Citizens' Issues
People retain hope in Modi, but time's running out
The reason is, first, the realisation that one year is not a long enough to give a definitive judgment on the performance of a government, especially when it is emerging from the black hole of the failures of its predecessor
 
No smart cities, no bullet trains, no spike in employment, no visible improvement in infrastructure, continuing logjam over bills in parliament, carping by in-house critics. Even then, few will say that Narendra Modi will lose if the elections are held in the near future.
 
The reason is, first, the realisation that one year is not a long enough to give a definitive judgment on the performance of a government, especially when it is emerging from the black hole of the failures of its predecessor.
 
Secondly, it is also realised that Modi may have been unable to anticipate the mischief-making potential of some of the trouble-makers, including those within the Sangh parivar.
 
It is the appreciation of these difficulties by the general public which explains why he has passed muster in an opinion poll whereas if the opposition parties are to be believed, his government has failed miserably.
 
However, it is undeniable that since some of the high expectations with which Modi assumed office have begun to be eroded, he cannot allow the present sense of drift to continue. Unless there is a perceptible upturn in the economy in the next 12 months, the warning bells will begin to ring.
 
Hindsight suggests that Modi indulged in too much hyperbole during the election campaign. The bombast worked satisfactorily against the dismal backdrop of the virtually non-performing and scam-ridden Manmohan Singh government.
 
But, Modi's spin doctors evidently did not realise that raising expectations too high - for instance, on the recovery of black money - carries the risk of an equally big disappointment if the hopes are not met.
 
The risk is all the greater because the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) main base of support at present is the notoriously impatient middle class which believes in quick results.
 
It was this class which gave the Congress 200-plus seats in 2009 on the basis of high growth rates (although the party's 'socialists' ascribed the good showing to its populism) and then brought it down with a crash to 44 seats when the growth rates tumbled.
 
The same fate can await Modi unless he pushes the economic reforms with much greater vigour than at present.
 
As may be expected, Modi's tenure has been marked by a mixture of good and bad luck. Even as he benefitted from the falling oil prices and low inflation, unseasonal rain aggravated the distress of farmers.
 
But, in political terms, the government has been a victim of what can be deemed an exceptional case of misfortune since its principal opponent, the Congress, has decided to adopt an unabashedly cussed attitude.
 
As much is evident from the virtual u-turn it has taken on its own economic agenda, introduced in 1991, by following what finance minister Arun Jaitley has called an anti-growth line which, he says, is to the "left of Marx".
 
As a result, crucial bills such as the Goods and Services Tax (GST) have been held up. But, the worst obstructionism engineered by the Congress relates to the land acquisition law, which constitutes a key feature of the government's development blueprint.
 
Unless the law is amended, the government will be unable to implement its "make in India" plans which aim at making the country a manufacturing hub.
 
However, it is not the Congress alone which is to blame for the stalemate. No less guilty are saffron outfits like the protectionist Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) and the anti-reforms Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS).
 
Modi, therefore, is battling not only the anti-development groups cutting across party lines, but also a widely prevalent mindset which is deeply suspicious of the private sector and pro-market policies.
 
Arguably, he has been unable to gauge the intensity of the opposition to capitalist endeavours even within the saffron camp though he is one of its key members.
 
The reason perhaps is that he never pushed this line as energetically as he is now trying to do on a national scale. If his efforts in this direction in Gujarat were not opposed as stoutly as the SJM, the BMS and the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) are doing now, it was because the pro-business policies were confined to a state.
 
Modi's miscalculation has been that he did not prepare these groups about what he intends to do on an all-India scale.
 
It is only belatedly that he seems to have sought the help of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to tame the nay-sayers.
 
Earlier, the RSS had backed off on the Ram temple issue, but had advised the BJP to listen to the saffron organisations on the reforms.
 
The intensification of the anti-Modi campaign by the Congress has apparently left the government with no option but to ask the Sangh parivar's mentor to stand by its side on the land issue.
 
Whatever the impact of the interventions by the RSS, the Agovernment doesn't have much time to lose to fulfil the expectations - "probably unrealistic", as Reserve Bank governor, Raghuram Rajan has said - of those who voted for Modi in large numbers in the hope that he will bring about India's economic recovery.

