When Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “I will not sleep, nor will I let others do so,” it wasn’t a mere rhetoric. He has set an exacting schedule and pace. He wanted the message to go down clearly to every minister and bureaucrat to work towards achieving the set targets within a given time frame. As a result the PMO has directed all departments and ministries to get going and show the results on the ground, writes PRAMOD KUMAR
Merely days after the results of the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections were in, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called a meeting of his cabinet colleagues where he underlined that it was time results of the programmes initiated by the government start showing on the ground. It did not stop there. Some of the targeted ministries were sent mails from the PMO asking to provide a road map detailing what part of their set target they can achieve by the end of May, or what programmes would start by then. And that is not all. Members of Pragati, the monitoring committee working inside the PMO, have been asked to give the details of their own personal engagements so that all the members are present in Pragati’s marathon meetings as and when they take place. Even the secretaries of the relevant ministries have been asked to simplify the process through which cross-departmental interactions are done, and red-tapism is reduced to the bare minimum.
Those close to the PM have conveyed his dictum to every ministry in as many words that the PM will not sleep himself, nor will he let others sleep. The PM himself has said repeatedly in meetings with his colleagues that those who cannot match their pace with him are welcome to leave. The responsibilities would be given to someone who can. Party president Amit Shah has also been brought in to keep a vigil on the implementation of programmes so that the promises made during UP polls can be kept.
It is not that before the elections the government did not want to implement these policies. It is just that its pace has been hastened following the results. The result of UP elections has boosted the morale of the PMO. However, it has left them worried too. Poor people have put lots of expectations in the government. It would need attempts on a war footing to fulfil these expectations.
Sources attached to the PMO maintain that the PM has put those projects concerning rural areas on the priority list. This includes programmes related to employment, housing, crops, education, electrification, drinking water and infrastructure. Apart from this, a special “Task Force” has been created for Uttar Pradesh alone. Vigilance, as mentioned earlier, is directly under Amit Shah. He will work closely with the Principal Secretary at PMO, Nripendra Misra, who will monitor the projects and keep the PM abreast of the progress. If the medium was the message, it was delivered during the recent cabinet reshuffle. The way some ministers were demoted, and Prakash Javadekar promoted, gave a clear signal to those not performing that they have merely been given a lifeline. They should either perform or perish. In contrast, those who will show exemplary performance will be rewarded a la Javadekar. Many have got the message. The ministers are only seen when the Parliament is in session. Otherwise they are confined to their ministries. At least on the face of it, it does appear that there is lots of work for them to do. The only exceptions are politicians like Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. This is the reason why MPs and other representatives are seen complaining to the PM that ministers are not accessible. But both Modi and Shah see such complaints as compliments for that particular minister.
Those close to the PM have conveyed his dictum to every ministry in as many words that the PM will not sleep himself, nor will he let others sleep
Of the ministries that the PMO is more optimistic about, Skill Development Ministry is at the top. PM Modi personally asked Minister Rajiv Pratap Rudy to put in more efforts. This prompted Rudy to demand for additional allocation of funds that could be spent in Uttar Pradesh. This is apart from Rs 1,350 crores that was already allocated to his ministry. Rudy maintains that the ministry has set a target that by the end of this year as many as 5.5 crore youths will be provided with the skillset to get indulged in some form of employment. This, according to him, will also mean that every such skilled individual will financially support other 4-5 people. Rudy in his own words wants to do something that his successors will remember him for. That is precisely why he is not seen in public very often.
The allocation for MGNREGA has been increased to Rs 48,000 crores. The idea behind the increment was inspired by the participation of women in last year’s project. It was around 55 per cent when allocation was merely Rs 38,500 crores. To promote rural development through infrastructure, the PM is focusing on female participation. This will also soothe the pain of demonetisation. He wants the female participation to increase to 70 per cent. An additional sum of Rs 10,000 crores has been earmarked under the non-plan expenditure head for this purpose.
