Wednesday 7 May 2014

Whither Policy Direction!!!

Nesar Ahmad
First published in today's Hindustan Times
The recently formed Bhartiya Janta Party government in Rajasthan has not very clearly articulated its policy direction yet. The state unit of BJP had presented a long election manifesto before the legislative assembly elections, but the government has hardly got any time to implement it. Soon after the formation of the government the Loksabha elections were declared, and government got enough time only to present state’s Interim Budget 2014-15 and the vote on account in March. The interim budget speech by the Chief Minister Ms. Vasundhara Raje was very short and provided no clue to the possible policy directions her government intended to take. The three priority areas identified in the budget are promotion of solar energy, providing water to the unreached villages and laying a road network of 20 thousand KM in the state. However, the budget allocation was increased only for solar energy and not for the other two. The earlier Bhamashah yojana is also to be reintroduced according to the budget speech. Under the scheme, the state government plans to deposit Rs. 1,500 in accounts of 50 lakhs rural families through biometric smart cards along with health insurance. However, the social development schemes initiated by the earlier government like free medicine and free medical tests schemes could not find mention in the budget speech.

In the midst of all this the government also reconstituted the State Planning Board (SPB), which is quite heavily dominated by the big corporate names from the outside state. According to a government order dated March 3rd, the state’s new SPB would advise the state government on “the measures for sustainable, balanced and overall development of the State”. The Board chaired by the Chief Minister, has no Deputy Chairperson. The 19 member strong board has as many as 8 big industrialists, most of them from outside Rajasthan. There is also one economist, again not from the state, one ex-IAS officer (who has served in the state) and two social workers from a Bangluru based NGO, apart from a few government officials.

So, should the composition of the SPB be taken as a clue to a industrial development based policy direction, which would give priority to big businesses and their interests, in the state? If that’s the case it would unfortunate as the state government needs to focus on agriculture, water and social issues. According to the 2001 Census, farmers in the state are quitting farming only to become agriculture labourers. The employment provided under MGNREGA is on decline, and many regions of the state are facing shortage of water. The need therefore is to focus on agriculture, water and rural sectors and also to strengthen the social development schemes started in the previous regime. The industrialization and urbanization anyways is likely to get a boost with the implementation of Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC), which has the longest stretch in the state. But if the policy advisory body like SPB has domination of big industrial players, the whole development policy environment may get heavily skewed towards the big businesses, which may not be a desirable situation for the state.


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