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COMMENTS

NANDAKUMAR M S

2 years ago

Yes, otherwise we will be ready to give another 100 years for anarchy. But any Government wants to do good things- be ware, there won't be any time given.Great Indian logic!

Depreciating dollar, RBI investment returns hike foreign reserves
Depreciation in dollar value, interest payments on securities held by the apex bank in non-dollar currencies and the rich payouts for its participation in the forwards trading market led to an exponential rise in India's foreign exchange reserves.
 
According to the data furnished by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) in its weekly statistical supplement, India's total foreign exchange reserves grew by $1.74 billion to touch a new record high of $353.87 billion for the week ended May 15, 2015.
 
For the week ended May 8, the reserves grew by $262.4 million and stood at $352.13 billion. In the week before that (May 1) they had rocketed by $7.26 billion and reached $351.86 billion. 
 
Foreign exchange reserves have increased by close to $25 billion since January as overseas investors buoyed by the hope of economic revival poured in dollars in the local debt and equities market.
 
"The reserves have grown and touched a new high. It is due to a combination of reasons like depreciation of dollar which translated into a rise in non-dollar currencies and gold value," Anindya Banerjee, senior manager for currency derivatives with Kotak Securities told IANS. 
 
"It is also assumed that the RBI has received the interest payment on securities it holds in non-dollar currencies. The RBI is also pretty active in the forward purchase markets since the last 18-23 months and this could also have resulted in the exponential rise in the foreign reserves," Banerjee pointed out.
 
Another crucial factor for the rise in the reserves is the assumption that RBI has not intervened in the forward trading market by selling dollars to arrest the fall in the rupee value. 
 
"The RBI has finally found a comfortable corridor of Rs.63-Rs.65 per dollar for rupee and it is unlikely that it intervened this week to slowdown the rupee fall. The rupee value has stablised during the last week," Banerjee elaborated.
 
During the last two weeks the rupee value was impacted by the significant pull-back of foreign funds due to the minimum alternate tax (MAT) issue.
 
Some estimates point out that the RBI may have sold nearly $5-$6 billion in the forward trading markets to arrest the slide in the rupee value which currently stood at Rs.63.43 per dollar.
 
The other major factor for the RBI to continue its build-up of the reserves is to counter any future financial shocks and further slide in rupee value like the one which was witnessed in 2008 and June 2013.
 
"Apart from dealing with any future financial shocks like the one which was earlier triggered by the US Fed's announcement of tapering, the healthy state of reserves has acted as a support to the Indian rupee's value," Banerjee added.
 
The RBI is cautious about the US Fed's stand that the rate hike might take place in the later part of the year. 
 
With higher interest rates in the US, the foreign portfolio investors (FPIs) are expected to be led away from the emerging markets such as India.
 
Meanwhile, the foreign currency assets (FCAs) which form the largest component of the forex reserves increased by $1.70 billion and stood at $329.12 billion in the week under review.
 
The country's gold reserves remained stagnant at $19.33 billion. The reserves had augmented by $297.7 million during the week ended May 1.
 
The special drawing rights (SDRs) were up by $27.80 million to $4.09 billion. 
 
The country's reserve position with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) grew by 9.1 million to $1.32 billion during the week under review.

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Modi's shaky race to save India's girls

Ranjit Singh Buttar is a rare male gynaecologist here in this holy Sikh city, and as district health officer, he has many other tasks, including running rural health centres, delivering contraceptives and ensuring polio inoculations to every new born

 

 It's a substantial but sparse two-room house, and flies infest the courtyard, buzzing ceaselessly around Manseerat Gill, 14 days old. Undisturbed by their buzzing, she sleeps peacefully.
 
 
For the next six years -- thanks to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's determination to fight the country's bias against daughters -- Manseerat's well-being and survival will be the responsibility of a six-foot-tall man with piercing eyes and a full, flowing grey beard.
 
Ranjit Singh Buttar is a rare male gynaecologist here in this holy Sikh city, and as district health officer, he has many other tasks, including running rural health centres, delivering contraceptives and ensuring polio inoculations to every new born.
 
Amritsar is one of 100 Indian "gender-critical" districts -- 10 are in Punjab, among India's five richest states by per capita income -- included in Modi's "Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (Save a daughter, educate a daughter)" programme, launched in January to fight the nation's deep-rooted bias against daughters.
 
