“Reform is not the end in itself. Reform for me is just a way station on the long journey to the destination. The destination is the transformation of India” – Prime Minister Narendra Modi
What is "Government of Firsts" is a legitimate questions that can be asked. Is it about taking steps never taken before, or resolving issues pending since decades, sometimes since Independence? Is it about laying foundations of something truly historic or is it about achieving for the first something long cherished? To answer this question, let's look at some facts
As on 11th May 2016, 21.81 crore Jan-Dhan accounts have been opened in various banks. This is no ordinary feat. These many Indians till now were completely outside the formal financial system. For the first time, they are now part of financial mainstream. Against their Jan Dhan Accounts, Rs. 17.97 crore RuPay cards have already been issued and 9.81 crore accounts are linked to Aadhaar. The total savings in these accounts has jumped to Rs 37,616 crore with only 26.3% of account holders not maintaining any balance. Very soon, the RuPay cards can be used both for debit and credit, facilitating cashless financial transactions.
For the first time, more than 12 Crore people across India already have a social security cover. Three Schemes- Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana (PMSBY), Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana (PMJJBY) and Atal Pension Yojana (APY) will ensure social security. The Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojna is a low-cost personal accidental insurance scheme to increase the insurance penetration level in the country that provides a cover of Rs. 2 lakh for a premium of just Rs. 12 per year. Over 9.43 crore Policies have been issued under this scheme. The Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Yojna covers natural and accidental death risks up to Rs.2 lakhs to any Savings Bank holders in the age group of 18-50 years for a premium of just Rs. 330/- per year, while the Atal Pension Yojna (APJ) is a pension Scheme for the unorganized sector. The Government contributes 50% of beneficiary premium (up to Rs 1000) for 5 years to those who joined the scheme before March, 2016.
To accelerate the efforts to achieve universal sanitation coverage and to put focus on sanitation, the Prime Minister of India launched the Swachh Bharat Mission on 2nd October 2014. Over 2.07 crore toilets have been constructed in India in less than two years.
For the first time ever, subsidies worth more than Rs 61,822 crore were directly transferred to people’s bank accounts. The government is implementing Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) scheme for LPG subsidy. Also, subsidies in Housing Schemes, Social Security Assistances and Scholarships are going directly to the deserved. Many experts have recommended that DBT should be implemented for food subsidy as well.
For the first time, poor families have been given a smoke-free life by universalizing LPG connections. Under the recently launched Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana LPG connections will reach five crore women below the poverty line (BPL). One has just to see the reaction of women who have already received the LPG connections to understand what it means to them.
For the first time, collateral-free loans have been disbursed to more than 3 Crore small entrepreneurs. The Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana offers formal access to credit for small entrepreneurs of India, thereby enabling the Indian economy to grow and prosper. Stressing the contribution of small entrepreneurs in the economy, the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has expressed confidence that within a year’s time, the major banks would also adopt the MUDRA (Micro Units Development and Refinance Agency) model.
Under the One Rank One Pension scheme the government has committed to revise pension every five years. Pension will be re-fixed on basis of average of minimum and maximum pension of personnel retiring in 2013 in the same rank and with the same length of service. Arrears will be paid in four equal half yearly instalments, but will be paid in a single instalment for family pensioners and Gallantry award winners.
For the first time files regarding Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose were declassified by the government. The first set of 100 declassified files was made publicly available on Netaji’s 119th Birth Anniversary on 23rd January 2016. These include 36 files of PMO, 18 files of MHA and 46 files from MEA covering the period 1956 to 2013. The files were made available online at www.netajipapers.gov.in fulfilling the long-standing public demand to access these files and to facilitate scholars to carry out research on Netaji.
For the first time, a Special Investigation Team was constituted under the chairmanship of a former Supreme Court Judge. A new Black Money Act has been enacted with strict penalty provisions. Also, the decades-long loophole in the Mauritius tax treaty was ended through successful re-negotiation – this will prevent ‘round-tripping’ & treaty abuse. All transactions above Rs.2 lakh require PAN. A new Income Disclosure Scheme has been formulated for domestic black money. Enhanced enforcement measures resulted in unearthing tax evasion of approximately Rs. 50,000 Crore of indirect taxes and undisclosed income of Rs 21,000 Crore. The value of goods seized on account of smuggling activities has increased to Rs 3,963 Crore in the last two years.
The Prime Minister has introduced various citizen friendly schemes and opened up many communication channels with the citizens. Now, people can write to him online (or offline) and participate in discussion groups of the dedicated citizen engagement platform portal www.mygov.in or anyone can share his/her suggestions with him via Mann Ki Baat.
As can be seen, in many differing ways, this indeed is a government of firsts - resolving long pending issues, initiating first of its kind measures and already achieving some long cherished goals. But this was in 2015. What will 2016 have in store? More of the same or something even more transformative? Guess we will have to wait and see...