The year 2015 brings with it sky-high expectations from the Modi government, which should now be poised to make the breakthroughs that will re-ignite investments and take the economy back to eight per cent GDP growth, sooner rather than later. That is the only way forward to generate the critically needed employment opportunities for India’s young population and the 12 million who join the workforce each year.
This effectively implies a significant improvement in the country’s capacity for achieving and sustaining higher economic growth rates. This, in turn, requires the resuscitation of the institutional and social fabric that is now badly damaged. Here are 10 measures that the government should consider to demonstrate its commitment to development.
First, make the social agenda subsidiary to development priorities. There is a clear danger that the Sangh Parivar’s social agenda could run counter to the prime minister’s goal of sabka saath, sabka vikas. The winter session of Parliament must bring home the lesson that social agenda could derail economic priorities. Narendra Modi will do well to insist with his Parivar supporters that, if they must, they should adopt more subtle and less abrasive means for pushing forward the Hindutva agenda. One immediate implication would be to fight the coming Delhi elections only on a development plank and rein in the sadhvis and sants from fomenting communal tensions.
Second, instill greater confidence in investors by assuring them of non-aggressive direct tax administration. It is important to distinguish honest and potential investors from tax evaders. We have to necessarily go after the tax evaders and black income earners, but not scare away investors. In this regard, an immediate announcement for setting up a task force to review the Direct Tax Act and investigative methods pursued by income tax officials will provide much needed assurance to investors. The tax department should not be used to settle scores with either political opponents or corporate entities that may appear to be not towing the party line.
Third, eliminate the use of unaccounted wealth for political funding. The promise of rooting out corruption from the government will not be achieved until it is blocked at the very fountainhead of our democratic system – the funding of elections and political parties. This implies that the provision of donating up to `20,000 in cash to political parties must be stopped. All donations of even the smallest amounts must be through cheques. In addition, political parties should be asked to open their accounts for audit by the CAG.
Fourth, establish a timebound plan for administrative reforms. This could be done by setting a timeline for implementing the recommendations of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission. Even the most loyal member of the senior bureaucracy will agree that the administrative system is quite broken and compromised. Such an administrative system could well suit the political party that is in power, but is greatly inimical to the long-term national interests. The establishment of an honest, efficient, independent and transparently governed administrative system will be a much needed historical contribution of the Modi government.
Fifth, urgently undertake police reforms. To begin with the Supreme Court’s decision of September 2006, in the Prakash Singh versus Union Government case, containing seven directives, should be complied urgently with the central government leading the states in dropping all outstanding objections. The prime minister’s goal of a SMART police force (SSensitive and Strict, M-Modern and Mobile, A-Alert and Accountable, R-Responsive and Reliable, and T-Techno savvy and Trained) is laudable but a real start has to be made urgently. The country cannot continue to live with a police force which is governed by an archaic Act of 1861!
Sixth, judicial reforms have been long overdue and must be initiated. The objective must be to eliminate the huge backlog of cases that was a staggering 31.3 million at last count, with more than 20 million stuck in the lower sessions and magisterial courts. But with more than 63,000 pending cases in the Supreme Court and 4.4 million stuck in High Courts, justice is being effectively denied at all levels. Over 50 per cent of these cases are more than five years old, which result in encouraging both the police force and litigants to seek extra-judicial solutions in which human rights are routinely violated. The government could begin by trying to fill up the more than 4,500 vacancies that currently hobble the judicial system.
Seventh, labour reforms must be initiated by eliminating child labour in the next three years. Modi must honour the country’s Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi with the commitment to eliminate this despicable practice and a blot on Indian society. This has to be achieved in conjunction with the implementation of the Right to Education that assures universal access to primary education but with the additional commitment of improving quality of primary education. The government should be committed to improving the outcomes of the ASER survey conducted by Pratham, and not try and replace this civil society administered outcomebased test with one of its own.