Implementation, Key to Good Governance
Rajesh Singh

Prime Minister Narendra Modi reportedly told his ministerial colleagues during a recent interaction that it was time to redouble efforts to effectively implement various pronouncements of the Government. No Government, least of all his, which was ushered in by the people with enormous expectations of public delivery, can be judged by the number of announcements it makes. It is eventually rated by the proficiency in execution of its policies and programmes. Realising this, the Prime Minister has been devoting long hours to monitoring the progress of projects and seeking to undo the bottlenecks that are brought to his notice. The key to good governance (a slogan on which he led his party to an absolute majority in the 2014 Lok Sabha election) is proper implementation. The failure of implementation is like an elephant in the room; it cannot be either hidden or ignored.

Of the many pronouncements the Modi regime has made, two that stand out for their audacity — in matters of both scale and challenges — are the promise to double farmers’ income over the next five years, and the Smart Cities project. Fittingly, one deals with the rural sector which has over the years hurled from one crisis to another, and the other with the revamp of urban India which has been coming under increasing strain due to the continual rural-to-urban migration. They are two ends of the same spectrum of national progress. The Prime Minister and his team have a daunting task ahead that can consumes several years, except that they do not have unlimited time at their command. Besides, the Government has set for itself deadlines, and failing to meet those, give and take a few months, will reflect poorly on its ability to deliver.

When Union Minister for Finance Arun Jaitely stated in his Budget speech this past February that the Government had resolved to double the income of farming households over the next five years, sceptics were in abundance; some others simply rejected the assurance as a piece of fiction not worth discussing. The doubting ones had their reasons. A leading expert, Ashok Gulati, co-authored an article which appeared in a national daily (The Indian Express), saying that the average annual growth rate had to be more than 14 per cent for the target to be met. He pointed out to findings of a recent (2012-13) study conducted by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) which said that the average earning of a farmer household was Rs 77,112 per annum. This was three times the figure of 2002-03. But he added a rider which, many believe, is essential to bear in mind while fixing targets. He said that after taking into account the Consumer Price Index (Agri-Labourer) as the deflator with base 2004-05, the real income of an average farmer household increased at a compounded annual rate of 3.5 per cent between 2002-03 and 2012-13. At this rate, he added, it would take 20 years for the average farmer household income to double.

But the Government is clearly in no mood to wait for two decades. It has set up an inter-ministerial panel (which will submit its report by July or early August) to recommend a roadmap for the transition from production-based farming to value-based farming, which, in other words, means that the Government proposes to promote cash crops on a large scale, among other things. This is a challenge and an opportunity. According to the NSSO data, cultivation accounts for 48 per cent of farm income. The Government can make a significant upward difference to incomes if it can persuade, through incentives and the like, farmers to switch — if not entirely, at least considerably — to value-adding crops and reduce cultivation in traditional crops. The controlled shift in balance is unlikely to adversely impact the production of traditional crops to an extent that the country would face shortage of food grains. After all, we produce enough to form an adequate buffer stock and still have more to export. In any case, according to statistics, total food grain production dipped by three per cent in 2014-15 to 257 million tonnes (July to June); exports too fell due to global competition, with wheat recording a drop of 36 per cent. This means two things: While we have to keep traditional food grain production at comfortable levels, we need to also migrate to other forms of crops that add to the income of farmers in not just small incremental terms but substantially enough.

But the shift in production pattern is just one way of enhancing income. If the Government wants to have a realistic chance at meeting the target of doubling income in five years (or at least coming close to it), it will have to undertake a slew of measures — and it is here that the implementation will be tested. Incomes through rearing of animals, rural non-farm activities and wages and salaries, either from working as farm labour or via the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, have to see an upward trend. In 2012-13, income from wages and salaries had registered a dip from 39 per cent in 2002-03 to 32 per cent, while that from non-farm activities dropped from 11 per cent in 2002-03 to eight per cent.

We have seen that cultivation remains the biggest source of farm income. A mere increase in cultivated produce will not necessarily result in significant enhancement of farm income, which is why the Government has to successfully push for ‘smart farming’. Let us keep in mind that agricultural output at constant prices increased between 2004-05 and 2011-12 by as much as 34 per cent, but it did not lead to any major rise in farmer household income. Had the contrary been the case, one would have seen a vastly enriched rural India. Several data from various sources have suggested that value-added crops can increase income by four times on the same piece of land. Such crops have become more viable now that the Government has been opening up the food sector to large doses of foreign direct investment — this means that various firms can tie up with farmers directly to purchase cash crops by offering attractive remuneration. Meanwhile, farmers should expect better returns for their traditional produce as well, with the commissioning of the e-National Agriculture Market. Twenty one mandis from eight States have been electronically connected, while 585 mandis in all will be covered by the e-network by March 2017. Once fully operational, the e-NAM will provide farmers a nationwide market for their produce, bypassing middlemen etc, and enhance their income.

