PM Modi fast tracks government, silently (Sunday Guardian)
MADHAV NALAPAT New Delhi | 26th Jul 2014
wo months since taking office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has effected significant changes across the spectrum of governance at the Centre, almost always without media attention. While experts on the Modi model of governance say that it will take six months for the changes to be visible, and two years before a new structure of governance is completed for ignition of the economy towards 15% growth, senior officials say that the difference between Modi and his predecessors has already become visible across the bureaucracy. "The difference is much more than the cosmetic effect of coming to work early", an official disclosed, adding that "what is changing is the pace and quality of decision-making, now that we have a PM who is fully involved in both the initiation of policy as well as monitoring its implementation".
Aware that the judicial system has become a bottleneck to growth, thanks to the inordinate cost and length of time of even routine litigation, the PM is setting up a National Litigation Data Grid (NLDG) "that would give immediate online information on every case being heard across the country, as well as the judges hearing the case". This would enable monitoring and feedback by the Supreme Court of efficiency in the disposition of cases, as also give the public accurate and real-time data about the progress of cases across the country. In addition, "the PM favours the appointment of 200 additional High Court judges to reduce the backlog", according to a senior official, who adds that "the objective is to ensure speedy justice and eliminate avoidable delays in the justice system".
A colleague pointed to the PM's directive that criminal cases against MPs be fast-tracked to ensure final completion within 12 months, and said that "the PM wants a similar result in all other cases as well". Efforts will, therefore, be ongoing "to utilise both modern technology as well as additional judges to ensure faster delivery of justice during the next five years". In the meantime, cases have proceeded even against very well-connected individuals, such as Sonia Gandhi in the National Herald case and Karti Chidambaram, son of former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, in a case involving an ambulance service in Rajasthan.
Unlike in the past, when ministers operated as mini-PMs, running their fiefs they saw fit, not bothering about directives or advice from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), these days there is constant monitoring of all ministries and their political and departmental heads. An example was a minister hailing from Maharashtra, who had gone on a stroll outside his residence dressed in jeans and sports shirt, only to get a call from the PMO that perhaps such attire was "inappropriate" for a Cabinet minister to don in public. Another minister was queried about a huge dinner that he was in the process of holding at official expense, and was told by a PMO official that such an expense was avoidable. The dinner was called off.
Ministers are being made to justify the trips they have made by itemising the work done during such sojourns. "The purpose is to create a culture of accountability at the top", an official said, adding that "the hardest working member of the Cabinet is the PM himself, who seldom works less than 16 hours each day".
Price rise has been flagged as a major concern, especially of food items. In this context, speculators (who were allowed to operate in an uncontrolled fashion by the UPA) are sought to be curbed by the creation of a National Food Grid (NFG). This would "give accurate online data on the 3,600 mandis or major food produce markets operating across India, and thereby weaken the agricultural mafias now controlling the supply of food items from farmer to shopkeeper", a senior official said, adding that "each of these changes is coming straight from the top". According to him, Prime Minister Modi is also ordering the fast-tracking of an Agricultural Corridor from Punjab to West Bengal. Along this corridor, which would be served by modern highways and rail links, "village clusters are to be set up where vegetables and other food items could get processed", including for export. "We hope to ensure that the farmer and not the farm product mafia gets the benefit of farm prices", a senior official said, adding that "ending speculation will cool down the inflation fever that the mafias have created". He expected that "the kingpin speculators will soon be subject to prosecution for the economic crimes they were encouraged to commit when Manmohan Singh was PM".
Another boost to economic activity being proposed by Team Modi is a "Green Corridor" between Rajasthan and Gujarat, which would use solar power to generate significant volumes of electricity. Similar corridors are being considered across the country, so as to ensure an eventual transition from fossil fuels to non-conventional energy sources. Transport of people and goods across the country is being sought to be improved by identifying railway lines that can be improved to double existing speeds, while bottlenecks in highway construction are being identified for removal.
Interestingly, forest and environmental clearances that were a major block to economic activity during the UPA decade, are now going online, "with clear instructions from the PM that decisions should be taken within 24 hours", except in rare cases. Rather than freeze or roll back economic activity as was the norm during the past decade, "this will be balanced against environmental needs so that any decision will be in overall public interest", including the right of citizens to income and occupation.
Although news reports have appeared about the PM meeting Aadhar boss Nandan Nilekani and continuing the Aadhar program opposed by the BJP earlier, "in reality the scheme being finalised is not the same as Aadhar", according to an official. Instead, what will get created is a database of "bona fide citizens", which will be handed over to the Ministry of Home Affairs to create a National Population Register, "so that there is a clear record of every genuine citizen" as distinct from those who have entered the country illegally. "The data will be used to ensure that welfare benefits reach only those for whom they are intended", rather than ending up in the pockets of politicians and officials, as has been the norm till now.
Importantly, keeping in view the need for food security, field trials have been cleared for 21 genetically modified foods, to supplement the five already okayed, which include brinjal, rice and cotton.
The Land Acquisition Bill passed by the UPA "has made it impossible to set up a large-scale industrial unit in India", according to a senior official. Accordingly, changes are on the anvil that would lower the proportion of those affected consenting to land being acquired from 80% to 50%, while the definition of those who are "project affected" has been limited to husband, wife and children rather than — as previously — the extended family. Also, the "lapse clause" will be removed, so that those setting up units do not invest funds in the fear that the land will someday get reclaimed by the original owner. The officials stressed that this list, although long, is "only indicative, and there are many more such innovations being considered".
The expectation is that within six months, the removal of the blockages created during the UPA period will result in an acceleration of overall growth to the double digit number in two years. "The Prime Minister may not be visible on stage or on television screens, but the effect of the change of government is being felt across the Central bureaucracy", said an official, who added that on 15 August, Prime Minister Modi will for the first time "reveal the road map for what he and his team propose to achieve during their tenure in office".