HTLS 2019| India’s future rests on progress of its most backward districts: PM
India has embarked on a massive development push in 112 of the country’s poorest districts, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Friday, explaining his government’s efforts to boost growth in neglected regions to spur overall economic expansion.
Delivering the inaugural address at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit on the theme Conversations For a Better Tomorrow, the prime minister said his government was developing these 112 districts, home to roughly 150 million people, as “aspirational districts”.
“Previous governments left large parts of our country blank. These regions were the most backward on most parameters. But we are working on development and governance parameters…when their future improves, India’s future will improve,” he said. “We aren’t those who leave a page blank, we are writing a new chapter…we are taking the country from politics of promise to politics of performance,” he added.
The government has focused on three broad areas of improvement in these districts — health and education indices such as infant mortality rate and maternal mortality rate; banking and insurance cover; and infrastructure and power connectivity. “On all parameters, there is real-time monitoring,” said Modi.
Economists have, for long, expressed concern about economic disparity that has left large regions with low employment and incomes, depriving them of their share of the dividend from the nation’s growth.
Many such regions see regular cycles of disease outbreak, made worse by poor health infrastructure and no access to finance and insurance. Modi mentioned some such districts: Mamit in Mizoram, Namsai in Arunachal Pradesh, Kiphire in Nagaland, Begusarai in Bihar, Gumla in Jharkhand, Bastar in Chhattisgarh and Kalahandi in Odisha.
The prime minister said his government was working in earnest to change the situation in these districts. The administration has deployed senior officials, Modi elaborated, who travel to these far-flung districts from Delhi two or three times every month. “They stay there and work with local teams to implement change through better strategies,” he added.
Modi said that despite these 112 districts lagging behind the rest of the country on almost all parameters, previous governments never focused on these areas. “The least focus of the government was on these districts. They saw the least meetings of ministers and the weakest officers were deputed to these areas. In the race for development, these districts were left blank and to their own fate,” he said.
Elaborating on the importance of these regions, Modi said 150 million of India’s poorest people, primarily from the marginalised sections such as the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes,live there. “Do these people not have the right to the dream of a better tomorrow?”
He said hundreds of officials from the central government were on special duty in these districts to work and improve overall development parameters. “This is a guarantee for a better tomorrow. To improve India’s overall development parameters, the biggest push will come from these 112 aspirational districts,” he said.
Modi said his government was determined to break free from the politics of promising freebies and sops before elections. “We believe in the country’s ability,” he said.
Modi also elaborated on the Rs 3.5 lakh crore Jal Jeevan Mission, which he said will be undertaken with the same vigour as the Swachh Bharat Mission that was a flagship project of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government and saw India declared open-defecation free in October on Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary.
Under the mission, the government is working to connect 150 million households to piped drinking water supply. “Our government is working as an enabler, promoter and facilitator…for a new India, we are doing permanent and performance-oriented work,”Modi said.
In his address, the prime minister spelt out the difference between how his government thinks and what he called the philosophy of governance of past administrations. He said that before every election, governments would announce hundreds of new trains in Parliament, earning applause from MPs and ordinary people, but none of these would materialise even decades after they were formally announced.
“When I came to power, I saw some projects that were 30 or 40 years old but had still not started. Let alone on the ground, it was not even shown on paper where the line would be,” he said.
This change, he said, was the result of moving towards a politics of performance. “Every government should be pressured to perform. All the programmes that we have announced, we have come forward and set ourselves... this pressure [on us] is a good thing. This is a new culture that we have promoted,” he said.
The PM also detailed the change in bureaucracy and governance that his administration is trying to effect, and flagged changing attitudes in the bureaucracy as one of the most important shifts in process.
“We entered the 21st century with a governance model that was based on the 19th and 20th century ways of thinking. We can’t fulfil our 21st century aspirations with this model. We have worked to transform the whole of the bureaucracy in a very serious way,” he said.
He held out three examples. The first was the ongoing conference of director generals of police (DGP) in Pune. The prime minister said that the bulk of the previous iterations of the conference were held in Delhi, and would be over by lunch. “We have ensured that these conferences are now spread over three days, held outside Delhi where the DGPs discuss new problems and share best practices and new initiatives.”
The second was a change in the working of the Indian civil services (IAS) and the premature retirement of around 220 officials. “This has also sent a message to those in the service,” he said.
The government has instructed young officers to do stints in Delhi after their initial training at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration in Mussoorie, Uttarakhand. This will ensure, the PM argued, to get policy experience before working at the grassroots level, and enable better synergy in development work. The government has also given important work to officers from non-IAS services such as forest and revenue, among others.
The third was the lateral entry scheme, which allows for the appointment of specialists from the private sector in government positions. Modi said that a number of people from the corporate world had given up fat pay cheques to work in government, and, in the process, introducing the best elements of corporate cultures into the bureaucracy. “Deadlines are now sacrosanct in the government and the change can be felt in many areas. We want to bring a culture of professionalism over a culture of privilege,” he said.