A poster for the 'Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao' campaign is outside the District Commissioner's office in Amritsar.
 
"The discrimination against girls is an illness, an illness of the heart, which leads us to think sons are more important," said Modi at the launch. "Even in feeding, a mother adds ghee to a son's 'khichri' but will deny this to a daughter."
 
Modi is not the first prime minister to realise that India is losing girls. While the 1990s saw three such programmes, since 2005 there have been 11 schemes, one following the other, to ensure that more girls -- discriminated against at birth and in upbringing -- are born, live, go to school and do not marry early.
 
Yet, the girls continue to disappear. About 2,000 girls die -- aborted or starved, poisoned or otherwise killed after birth -- every day in India, according to Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi, who provided this data in April. The estimates of women so missing range from two million to 25 million.
 
Gandhi said Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao -- which, among other things, seeks to eliminate gender-based foeticide and ensure survival of the girl child -- was already showing surprising results.
 
"Hundreds of girl children are being thrown into orphanages in these 100 districts," she told NDTV in an interview. "I was in Amritsar and the DC (Deputy commissioner) told me they had received 89 girls this month. I thought this is a weird statistic."
 
It is. The minister got things wrong, INDIASPEND's reporting indicates. The 82 girls she cites were abandoned in Amritsar not since January but since 2008, not as an impact of 'Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao' but as a general malaise of giving up daughters.
 
What Amritsar did since 2008 was to collect these abandoned children as part of a "Pangura" (cradle in Punjabi) programme, housed in an International Red Cross building. Parents can leave children at a cradle here, instead of on the road or in fields. When a child arrives, a bell alerts staff, who place it in a hospital and later with adoption agencies.
 
Pangura, which has a physical cradle placed in the International Red Cross building, has collected 82 abandoned girls in Amritsar since 2008.
 
Pangura received 92 children since 2008, 82 of them girls. The scheme is a reasonable success, but 82 girls saved over seven years will not impact skewed gender ratios. Besides, experts said abandoning daughters is no better than killing them.
 
PM Modi's "Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao" programme appears to focus on changing mindsets. Its first step is to spread awareness: Mobile vans and material have reached districts.
 
What has not reached districts is money.
 
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley set aside Rs.100 crore for 'Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao' in the 2015-16 budget. Each district in the hundred gender-critical districts will get Rs.55 lakh for 2014-15, followed by Rs.31 lakh in 2015-16.
 
Buttar's office is yet to get the first tranche of funds, two months after Jaitley's announcement. Minister Gandhi's office did not respond to INDIASPEND's interview request.
 
If Modi's programme has to impact pint-sized Manseerat, money, while important, is not the only factor. The effort, as past experience shows, cannot be piece-meal, split by bureaucracy, confused and uncoordinated.
 
India's political history is littered with programmes to protect girls such as Manseerat. Dhanalakshmi. Bhagyalakshmi. Rajalakshmi. Ladli. Balri Rakshak Yojana. Indira Gandhi Balika Suraksha Yogana. Balika Samridhi Yojana. Beti Hai Anmol. Mukhya Mantri Kanya Suraksha Yojana. Mukhya Mantri Kanyadan Scheme. Most have been of limited or no efficacy, hobbled by a rigid array of conditions and uncertainties about why they have not worked.
 
"(Our) findings point to the need to simplify the eligibility criteria and conditionalities, and also the procedures of registration under each of these schemes," noted a United Nations Population Fund study.
 
"Though year after year substantial financial resources have been directed towards promoting these schemes, there is a lack of field-level monitoring. In the absence of a proper grievance-redressal mechanism, the challenges often multiply. In some states, the lack of coordination across different sectors such as health, education and social welfare is adversely affecting programme implementation."
 
Implementing officers complained that other departments did not cooperate with them. In some states, tardy coordination between financial institutions, such as banks and insurance companies, and implementing departments delayed bonds, certificates and bank accounts. In most schemes, the involvement of local village institutions, NGOs and women's groups was "rather limited", as the study noted.
 
The Ministry of Social Welfare has been the nodal ministry for some schemes. State governments run parallel programmes they can tom-tom at election time. The "Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao" programme, managed by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, will be implemented through deputy commissioners and top bureaucrats in each district.
 
