Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday addressed middle-class concerns and the poor in his Red Fort speech with new announcements, an attempt to highlight his government’s social goals amid frequent criticism that his administration’s singular focus was economic growth.
In a country with abysmal healthcare spending of just 3% of the GDP, Modi announced medical aid of up to Rs 1 lakh for people below poverty line.
“If a poor person wants healthcare services, then medical costs of up to Rs 1 lakh a year will be borne by the government,” Modi said in his address.
To middle-class households roiled by high prices, Modi said his government had successfully controlled inflation at around 6%.
Modi said he wanted to spare the honest taxpayer the tyranny of income–tax authorities. “Middle-class, upper middle class used to be hassled with I-T officers, more than police. I have to change this situation, I am working on it and will make the change happen,” Modi said.
On delays on tax refunds, Modi said people had “a hard time to get refund, they had to use contacts and it used to take months for the citizens to get their refund from the exchequer. I want to change that,” he said.
Modi’s third speech from the Red Fort marked a departure in the narrative from his two. If the first two speeches were more about promises, Monday’s address boasted of achievements so far.
Adept at wooing the middle-class, the Prime Minister said his focus was on work culture and delivery. The speed of delivery in vital sectors had increased. His government was speedily constructing rural roads and cut down time to approve projects to a maximum of 6 months.
The pace of road construction has gone up from 70-75km a day to 100km, he said.
He cited his government’s decision to declassify the files on Subhas Chandra Bose, the passage of the land boundary agreement with Bangladesh, the Goods and Services Tax as well as the real estate bill to show how things are moving under his government.
Modi again used the occasion to snipe at the previous UPA government. “My government was surrounded by expectations as against the previous regime which was surrounded by allegations.”
“Hum cheezo ko taalne me bishwas nehi karte. Hum talna nehi, takraana jante hain (we don’t believe in delaying things, we believe in taking things head on),” the PM said, in an apparent reference to the policy paralysis of the previous government.
Modi said cooking gas connections had gone up by 4 crore in 60 months as against 14 crore connections released in 60 years. On his pet scheme on financial inclusion, he said that 21 crore bank accounts had been opened under the Jan Dhan Yojana, 2 crore toilets built in rural areas, apart from 10,000 electrified villages.
The Modi government’s first two budgets had been severely criticised for cuts in social spending and for whittling down the rural job scheme, NREGA.