Mr. Modi Creates Policy Paralysis that he once Detested
DECEMBER 01, 2018
By Naresh Minocha, Consulting Editor
"REDUCE politics to end policy paralysis: Narendra Modi" This headline dated 8th April 2013 is the best Governance-cum-Vikas mantra mooted by Mr. Modi. At that time, he was widely perceived as most convincing Prime Ministerial prospect who focused more on development and less on politics.
Unfortunately, Mr. Modi, as PM, has not followed this mantra, thereby leaving his glass overflowing with policy paralysis (PP). He has also not treated PP with his fabled love for speed in decision-making process. He has instead played more politics than any of his predecessors, thereby catalyzing PP.
PP is a deadly cocktail. It includes backlog of legislative and executive proposals that he inherited from UPA and earlier regimes. The cocktail also includes initiatives that Mr. Modi proposed as Chief Minister but shunned them as PM.
PP, in this column, does not include bucketful of promises that he made at the political rallies. The potion, however, includes initiatives listed by BJP in its 2014 and earlier manifestos for Lok Sabha polls.
Before citing specific instances of PP, we need to recall what Mr. Modi stated at the first ‘Think India Dialogue' organized by Network 18 in April 2013.
He observed: "All decisions are taken keeping an eye on the next election. Political parties are under pressure to avoid or delay decisions dues to elections".
He explained: "The decision making process is affected by political pressure, which damages society's trust in government. Our entire decision making process is influenced by pressure from all quarters. This is a danger. It leads to deterioration of society as then people start taking the law into their own hands to get justice".
Mr. Modi in fact made PP his hobby horse that he rode in the very long run-up to 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
"We have to accept that the nation is going through deep policy paralysis," Modi bemoaned while launching Business Line's Gujarat edition on 24th May 2013.
It is here pertinent to first define PP. We can consider PP as a two-pronged phenomenon comprising 1) inordinate delay in framing new policies and laws or updating existing ones and 2) failure to implement some policies and to plug loopholes in the flawed execution of other policies.
The present backlog of policies and laws to be rolled out is as daunting as it was when Mr. Modi rode to power on PP horse.
Consider first the legislative backlog. As many as 55 Government bills and 1802 private members bills are pending in Parliament. This does not give correct picture as the number does not include certain bills that lapsed after dissolution of 15th Lok Sabha during May 2014.
The lapsed bills, not yet re-introduced by Modi Government, include The Public Procurement Bill, The Direct Taxes Code, The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill and The Prevention of Bribery of Foreign Public Officials and Officials of Public International Organisations Bill.
Unlike the case of Lok Sabha, the Bills, introduced in Rajya Sabha, don't lapse. They keep piling up. The backlog thus has bills of the eighties & nineties vintage.
The 55 pending Government bills include the Seed Bill, 2004, which is vital for farmers - a constituency that is very close to Mr Modi's heart.
Related to this is lapsed Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India Bill. The Government has as yet not re-introduced it in Parliament. The proposed regulator's mandate includes regulating genetically modified (GM) food. Modi Government has also not formulated policy for GM food, whose cultivation can help farmers double their income.
A closer look at PP in legislative domain gives an interesting insight. As many as 16 bills on population control are pending. All of these are private member's bills. This means population control, which is most crucial for inclusive growth, is not priority for the present Government. This fact is confirmed by Government's failure to reconstitute National Population Commission. It last met in 2010.
It is here pertinent to recall the fact that Mr. Modi, as Gujarat Chief Minister, was vocal about population control.
He reportedly dubbed population growth as "biggest national crisis" at the first meeting of Gujarat Population Commission held on 8th October 2004.
Mr. Modi prefers to keep silent on population control apparently because action on this front can reduce his popularity rating. He, on other hand, sees population bulge as means to reaping demographic dividend.
Another grave policy crisis pertains to Centre-State relations. As Chief Minister, Mr. Modi had demanded implementation of recommendations of Commission on Centre-State Relations (CCSR). It submitted its seven-volume report in April 2010. Why has he not implemented the recommendations as PM?