"The effort is fragmented. You need one entity that is then also responsible for results," said Buttar, whose office has written a plan for the scheme's implementation covering Amritsar district's 15 towns and 739 villages, home to 2.5 million people, 8.9 percent of Punjab's population.
 
In Punjab, fewer than 850 girls survive to reach the age of six, 68 less than India's already poor average of 918 daughters to a 1,000 sons. Neighbouring Haryana has 12 districts in the programme. Maharashtra matches Punjab with 10 districts, where fewer girls are allowed to be born or survive compared to India's average.
 
What Modi is up against is people's desire for a male heir. "How can you expect daughters-in-law if you don't have daughters?" Modi said at the public gathering on the launch of his scheme in Panipat, Haryana.
 
Not only do disappearing girls take a toll in terms of fewer number of brides and trafficking of women, India loses workforce talent and diversity. For instance, economists have struggled to explain the fall in women in India's workforce -- contrary to global trends -- over the 2000s, despite a rise in industrialisation and prosperity.
 
"Labour participation, same emoluments for same work, nutritional standards--they paint a grim picture," said Krishna Kumar, a Delhi University professor who has researched discrimination against girls.
 
Government programmes, he said, are populist but cannot trigger social change.
 
In Nangli village in Amritsar, Manseerat's mother, Pinky, fresh-faced and 23, looks too young to have had two children. Both are daughters.
 
Pinky, 23, looks too young to have two children. Since both are girls, she might try to conceive again in the hope of having a son and "completing the family".
 
Thanks to the presence of a trained health worker under the Rural Health Mission run by Buttar's office, Manseerat was born in a hospital and not at home. She will also be innoculated. Her family of nine -- sister, parents, grandparents, three unmarried uncles -- live on a monthly income of Rs 15,000.
 
Pinky, who uses one name, has a ready laugh but it is clear she is disappointed with Manseerat.
 
"Could have been a son," she said. "Her father says a son will complete the family." Pinky's conversation with her mother-in-law indicated she would give motherhood another shot--in hope of a son.
 
It is this desire for a male heir that Buttar's office is up against.
 
Buttar, whose office keeps a record of gender ratios in Amritsar, said: "I am an eternal optimist; no effort goes waste."
 
The optimism, in many ways mirroring Modi's, will go only so far. To begin with, programmes for the girl child need to be brought under one roof, those involved in the programme said. The implementing department or ministry should have money, manpower and jurisdiction to use the carrot and stick: give incentives to have girls, hold awareness drives to change mindsets and prosecute under the law that criminalises female foeticide.
 
If the office of district family welfare officer is to be given the key responsibility for Modi's mission, then that office needs to be rid of diverse tasks, such as running rural health clinics, distributing contraceptives and family planning programmes.
 
Amritsar's district family welfare office, headed by Ranjit Singh Buttar. It is already overstretched, serving a population of 2.5 million across 15 towns and 739 villages.
 
Over two years, 2011-2013, no more than 32 people were punished under the law that criminalises pre-birth gender testing; gender-testing cases reported stood at 563, according to the Press Trust of India. Thirty states have not had even one conviction under this law, noted the Supreme Court of India.
 
Outside Buttar's cabin, junior officer Tripta Sharma explained how she successfully played a decoy pregnant woman. She was sent to an ultra-sound clinic that was alleged to have violated the law by offering gender tests. The police made an arrest. But eight court appearances over a year and a half exhausted Sharma. The court dismissed the case.
 
"We are doctors, not lawyers," said Buttar, who said his office would appeal the acquittal. He frequently raids ultrasound clinics, checking a third of them by rotation. With reluctant decoys, all his office has by way of checks on doctors and clinics is a document called "Form F", on which clinics must declare the purpose of the pre-birth test and the doctor-in-charge.
 
Academic research on female foeticide -- research which is dated by now, as foeticide peaked during the 2000s and then dropped off - -has discouraging findings. Female foeticide increases with easy access to medical facilities, ability to pay doctors and the availability of good roads, which cut down travel time, according to demographer Ashish Bose in his book-sex-selective Abortion in India, based on fieldwork in Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh.
 
In short, progress means more girls could die. Modi's programme could mean a lot to Manseerat's future--but not in its current form.

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