not only took the pragmatic decision of retaining and rapidly expanding the Aadhaar biometric identification programme but also accelerated its deployment to cut wasteful expenditure in the delivery of social programmes. Recently, legislation has been passed that empowers the government to require the beneficiary of services financed from the Consolidated Fund of India to provide her Aadhaar identity number. In turn, the government can link the beneficiary’s Aadhaar identity number and bank account to which benefits are transferred. This direct benefit transfer (DBT) instrumentality complemented by Aadhaar seeding of the bank account eliminates the possibility of benefits accruing to multiple accounts of the same beneficiary or ghost accounts.

Large social programmes such as the Public Distribution System (PDS), the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) and subsidised sales of fertilizer and liquid petroleum gas (LPG) cylinders have been subject to massive leakages through the use of multiple and ghost accounts. These leakages can now be plugged through the DBT-cum-Aadhaar instrumentality. The government has already successfully done this in the disbursement of the subsidy associated with the PDS, MGNREGA and LPG cylinders though the coverage remains far from complete. Not all bank accounts have been linked to Aadhaar.

To date, an estimated 3.5 crore multiple or ghost beneficiaries have been eliminated from the LPG rolls. During 2014-15 alone, this resulted in savings of Rs.14,672 crore. In MGNREGA, similar weeding out of multiple or ghost beneficiaries has resulted in a saving of Rs.3,000 crore in 2015-16. This amount is a little below 10 per cent of the total MGNREGA allocation. In PDS, an estimated Rs.10,000 crore has been saved by eliminating 1.6 crore fake ration cards using Aadhaar instrumentality.

To empower rural households, the government has greatly accelerated the process of rural electrification and rural road construction. During its two years in office, the government has supplied electricity to 7,654 villages compared with 5,189 villages in the preceding three years. Likewise, the total rural road length constructed has been 36,340 and 36,450 km during 2014-15 and 2015-16 respectively. In comparison, only 24,160 and 25,320 km has been constructed during 2012-13 and 2013-14, respectively.

Clean cooking strategy

Approximately 12 crore households in India continue to use solid biomass fuels for cooking, with the attendant harmful effects on health. To date, no serious effort has been made to free these households of the black carbon they inhale while cooking. For years, efficient cooking stoves have been promoted but they cover less than 1 per cent of the affected families.

For the first time too, the government has resolved to bring LPG cylinders to these households. The government has launched the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana under which five crore below poverty line households will be provided subsidised LPG cylinders over the next three years. The target for the current fiscal year is 1.5 crore households. The scheme is being financed in part from the savings generated through the voluntary surrender of the LPG subsidy by existing richer households. After the Prime Minister’s appeal, one crore richer households have already given up this subsidy.

Social security platform

In the Budget 2015-16, the government launched the Atal Pension Yojana (APY) to provide a minimal insurance cover to workers in the unorganised sector. Under the scheme, the Central government co-contributes the lower of 50 per cent of the total contribution and Rs.1,000 per annum to each subscriber account for a period of five years. Depending on his contribution, a subscriber under the age of 40 receives the fixed monthly pension of Rs.1,000 to Rs.5,000 at the age of 60 years.

In parallel, the Central government has also introduced the Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana (insurance against accidental death) and the Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana (insurance against death) schemes. The former provides cover for Rs.2 lakh in case of death and Rs.1 lakh in case of partial disability to individuals between 18 to 70 years for a premium of Rs.12 per annum. The latter covers individuals between 18 and 50 years for Rs.2 lakh at a premium of Rs.330 per year. By May 9, 2016, 9.4 crore beneficiaries had enrolled under the Suraksha Bima Yojana and three crore under the Jeevan Jyoti scheme. Enrolment in APY — at 20 lakh — was significantly lower.

Budget 2016-17 announced three major initiatives related to health: insurance, the Jan Aushadhi scheme and a dialysis programme. Under the health insurance scheme, coverage for Rs.1 lakh is provided against hospitalisation expenditure. For senior citizens, there is an additional cover of Rs.30,000. The government will cover eight crore families from economically weaker sections free of charge through an Aadhaar-linked programme. Under the Jan Aushadhi programme, the government will open 3,000 stores nationwide to provide low-cost, generic drugs. With 2.2 lakh new cases of end-stage renal disease patients added each year, the government has also announced a programme to provide dialysis services in all district hospitals.

The government has introduced several measures towards improved implementation of MGNREGA. It has given priority to low-hanging fruit such as water ponds and de-silting of water ponds in asset creation. It has also taken a more liberal approach towards building of private assets such as houses, wells and toilets for the poor. This has created ownership of assets by the respective beneficiaries and led to better supervision of work. Finally, the government has improved convergence between MGNREGA works and schemes such as skill development, the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana (PMKSY), Housing for All and the Swachh Bharat Mission.

Reform in education

In the area of higher education, regulations have been liberalised to give greater flexibility to women to complete their MPhil and PhD degrees. Upon fulfilling certain conditions, women PhD scholars relocating to other towns can now transfer to a university in the destination town rather than having to begin afresh. Rules have also been liberalised to give autonomy to colleges that receive the highest accreditation grade for three consecutive cycles from the National Assessment and Accreditation Council.

Furthermore, the government has committed to turning 10 private and 10 public institutions into world-class teaching and research institutions. Steps towards achieving this objective can lead to far-reaching reform of the higher education system in India. Separately, the government has made the reform of medical education in India a higher priority, assigning the task to a high-level committee.

The discussion of social sector reform and programmes will be incomplete without a brief reference to the Swachh Bharat Mission. The mission is not only critical for a healthy India but also essential to creating a modern India. Among other things, it proposes to make India open defecation free by October 2, 2019, the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. The number of toilets built has risen from five million in 2013-14 to 5.88 million in 2014-15 and 12.7 million in 2015-16.

This documentation is by no means complete. There is much else being done via housing for all, the PMKSY, livelihood mission and more that touches people’s lives. The distinguishing feature of the policies under the present government is that they promise to sustain high growth in GDP, revenues and social spending and deliver social services more efficiently and effectively.

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