Missing the woods for the trees

Govt’s positive steps on black money issue, LPG subsidy, drug prices and a host of others ignored in national discourse

Published: 14th May 2016 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 14th May 2016 12:24 AM   |  A+A-


High profile political accusations and counters, high decibel controversies are welcome as they add masala to public discourse. For the over 300 news channels, they raise TRP ratings, the very sustenance of expensive telecasts. But what about some serious issues that affect the daily lives of millions, particularly, with the Narendra Modi government about to complete two years in office? Take for instance, the black money issue. Where is all that wealth stuffed in the vaults of those isolated islands like Canary Isles or Jamaica or Sechylles that you promised to bring back in 2014, they taunt the Prime Minister.

A  statement by the Finance Ministry claims that as much as Rs 50,000 crores of indirect tax evasion and Rs 21,000 crores of undisclosed  income have been unearthed in two years. For the first time, the regulars with secret vaults  know it is becoming increasingly difficult to ply their trade from India. Over 1,400 cases are facing prosecution within two years of the Modi government being sworn in. A special investigation team is at work over this hidden wealth. But one does not hear a word about all this! Where are the shares of black money promised to each one of the citizens, they ask. They know quite well that when this money comes back, — that itself will be a challenge partly because the wrongdoers will try every means  to hold off the day they would be pushed into jails — the money  seized  would go to the public exchequer and government cannot distribute it among the people.

Very little of the discourse in the media is focusing on this new approach that is yielding results. The  Modi government’s appeal to the well off to voluntarily give up subsidies on cooking gas has done wonders. Over one crore users have voluntarily given up the subsidy, so more is available for the really deserving and needy.

Never in the past has such an appeal from the government for voluntarily giving up entitlement received such an overwhelming response from the public. Surely, that level of response is an index of people’s confidence in the Prime Minister who made the appeal. His sincerity alone has been responsible for such a result. So the plan under preparation by the NDA government of extending gas pipelines across the plateau to reach the backward regions of central and eastern India  should get  big public support. It has a double advantage.  It saves Rs 8,000 crores in the current method of cooking gas distribution.  That money could be used to pay for shifting the poor man’s fuel from noxious firewood and cow dung to LPG that is safe and convenient.

Here is something more, and  that too will ease the lives of millions. The drug price regulator National Pharmaceuticals Pricing Authority (NPPA) last Tuesday (May 10) slashed prices of 54 essential medicines by up to 55 per cent, including commonly used drugs for cancer (brain and breast), hypertension, diabetes, and several heart disorders. This is the second such price revision in the last three weeks. On April 28 last, the NPPA had fixed prices of another 54 drugs. This bold move, on the part of the Modi government, will surely benefit countless Indians; irrespective of whether TRP starved channels bring it into public discourse in prime time chats or  not. The Prime Minister has received commendation even from his academic critics for keeping his government clean and transparent over two years. No small achievement where temptations fly fast and fine and pitfalls are many and unseen. That also brings us to a silent revolution going on in this government at the level where it counts more.  A complete understanding between what the government at the political level wants and what bureaucracy can deliver.

Only the other day, this was demonstrated when several groups of secretaries under the leadership of NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant produced for the Prime Minister’s eye a document, “Creating a movement for change.”  The entire approach reflected a government that wants a firm connection between what is projected and what is achievable.  There is apparently no place here for targets that are a pie in the sky, numbers projected merely for an applause from the gallery. The document was unusual in every way.  Normally such a document with a target of taking the economy from the present about 2 trillion dollar output to 10 trillion dollar — a five times swell , would run into a huge roll of paper.  It was just a bunch of power point deck, that could be grasped in a few minutes.

If this government would go down in history, it will be touched up as the administration that adopted technology and modernity within the core as well as periphery of the government.  For the first time we are experiencing transparency in government in its true meaning. There is a government portal that could connect you to various parts of the administration, not excluding the Prime Minister.  It calls for suggestions that are not pigeonholed; the data shows how it gets to policy makers.

With the bulk of government business going online, the corridors of power get lighted up.  A sign that the Modi government is really transforming both India and Bharat. That is not welcome for a section that wants government and public sector business behind the bamboo curtain.

balbir punj is a political commentator and Rajya Sabha member

Email: punjbalbir@gmail.com

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