Since cultivation, despite the increasingly fragmented landholdings, remains the major source of income for the farming household, the Government will have to demonstrate its efficiency in implementing perhaps the most essential scheme: That of spreading the irrigation network. All eyes will be on how well the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana is executed. Presently, nearly half of the 142 million hectares of net sown area does not have access to irrigation facility and has to depend on monsoons. The Modi Government has taken some right steps, such as fast-tracking all the 89 ‘active’ irrigation projects. Collectively, these projects will bring eight million hectares of agricultural land under irrigation. In all, the project will require Rs 86,500 crore (Government’s own figure) to finance. The Government’s seriousness of purpose will be evident if it can handle the challenge of both funding and time-bound execution (some of these projects have languished for more than four decades!).

Let’s now move from smart farming to smart cities. To create even one truly smart city in a country like India, where its most prominent metro-cities are burdened with creaky transportation systems, are suffocating in polluted air, have to battle even basic health and hygiene issues, have regular power outages, and where the safety and security of citizens, especially women and children, is a constant worry, is a daunting task. But the Government has taken on the ambitious goal of establishing 20 smart cities under the Smart Cities Mission, with at least 80 more to follow. Faulty implementation will bring the project to a grinding halt. There are several challenges the Government faces, primary among them being finding the massive funds needed for the project and effective coordination with State regimes. If the Union Government succeeds in its mission, it will have transformed urban India like never before, and for the better.

In his recently published book, The Rise and Fall of Nations, economist and author Ruchir Sharma writes that India is the only one-billion-plus population nation that has failed to develop “second cities” with a population of more than a million people and integrate them into the country’s economic growth. He says, “India is a large and slow-moving democracy, where local opposition can block land development and the state still reserves huge swathes of urban land for itself.” He goes on to note that “India’s outdated building codes discourage development in downtown areas and drive up prices…” Sharma contrasts India’s record with the rapid pace with which China has developed second cities and linked them to its overall economic and social prosperity. He says that, in all, China has developed 19 “boom cities” led by Shenzhen and the neighbouring city of Dongguan. The need for India to have such urban centres cannot be over-emphasised; close to one-third of the country’s population resides in urban India which has consequently turned into a bundle of chaos. If “industrialisation encourages urbanisation”, as Sharma underlines, then India is in urgent need to develop its urban infrastructure because it hopes to increase multifold its pace of industrialisation through Make in India and other similar ambitious programmes.

The “second cities”, as the author refers to them, are the smart cities that the Union Government now hopes to create. Besides their economic linkage to the country’s development, smart cities will reduce stress on our cities, enhance living standards, and promote environmental causes. The execution itself of the project will lead to significant job creation and surge in demand for infrastructure-related goods.

Sharma has flagged off some of the challenges in the form of unavailability of land for development and dated building laws. These, besides other factors, have to be addressed by authorities if they hope make the mission a success. A smart city by definition, must have assured and adequate water and power supply; state-of-art sanitation facilities, including solid waste management; efficient public transportation; high-speed Net connectivity, digitally-driven and transparent form of governance; quality education facilities; and a first-rate law and order machinery that provides for safety and security of its citizens, especially women and children.

Given that some of the cities that have been selected fall in States ruled by parties which are in opposition to the BJP-led coalition Government at the Centre, it is imperative for the Union and the States to put politics aside and work in tandem. Of the total amount of Rs 96,000 crore set aside for the project, the States are expected to generate half the sum, while the other half will come from the Centre. This is a big amount, and both the Centre and the States will have to tap into the public-private partnership model to raise the money. However, investments will come if investors are assured of a clear roadmap and are promised that the infamous bureaucratic roadblocks will not be allowed to play spoilsport. If funding takes off in the initial phases, it will be a confidence-booster for the future, as it is expected that over a 20-year period, investment in this project could touch seven lakh crore rupees — according to official estimates, the per capita investment for the 20-year period is Rs 43,386.

Founder-director of Smart Cities Council India, Pratap Padode, wrote of the challenges an year ago (in The Economic Times) when the concept of smart cities had been floated by the Government. These are valid more so today when the project is taking off. Among other issues, he pointed to the need for “providing clearances in a timely manner”; “financial sustainability of urban local bodies”; “three-tier governance” system comprising the Centre, State Government and urban local bodies”; and “capacity building programme” that involves roping in quality manpower, preparing databases, designing tools and kits and decision support systems”. Admittedly, nearly all of these are alien concepts for our present-day city planners and policy-makers in general. A complete change of mindset, accompanied by the creation of a new work ecosystem, is needed.

(The writer is a senior journalist and commentator)

Published Date: 27th June 2016, Image Source: http://www.gettyimages.in
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

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