Time to transform India begins

| | in Oped

Having been voted to power with a huge mandate, the Narendra Modi Government has a lot of expectations to fulfill. But for now, it must focus on reforming the judiciary, improving healthcare and education, and creating employment

Mr Narendra Modi is finally here. And he being a man of action, ambition and humility will continue to be in power for at least 10 years, if not 15. That means he has enough time to change India. Here are some of the key points that Mr Modi needs to work upon immediately.

Transform the judiciary: Mr Modi’s first priority, in an environment where the people are fed up with corruption, is to transform the judiciary. It is shocking that the annual budgetary allocation for the judiciary is less than one per cent of the Union and State Budgets.

This is despite the fact that new laws, increasing corruption and social activism are leading to the number of cases in courts increasing tremendously, even while older cases remain unresolved for years.

Corruption can only be reduced by ensuring that the judiciary becomes more effective. If the corrupt are confident that they can delay punishment indefinitely, due to cases languishing in the courts for years, then corruption will definitely keep increasing. We need to change this immediately.

Corruption is a worldwide phenomenon; but it affects fewer people in Western countries, for instance, because the judicial systems there are better functional. In the US, for example, the number of judges per one million people is 10 times more than in India. Going by the American benchmark, India will need about 1,00,000 additional judges.

This may seem like a large figure but it is possible to achieve this target in five years. Taking a ballpark figure of Rs30,00,000 being the investment required to set up one additional judge and his office assistants, if we were to have 20,000 additional judges per year, we have to budget approximately Rs6,000 crore per year.

Mr Modi must announce the allocation of Rs6,000 crore for the judiciary in this coming fiscal, and should plan to allocate Rs10,000 crore in the subsequent fiscal. The Ministry of Law and Justice work hand-in-hand with the Supreme Court and High Courts to finalise a plan for quadrupling the number of judges soon.

The Ministry should also draw a set of guidelines to encourage litigants, lawyers and even judges to settle cases within a certain deadline — something that has been practised successfully in Income Tax cases, where the decisions of tax officers are time-bound. These straightforward moves have the power of radically transforming the impact of governance .

If the corrupt start fearing quick judgements ( and penalties such as confiscation of their property and wealth), the general tendency towards corrupt practices will go down considerably. This is far more practical an approach and will work much better than the almost-forgotten Lokpal Bill.

Focus on education and healthcare: Without investments in education and healthcare, India’s can only dream of catching up with China. Mr Modi respects the Chinese model and has studied it. It is abhorring that public expenditure on health and education in India is currently less than two per cent of the Gross Domestic Product. Government subsidies and exemptions make up for a much larger percentage.

Mr Modi needs to ramp up allocation in projects like the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan and the National Rural Health Mission. But this has to be matched with efforts to improve governance and reduce corruption.

Focus on employment generation schemes and slum removal schemes: Mr Modi must increase the allocation for rural India, specifically farmers, by Rs1,00,000 crore a year. Rural India needs 150 million new jobs for immediate improvements in economic and lifestyle indicators. For a committed Government, five years, rather than 65 years, is a good enough deadline for the project. In other words, Mr Modi’s Government will have to create 30 million new jobs in the  rural areas every year.

Half of the money thus allocated should also be invested in building or improving physical infrastructure in rural India. Irrigation facilities, roads, cold storage facilities, electricity transmission etc require immediate state attention.

The other half should be targetted towards improving rural social infrastructure (access to education, health and sanitation). Investments in physical infrastructure will dramatically improve rural India’s productivity levels, and this will result in higher income levels for farmers.

Social infrastructure investment will radically improve human development indicators in rural India. It will create jobs and help fight massive rural unemployment levels.

Having said that, one should not forget urban unemployed. We need 25 million new jobs in urban India as well. The investment required to create one job in urban India is much higher than in rural India. Subsequently, to create 25 million jobs in the coming five years, Mr Modi should allocate an additional Rs1,20,000 crore for the urban unemployed.

But as in the case of rural India, even the urban poor need dignity of existence, a roof to call their own, not just slum dwellings. For that, Mr Modi will need to budget another additional Rs24,000 crore per year for the next five years in order to create 15 million urban housing units of a minimum 250 square feet each. This is the first set of things Mr Modi must undertake at the earliest to transform India.

(The writer is a management guru and honorary director of IIPM think tank)

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