Ten asks for the First 100 Days of New Government

Growth needs to inclusive and it needs to happen in a way that rights of communities and rights of future generations are not lost

 
By Avinash Kumar
Published: Sunday 07 June 2015

Growth needs to inclusive and it needs to happen in a way that rights of communities and rights of future generations are not lost

Avinash KumarThe general elections are slowly moving towards their last phase of voting. 16th May is the day when votes are supposed to be counted and a new government is supposed to emerge out of this. The elections were preceded by a prolonged conversation around ‘policy paralysis’ in the mainstream media and policy makers circle. While the predominant interpretation of this was triggered by India’s falling growth rates, a high rate of inflation and a sluggish market, a parallel concern voiced by the civil society actors interpreted the ‘paralysis’ in terms of social sector reforms, the incomplete and stalled status of various developmental measures like Right to Education Act, NREGA, much awaited reforms around universal health care, rights of tribals and dalits etc. Even some of the progressive measures taken in the last few months like Food Security Act, Manual Scavengers Act, Street Vendors Bill were passed hastily without any rule framing happening around them so that they could be rolled out smoothly.

It is in this context the big question needs to be asked that what should be the first hundred days’ agenda for the new government. Should it be just about further opening of the markets, de-regulation of environmental and other regulatory mechanisms from the point of view of increasing FDIs or should it be looking at few quick wins combined with a measured roll out of policy initiatives to assure the common citizenry of this country? Moreover, many of the measures perhaps don’t need to be posed as antithetical to one another. The growth needs to happen so that more and more poor could be part of it; it also needs to happen in a way that rights of communities are not violated and it needs to happen in a way that the future of the next generation is not lost.

Oxfam India along with its partners and networks was part of the process in the run up to elections to ask communities what they expected from the new government and to mobilize and collate what they said. While many of the recommendations that emerged are in the nature of long term policy measures, there are also a set of demands which can be met within a short term to roll out things which just need quick removal of bottlenecks. Below is a list of quick wins which this government can initiate, by no means exhaustive and complete but just an indicator of sorts:

I. Pass a Pro-poor Budget

  1. Increase spending on education and healthThere is an urgent need to increase the budget in education and health sector. Both Right to Education Act (RTE Act) and the National Health Mission are languishing due to lack of adequate budgetary provision. While the 12th 5 year plan re-iterates its promise to spend 6% of GDP in education (from the current 3.2%) and 2% of GDP in health (from the current 1%), the first budget of the new government needs to show its willingness to move in that direction by allocating larger share of budgets as the first step.
  2. Initiate a Review of the Tax System to Raise more TaxesThere is an immediate need to initiate Tax reforms going beyond the proposed Goods and Services Tax. India, despite its Middle Income Country status has a low Tax: GDP ratio of 15.5% comparable to Low income countries. It needs to reach out to at least 20-25% comparable to other BRICS countries. It needs to initiate a time bound review of the entire tax regime to come out with radical proposals to increase taxes in a progressive manner. This should include, but not be limited to, increasing direct taxes through introduction of inheritance tax and an increase in wealth tax to curb the rising inequality.

II. Improve the Delivery of Essential Services

  1. Step up the Implementation of the Right to Education ActAs mentioned earlier, most of the milestones under RTE Act (rolled out in 2010) to be achieved within the first three years including physical infrastructure, Pupil Teacher ratio, formation of School Management Committees have been missed and employment of fully trained teachers is yet to happen. Just about 10% of the schools are reported to be complying to RTE norms. The government needs to immediately set about filling this huge gap quickly.
  2. Announce a Scheme of Free Essential DrugsThe government needs to immediately announce Central medicines scheme (already a promise in the 12th Plan document) providing universal, free, generic essential life saving drugs to all. While the health costs are spiraling out of control, 70% of that could be contained by this measure alone and it requires merely an additional 6000 crore rupees to implement. The long term measure needs to be to revise the National Health Bill providing basic universal health care for all.

III. Deliver on your promise on Women’s Empowerment

  1. Improve women’s safety and security— Allocate funds for three components under umbrella scheme of the Ministry of Women and Child Development—rehabilitation of rape victims, assistance to states for the effective implementation of Domestic Violence Act and shelter homes for the survivors of violence. Also, bring in Nirbhaya Fund under the same ministry to bring in administrative coherence and push to this widely recognized public concern.
  2. Pass the Women’s Reservation Bill reserving 33% seats of Parliament and state legislative assemblies Most of the political parties are one on this. It would be an opportune moment to pass this act to show our true resolve to give adequate voice to women. The outgoing Lok Sabha had just 11% as women parliamentarians, lower even compared to our neighbours like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

IV. Start framing the rules for the implementation of the three newly passed Acts
All three of the recently passed Acts need to undergo rule framing to enable them to be rolled out giving relief to a majority of the population:

  1. The big one among them is the Food Security Act (nearing its one year in the coming June) giving relief to two-third of our vulnerable population in times of high inflation.
  2. Manual Scavengers Act banning manual scavenging completely (still a large phenomenon across country)
  3. Street Vendors Act giving rights to the street vendors within designated spaces.

V. Improve Governance and Accountability

  1. Revive and initiate the passage of the Grievance Redressal BillThe emerging common ground across political parties has been the issue of governance accountability. And one common ask for across the sectors has been a unified policy measure to set up Grievance Redressal system backed by an Act in place. This will be an extension of the Right to Public Services Act already enacted by several state governments and would create an umbrella for ensuring smooth and accountable delivery mechanisms for all the public services.

 

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