The first 100 days of a new government is similar to the pre-lunch session of the first day of a test match. There is an assessment of what can be done over the period of the next five years. The groundwork is done for achieving the target. Both the government and the opposition get their first chance to test each other’s strength and coherence, both inside and outside Parliament.
The UPA-2 government announced its programme for the first 100 days through the President’s address to Parliament. The government completes its first 100 days on August 30. At this juncture, based on publicly available information, we take stock of the progress on the government’s task list announced by the President.
On the legislative front, the President listed four bills. Two of these related to reservations for women: A bill fixing quota of one-third of seats in Parliament and state legislatures was to be passed, and another introduced to reserve half the seats in panchayats and urban local bodies. Neither of the targets was achieved. However, on August 27, the Cabinet approved the introduction of the latter bill.
The government planned to amend the Right to Information Act in order to provide for disclosure by the government in all non-strategic areas. Several activists have criticised this move, saying this was yet another attempt to exempt file notings. The government did not introduce any amendment.
The Public Services Law was to be drawn up in consultation with the states. The law aimed to cover functionaries providing important social services like education, health, rural development etc and commit them to their duties. A draft Public Services Bill was placed in the public domain in 2007 but the bill has not been introduced.
In addition to these laws, the President’s speech also mentioned that “it would be our endeavour to have these (Land Acquisition Amendment, and Rehabilitation and Resettlement) bills reintroduced and enacted in the budget session of Parliament”. Neither bill was introduced. The President mentioned four other bills, though not as part of the 100 day agenda. The Right to Education Bill was passed by both houses of Parliament. The Pension Bill (which lapsed) and the Food Security Bill were not introduced, while the Communal Violence Bill (pending since 2005) was not discussed.
Two councils, one each for higher education and human resources in health, were to be established. In June, a task force was established to work on the health council. The government has not announced any steps towards the council on higher education. The HRD ministry has released a concept note on the “brain gain” policy to attract global talent to 14 universities.
A number of items to improve accountability and transparency were to be implemented. The rural development ministry has announced mechanisms for social audit of NREGA and created a web-based public grievances redressal mechanism. A Delivery Monitoring Unit has been set up in the prime minister’s office to monitor flagship programmes. There is no announcement regarding some other deliverables: Quarterly reporting on flagship programmes under Bharat Nirman, annual reports to the people on five sectors (education, health, employment, environment and infrastructure), creation of an Independent Evaluation Office, mechanisms for performance monitoring and perfor mance evaluation in government, and creating a public data policy to place all non-strategic information in the public domain.
The 100-day agenda included two items with a longer time frame. It mentioned “electronic governance through Bharat Nirman common service centres in all panchayats in the next three years”. There is no announcement regarding this. The agenda included “A roadmap for judicial reform to be outlined in six months and implemented in a time-bound manner”. The law minister has indicated that the roadmap will be ready by the end of September. On opposition by several MPs, he deferred the introduction of a bill to require judges to disclose their assets. The law minister has also indicated that a revised version of the Judges Inquiry bill will be introduced in the winter session.
Improving delivery systems
Four items relate to better delivery of schemes to the intended recipients. First, all identification of beneficiaries will be done through gram sabhas and urban local bodies and the list placed in the public domain to be open to challenge. Second, targeted identity cards would subsume and replace BPL cards. The proposed Food Security Act would have a new card. There is no announcement on these items. Third, banks and post offices will be outreach units for financial inclusion. The RBI has released a report on the business correspondent model which states that the model should encompass access to banking and credit markets and financial education. Fourth, provision of scholarships and social security schemes will be through accounts in post offices and banks and there will be a phased transition to smart cards. There are no details of a comprehensive programme. The labour ministry has advised that financial assistance to children of beedi workers be given through post offices and banks.
The agenda envisages web-based system for NGOs seeking government support to enable their applications and monitoring the status. The Home Ministry has set up a system for online application for permission to receive foreign funds. However, the government has not announced a standard website or system for various permissions and funding applications.
Empowering and utilising human resources
Two of the agenda items relate to empowering women. A national mission on empowerment of women will implement women-centric programmes. The Minister of State for women and child development told Rajya Sabha that the government plans to establish this mission. The President’s address also indicated that there would be concerted efforts to increase the representation of women in central government jobs. The ministry of personnel has issued relevant guidelines to all central government departments and recruiting bodies. It has also exempted women candidates from paying fees for taking competitive examinations. A voluntary national youth corps would take up creative social action around the river cleaning and beautification programme staring with Ganga. The ministry of youth affairs has initiated steps for creating this youth corps. A voluntary technical corps of professionals in all urban areas would be set up through JNNURM to support city development activities. This has not been established.
Just like a test match, there can be surprises once the government takes strike. This period saw two significant new challenges on the domestic front. First, the monsoon rains have been well below par, and large tracts of the country face severe drought conditions. Retail prices of food items have risen sharply (though the broad-based WPI still indicates deflation). Second, several cities have been paralysed by swine-flu; though the number of infected patients and deaths is not very high, there is a fear that the flu can spread quickly and cause many more deaths. On the external front, the Prime Minister’s joint statement at Sharm-el-Sheikh invited a lot of attention (and the verdict is still with the third umpire). Developments in other neighbouring countries — Sri Lanka, Nepal and Myanmar — also need to be tackled with care.
The government has to keep its eyes on the ball and face these new challenges and several earlier ones (for example, the Maoists are increasing their violent activities). We congratulate the government for setting up a target list. We hope that the government soon manages to cover up for the slow start towards achieving these targets.
The writer is with PRS Legislative Research