A sum of Rs 23,000 crores has been earmarked for Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana under which as many as one crore rural homes are to be built by the year 2019. An additional provision has been added where the money has to be returned after a period of 15 to 20 years. The government wants more and more people to benefit from it so that they in turn can convince the others to vote for BJP.
Just below it in the priority list is the Smart City Project. Sources confirm that the cabinet will meet soon to pass additional allocation of funds for the same. The primary idea is to put a stop to migration towards big cities.
When the PM was in Varanasi people mostly complained about the erratic nature of power supply for irrigation purposes. Those in urban areas also complained that load-shedding was the maximum in the cities. As a result, the PMO asked Niti Aayog to prepare a road map regarding rural electrification. Niti Aayog has submitted a report where it has stressed on linking the conventional sources of energy with nonconventional sources of energy in order to overcome the deficit. The report also tries to link the Pradhan Mantri Irrigation Project with this. The stress is more on tapping solar energy. The energy ministry is already running a pilot project in this regard. If this is successful, a project will be launched where farmers will be offered solar panels at low prices. Because there is an element of subsidy here, the project will be brought for cabinet approval very soon. It is expected that the project will be rolled out before Diwali.
Some sort of health policy is also in the offing in order to make quality healthcare available at affordable prices. The idea is to bring as many people under its cover as possible. The government is also looking at the possibility of manufacturing medical instruments in India only as opposed to importing them. Plans are afoot to reduce the prices of medicine as well.
While in Varanasi, a young cadre told the PM that if he could help in any way to expedite the justice delivery, it would bring unimaginable respite in the life of the common man. He further added that special camps should be held to dispose of civil and revenue related cases. Then there’s the problem of undertrials. Sources say that the PM has asked Home Minister Rajnath Singh to look into police reforms. MOS Kiren Rijiju has been asked to take stock of those inmates who are languishing in jails for want of a trial; while Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has been asked to put in efforts to dispose of carryover cases as soon as possible. It is being said that because of his efforts, judges have decided to work during vacations as well.
Says Prasad, while talking to TSI, “We have amended over 100 laws. Amendment in the Motor Vehicles Act is an example of how redundant Acts need to be dealt with. A layout has been prepared that will deal with all the issues, including the appointment of judges, which will help repose the faith of people in the justice system. We will be able to create legal infrastructure in two years so that by 2022, we would be able to bring down pending cases to zero.”
The government is focusing on communication means to connect to the youngsters. The PM has asked MPs to go to their respective constituencies and make youngsters aware about different projects initiated by the government. He has also asked MPs to primarily focus on modern means of communication such as smartphones. Modi believes that 2019 polls will be fought through social media. He has asked every MP to be on social media platform such as Twitter and Facebook in order to connect with the people. Modi surprisingly gives the example of UPA government where in spite of the exemplary performance, Congress MPs failed miserably in making people know about their achievements. The push now is towards different apps through which government projects and schemes can be easily accessed by youngsters. It is also expected that by the end of this year, a substantial number of villages will be connected through optical fibre.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar, a tech-savvy MP who also doubles up as a link between the MPs and the PM, says, “PM Modi is of the belief that when an MP directly talks to the people, the latter take it very personally. They think that their MP is within their reach and this instils faith and confidence in them. This is precisely why it is important for the representatives to directly connect with the people. The PM wants MPs to encourage people to become part of the digital economy so that black money is eradicated. He also wants MPs to talk about BHIM app, apart from being active on Facebook and Twitter handles.”
As far as digital connectivity is concerned, in 2013 barely 6.2 per cent people had smartphones. Most of these were Androidbased. This year the corresponding figure has risen to 34 per cent. This means that every third person in India has a smartphone now. Of those having smartphones, as many as 50 per cent watch video clips and visit social media platforms. Around 70 per cent use one app or the other.
