IT is time to write an independent report card for the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) version-II. It would complete first year of its return to power on May 24 as well as six years of its rule at the Centre.
Available indications suggest UPA is gearing up for the anniversary rituals that might include a press conference by foreign jaunts-burdened Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh on May 24.
The ceremonies might include release of one or more reports to the people out of the five annual reports that President Pratibha Devsingh Patil proposed last year. She mooted this as a part of the five-year agenda for UPA-II in her maiden address to Parliament on June 4, 2009.
The anniversary celebration might perhaps include re-activation of the website of recently revived National Advisory Council (NAC), which served as super-cabinet under the chairpersonship of Smt Sonia Gandhi.
UPA would thus be in the self-congratulatory groove during the last week of May.
It is thus time to evaluate UPA performance against its own public commitments as well as un-attended or neglected national agenda is concerned. What UPA does not say at the anniversary events would be more important than what it trumpets.
Let us start with issues that concern UPA’s mascot, the aam aadmi. In her address to Parliament, Smt Patil had said: “My Government is firmly committed to maintaining high growth with low inflation, particularly in relation to prices of essential agricultural and industrial commodities.”
Every person on the street knows that UPA miserably failed to keep its word on this count. The double-digit food inflation has pushed millions to starvation diet and many more millions to under-nutrition and malnutrition. The sinking feeling remains unchecked.
As for targeting the directly to the poor and the truly needy, Smt Patil had stated: “A national consensus will be created on this issue and necessary policy changes implemented.”
We can give zero to UPA on this parameter as national discord has only worsened. This is evident from the growing rift between the States and the Centre over the number of people below the poverty line.
She had also incorporated the Congress Party’s most important poll pledge in her Presidential address as: “My Government proposes to enact a new law — the National Food Security Act — that will provide a statutory basis for a framework which assures food security for all.”
One can assign zero to UPA on this count as even the draft bill for public comment has not been finalised and put in the public domain.
As for improving the lot of the exploited and neglected tribals, the President had promised: “The implementation of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act would be monitored to ensure that all title deeds are distributed by end of 2009.”
The Tribal Affairs Ministry’s status report says: “As per the information collected till 31st March 2010, more than 27.44 lakh claims have been filed and more than 7.82 lakh titles have been distributed.”
UPA’s performance on this count is also unsatisfactory. The performance looks more specious if the intensity of Naxalism and its expansion in tribal regions is any indication.
Let us now turn to governance reforms. Smt Patil had said: “An area of major focus for my Government would be reform of governance for effective delivery of public services. Reports of the Administrative Reforms Commission would guide the effort. Reform of structures in the higher echelons of government, increased decentralisation, inclusion of women and youth in governance, process reform and public accountability would be key areas for focused action.”
The Government has not made public its decision on the diverse recommendations of ARC contained in its 15 reports. This has left public pondering over the fate of its recipes such as reducing the number of ministries to 20-25 from 84 ministries and departments. This objective was to be achieved by restructuring ministries to align their functioning and coordination. Dr Singh, on the contrary, is happy presiding over jumbo council of ministers that has over 70 members.
Dr Singh, who seems to flying abroad every other week, has also failed to resolve conflicts between ministries and between statutory regulators, leave aside politically sensitive issues. These include inter-state water and electricity clashes, regional strife such as Telangana agitation and Manipur-Naga row and caste conflicts like the Gujjar agitation in Rajasthan and caste-based census.
An obvious instance of regulatory clashes is the public spat between stock market and insurance regulators and between power and forward market regulators. Such clashes ought to be nipped in the bud by conflict-resolving mechanisms within the Government. One such mechanism is the Committee on Disputes (CoD) that was set up in the Cabinet Secretariat following a directive from the Supreme Court in 1991.
Dr. Singh’s pre-occupation with foreign affairs has given ministers enough flexibility to go on detours that end up into ministerial clashes. Take the case of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). This concept requires companies to show concern for the environment and society in which they do business.
The Ministry for Corporate Affairs (MCA) released its CSR Voluntary Guidelines (CSRVG) in December 2009, when Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) had already started resorting to mandatory CSR as a part of environmental approvals for new projects.
With MoEF selectively and arbitrarily imposing CSR stipulations on both private and public sector companies, the Department of Public Enterprises (DPE) stepped in last month to unveil its own CSR guidelines for central public enterprises (CPEs). DPE says: “These guidelines will supercede any other guidelines/circulars/instructions etc. that may have been issued by any Ministry/Department on any prior date.”
The UPA and PM in particular thus score poorly on governance. The only saving grace in this area seems to be Performance Division created within Cabinet Secretariat. The new department is trying to make ministries accountable for their performance through the instrument of Results Framework Documents (RFDs), which set time frames for clearly spelled-out tasks. RFDs are emerging instruments. They should be made credible by issue of RFD evaluation report and action against the ministers and bureaucrats who fail to deliver. Can Dr Singh bite the bullet?
Turn now to justice for the common man, The President had stated: “A road map for judicial reform to be outlined in six months and implemented in a time-bound manner.”
The road map is nowhere in sight. What is in sight is the over-burdening of the high courts and the Supreme Court by litigation among regulators, litigation between regulators and appellate authorities and by petitions filed by companies and NGOs against regulatory actions.
UPA performance looks more dismal, if we club the UPA’s current agenda with its original and virtually forgotten agenda, named National Common Minimum Programme (NCMP) that was unveiled in May 2004.
NCMP had said: “All reservation quotas, including those relating to promotions, will be fulfilled in a time-bound manner. To codify all reservations, a Reservation Act will be enacted.”
“The UPA government is very sensitive to the issue of affirmative action, including reservations, in the private sector.”
Leave aside affirmative action in private sector, UPA has done nothing to create avenues for job reservations in the Central Government and its entities. UPA has in fact almost killed job opportunities by resorting to outsourcing of both skilled and unskilled manpower.
This is confirmed by shrinking staff strength of the Central Government. “The total regular employment under Central Government as on 31st March, 2006 was 31.16 lakh as against 31.64 lakh on 31st March, 2004. The employment has, thus, recorded a decline of 1.52% in 2006 over 2004,” says the Census of Central Government Employees released in October 2009.
Forget reservations, UPA has even failed to frame the promised National Employment Policy.
UPA has thus not only left aam aadmi high and dry but has also failed in nurturing federalism. It, for instance, has pushed ahead with the Land Ports Authority of India Bill, 2009 without consulting the State Governments. The Bill provides for establishment of integrated check points at entry and exit points on international land borders to regulate cross-border movement of persons and goods and to improve national security.
UPA has failed to honour its promises on Centre-States relations. NCMP had stated: “The UPA government will make the National Development Council (NDC) a more effective instrument of cooperative federalism. The NDC will meet at least twice a year and in different states. Immediately, the NDC will take up the issue of the financial health of states and arrive at a national consensus on specific steps to be taken in this regard. The Inter-State Council will also be activated. All centrally-sponsored schemes except in national priority areas like family planning will be transferred to states.”
The buck stops here at PM’s office. It has virtually forgotten its responsibility towards the biggest challenge faced by the nation— population explosion. The country’s population has crossed 115 crore, if one goes by the running ticker titled “instant population of India” on the home page of National Commission on Population (NCP).
Except this population meter, nothing has been updated on NCP website populationcommission.nic.in for years. NCP, which is chaired by PM, last met in July 2005.
UPA deserves negative marking when it comes to pressing issues such as population control, national reconciliation and integration of national security.