The government that came to power in 2014 under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has since then initiated a number of schemes and arrangements aimed at alleviating the conditions of rural India and the poorer sections of our society. Poverty has now come to being measured not just in terms of monetary values but to that take basic needs into account. It includes three key variables - health, education and standard of living. And according to this, as of 2015-16, here were 36.4 crore poor individuals in India but in the period between 2005 to 2015 there has been a marked reduction in poverty with 27 crore individuals, including the poorest, coming out of poverty. The Modi government since 2014 has made concentrated efforts at Antyodaya, or improving the life of the last person in the line. The essay focuses on a few such schemes to evaluate the pro-poor policies of the government.
A flagship programme of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Central government and an initiative of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana was launched in 2016 with the aim of providing clean fuel - that is, liquefied petroleum gas - to Below Poverty Line households across the country. The cooking gas connections would be established in the names of women of the family only, a much-lauded aspect of the scheme. Ujjwala’s website shows that by 2019, more than 8crore LPG gas connections have been given under this scheme. Difficulties have arisen due to network problems and the poorest not being able to afford the subsidised cylinders. Yet, 3.6 crore families have benefited.
Additionally, under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, the Modi Government has promised a house for every rural poor. Under the scheme, all families living in dilapidated, kachcha homes will be provided pucca homes with basic amenities by 2022. The policy also incorporates 90 days of unskilled labour under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. Currently about 50 lakh houses per year in rural India are being built and it is expected that by 2022, every poor family will have a roof on its head. Most Indian villages have been connected by a pucca roads.
Under the Swachh Bharat Gramin mission, so far, 9.7 crore toilets have been built and another 58 lakh toilets have been built in urban areas. Many have been critical of the scheme as statistics show that about 40% of the toilets built are not being used due to irregular water facilities and issues of habits, maintenance, waste management, etc. However, even if 60% of the toilets are being used, it is testimony to an improvement in living standards.
The Jan-Dhan Yojana, popularly called the “zero balance account” has been launched with a thrust on linking banking facilities and conveniences with the last-mile population. The policy aims to sweep the rural populace in a ‘Digital India’ embrace. A scheme to deliver financial inclusion from the top, Jan Dhan Yojana helps unbanked Indians open a bank account, get a debit card, and access to social security schemes like insurance and pension. In terms of numbers, it has enabled the financialisation of India at an unprecedented scale - by 17 January 2018, there were almost 310 million beneficiaries, three-fifths of them in rural areas, with a total balance of Rs 73,690 crore. With an average balance of Rs 2,377 per account, this shows that despite there being no minimum balance requirements, the first steps of unbanked Indians towards organised finance have been taken. Critics have raised issues of privacy and security, which are being worked upon. However, the scheme has no doubt been a remarkable step towards modernising finance system.
The universal health scheme - Ayushman Bharat - is targeted at 40% of India’s population who are at the lowest point of the economic ladder. Each one of them can get hospital treatment free with the coverage upto Rs.5 lakhs annually per family. This offers service to 50 crore people and is considered the world’s largest government sponsored healthcare programme. There is no restriction on family size, age or gender and all previous medical conditions are covered under the scheme. It covers 3 days of pre-hospitalisation, including diagnostic care and medicinal expenses. Some challenges that however need to be overcome is related to the number of doctors and hospitals that have joined the programme.
Recently, in the wake of covid pandemic, a relief package worth Rs 1.7 lakh crore has been announced for the needy and will be disbursed as the government sees fit. The package is intended at helping 80 crore people. Besides cash transfers, under this, the Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Yojana will provide these people with 5 kgs of rice/wheat for a stipulated period of time. These steps have been announced to help farmers, affected employees of the organised sector and women.
The government has also increased wages under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) that will provide additional income of Rs 2000 for every worker every year, benefitting about 5 crore families. Besides, for every woman that holds a bank account under Jan Dhan scheme the government will transfer a sum of Rs 500 for three months each. Widows, pensioners and the specially-abled will be given a one-time payment of Rs 1000 in their accounts.
There have been a few bumps in the road, yet nonetheless the policies that have been initiated are pro-labour and pro-poor and have led to reaching out to a number of poor households directly, improving living standards and extending basic facilities to all.