When the Prime Minister Modi was in Varanasi people mostly complained about the erratic nature of power supply for irrigation purposes
Randeep Singh Surjewala, in-charge of Congress Media Cell, says, “Modern communication medium is very effective. If one chooses the right medium in a right way, it is very effective. We will use the medium to make people aware about the failures of this government, and will work as a constructive opposition on this medium too. BJP’s campaign is always negative in nature. BJP has RSS, which is a master of myth-making and rumour-mongering. Don’t forget that it created a stir out of ‘Ganesha-drinking-milk’ in an era when modern means of communication were not even available. Since the advent of new medium, the BJP has mastered the art of negative campaign, mostly targeting the Congress.”
Above): A mechanism has been brought to connect cadres to the MPs through social media handles; (Below): Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad is keen on judicial reforms
Ravi Shankar Prasad wants to push the limit. He wants to make PM’s ‘Mann ki Baat’ more relevant. “Through one app, we can actually provide details to the farmers regarding all the mandis and the prevailing prices. We can bring the live prices from over 200 mandis in one go. We have saved around Rs 50,000 crores in spectrum auction, and we are planning to invest that money in technology building. This technology will bridge the gap between the government and the people. Every facility will be available online. This will end the ‘Inspector Raj’ and bring in transparency. We have a huge communication network which we are trying to make more efficient. We are taking optical fibres to the villages, so that villagers can also take benefit from all the available facilities.”
Kiren Rijiju becomes excited while talking about possibilities. “The PM first turned his focus on the scam being done in the supply of urea for the farmers. Today we can track the urea to its last user. The same is true about the online booking of LPG cylinders. This has drastically reduced the blackmarketing. Students no more have to stand in queue in order to pay fees for competitive exams. There are scores of other examples. Even police department was asked to make all the information and facilities available digitally to the citizens. This helps people in registering complaints and keeps them abreast of the investigation process.”
Those in the know say that he works for long hours and keeps himself abreast of developments through various technological mediums
Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari says, “We want to take National Highways to such a length that people start using roadways as a definite alternative to railways. We have developed an app that gives live information on congestion as well as about the status of roads and repair works going on in a particular locality. People can report about the bad condition of any road through that app. It is communicative in nature. This will make journeys on National Highways safe and secure. There are several apps that give information about utilities and other facilities available on any particular highway.”
PM Modi wants to make the entire system paperless. That can only be possible if everything is available online. Those in the know say that he works for long hours and keeps himself abreast of developments through various technological mediums. He connects directly with bureaucrats and keeps an eye on the progress made in every ministry. The information is provided to him through a joint secretary appointed in the PMO. Every ministry has been allotted a day on which he takes stock of the progress in that ministry. In case of any doubt, additional information is demanded through the secretary of that department. This means that on its allotted day, the staff of that particular ministry is ready with the data and information lest it is demanded.
This is a departure from the UPA-II days when the secretary of a particular ministry used to act like a boss and used to summon his subordinates once in a week. Now secretaries are the first to reach office. Calls from the PMO start coming quite early and if the secretary misses the call, it is assumed that he is absent. Repeated offence can lead to show-cause notice.
A secretary these days keeps himself more abreast of the ministry than the cabinet minister himself. It is also possible these days that his recommendations are accepted in policy formulation. Ministers are at times bypassed as well. There are several examples where the PMO has gone with bureaucrats’ recommendations. Ministers keep quiet on such occasions as such acts of insubordinations could lead to loss of face for the minister himself.
In short, while secretaries used to boss around joint secretaries in the past, the situation has reversed as secretaries now have to keep themselves abreast of every information. They carry laptops all day round lest the PMO ask for detailed information. Sometimes they are also asked to prepare presentations for the PM.
There is huge pressure on joint secretaries and senior bureaucrats appointed in the PMO. Each joint secretary has several ministries under him. But they have no option but to remain well-equipped. The cumbersome legal process that was taken to accommodate Nripendra Misra in the PMO is indicative of the fact that Modi always gets his way.
What would be the result of all these efforts is anyone’s guess. Till now there is not much to talk about at least on the ground. However, with 2019 in sight, PM and the PMO look all set to shift the gear.