As election day approaches in Uttar Pradesh, there are attempts by various political parties to strike a rainbow coalition across socio-economic lines. But there is a discernible aspiration among UP’s people for a higher growth model and rapid economic development. This would require a paradigm shift in the electoral campaigns — one that downplays the role of caste and community and replaces it with a development agenda.
The state suffers from an unimpressive rate of economic growth and low income and health indicators. Primarily an agrarian state, UP has comparatively low levels of urbanisation. If there is to be a political turnaround, all parties must develop a time-bound list of ‘do-ables’ — achievable milestones — that reflect the aspirations of the citizens of UP. It needs to break free of its image of being a ‘Bimaru’ state, a byword for corruption and political misgovernance.
The first programme that needs to be taken up in party manifestoes is good governance. For starters, there should be a state civil service commission to administer the postings and transfers of Indian Administrative Service, Indian Police Service, Provincial Civil Service and Provincial Police Service officials so as to de-politicise such bureaucratic decisions. There must be strong commitment to introduce police reforms within a year based on the directives of the Supreme Court. In addition, a white paper giving a broad outline of work undertaken on the implementation of police reforms should be published in the public domain within the first 100 days of the new government.
Also, a concrete plan that lays down systemic reforms is necessary. The existing Lokayukta Act of UP suffers from weak provisions. Recently, Uttarakhand passed a strong Lokayukta Act, whose model could be replicated in UP. Political parties should promise to enact a law that incorporates provisions for compulsory and annual disclosure of movable and immovable property and assets by bureaucrats and politicians.
The state needs to leverage its comparative advantage in the agriculture sector. The political parties in their election manifestoes must promise to relax all restrictions on procurement, processing and marketing of agricultural produce by farmers. This would require amending the Agricultural Produce Market Committees Act, which will reduce the burden of cess placed on transactions that take place outside the mandi and for sale of a specified quantity of agricultural produce. With the help of a ‘mandi’ cess already available, an efficient supply chain upgradation could be made for farmers.
The state has inadequate power supply, poor road connectivity and a sluggish transport network. With an inefficient transmission and distribution system, it is important that the government covers and connects all villages with a population of more than 500 with a regular power supply within two years of coming to power.
Despite the plethora of welfare schemes and fund flows, the poor remain outside safety-net programmes. A good beginning could be made by integrating all existing welfare schemes in a single-window delivery system, like the Delhi government’s ‘Mission Convergence’, which aims to overcome both the supply and demand side challenges that affect welfare service delivery.
The modernisation of the health sector and expansion of the reach of state-wide health schemes is necessary. A computerised health insurance scheme to cover all citizens with a token contribution by subscribers must be assured. This scheme could be availed in both private and public hospitals with reimbursement of costs made possible through a smart card facility.
Finally, there needs to be greater decentralisation of power in the panchayati raj system with an emphasis on building capacity in terms of funds, functions and functionaries. Such devolution needs the participation of citizens in grassroots development. It’s clear that UP faces daunting challenges of governance and development. One hopes that whichever political party is elected to power will adopt a pragmatic and action-oriented plan.
Nripendra Misra is ex-chairman, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India
The views expressed by the author are personal