As CM, he pleaded that inter-state Council (ISC) should meet twice a year. As chairman of ISC by virtue of being PM, he has so far convened only one meeting.
Yet another case of PP is one that Mr. Modi raised is frequent elections-triggered setback to growth and governance.
At 54th meeting of erstwhile National Development Council (NDC) held on 19th December 2007, Mr. Modi rightly observed: "Every time an election is declared the administration becomes paralysed due to the imposition of the Model Code of Conduct. Since elections are not synchoronized, the slowdown in administration could be over extended periods, causing serious setbacks to the development of the State. Further disruption is caused due to appointment of observers at senior levels who have to spend long periods of time in other States as a part of election duty. This hampers governance".
He continued: "I suggest a separate cadre for conducting elections is created so that the regular administration can focus on development. Further, I would recommend that we conduct elections to States and Central levels, simultaneously, once in five years to mitigate the impact of frequent elections".
After becoming PM, he neither facilitated formation of separate cadre nor amendment of the Constitution to provide for simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and State Assemblies. Simultaneous polls used to be organized till 1967.
He only enriched public discourse on this issue as has been done for decades by earlier regimes. Mr. Modi has thus become part and parcel of seamless Indian systems called policy paralysis.
The list of inactions on what he proposed as CM, if compiled, would shock even his diehard supporters. He has also preferred to remain silent on what he recommended as Chairman of two different committees constituted by NDC during UPA regime.
Consider now a few instances of PP that NDA inherited from UPA. Take the case of National Employment Policy whose draft was unveiled by the latter in August 2008.
In March 2018, Government informed Parliament: "An Inter-Ministerial Committee has been constituted to draft the National Employment Policy and consultations have been held with various stakeholders".
Similar is the story of draft National Tribal Policy that was unveiled by UPA in 2006. NDA Government has not disclosed what action it has taken on the recommendations of high level committee on tribals that submitted its report in May 2014. It has not even made the report public.
The annual reports of National Commission on Schedules Tribes for 2013-14 and subsequent years are not yet available in public domain because they have not yet been laid by the Government in Parliament.
NDA is thus preserving UPA's tradition of delayed presentation of reports submitted by different constitutional/statutory authorities on weaker segments of society.
NDA deserves credit for being one step ahead of UPA on PP front! The former has thus not implemented latter's belated decision taken in 2013 to double bank deposit insurance cover to Rs. two lakh per depositor. The coverage ceiling was enhanced to Rs. 1 lakh in May 1993 from Rs. 30,000 in July 1980.
The Government informed Parliament during August 2018 that "at present, there is no such proposal to revise the deposit insurance cover".
The Government did not accept Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister's suggestion to raise deposit insurance cover of Rs.1 lakh to Rs. 15 lakh.
Modi Government has also not implemented UPA's 2005 decision to transform National Statistical Commission into a statutory entity within one year.
Dig into any sector and pop would emerge one or more instance of PP that might be of UPA or earlier vintage.
It, however, must be said to the credit of Modi Government that it has ended disgusting PP in several areas such civil aviation policy, small firearms manufacture and regulation of drones.
Turn now BJP manifesto-specific cases of PP. The Party's manifesto for 2014 Lok Sabha polls promised a new national education policy and a national land use policy. Both of them have not yet been unveiled.
The manifesto articulated BJP's resolve to reserve 33% seats in parliamentary and state assemblies for women through a constitutional amendment. This commitment exists only in the manifesto at present. So is the case with the uniform civil code. The list of inactions or incomplete actions is long. The list would become longer if one factors in forgotten/shelved policy ideas mooted by earlier manifestos and certain other important documents such BJP 2004 vision.
To conclude, policy paralysis is ploy that can boomerang on any PM if he/she spends lion's share of time in political rallies, events and foreign jaunts.
Will Modiji walk the talk of reducing politics to end PP, thereby giving a new direction to the country?