Now that the 79-member Ministry of the UPA is in place, Dr. Manmohan Singh and his colleagues would do well to get down to work. Such is the level of degradation and non-performance in various Ministries, that it would take his Ministries 22-hour work days to even get the various policies initiated during the last UPA government going.
Dr. Singh and his colleagues have outlined in their last iteration, many policies in key areas. While Education and Health already had national policy documents issued in the past, he put out policies on Housing, Sanitation, Transport, Urban Development and so on.
Now it is imperative that the Prime Minister persuade the State Governments to deliver. Most government policies depend on the response of State Governments, and experience shows that they are unwilling to let go of their rent-collecting methods when it comes to welfare and empowerment. This will be a major challenge for Dr. Singh to overcome.
It remains to be seen who will steer key areas in the new Government on Education, Health, Housing and Sanitation. All these subjects are being eyed by the private sector to skim off profits from the Middle Class, threatening to leave the lower rungs of Indian society behind. They may not be very amused with the interpretation of Rahul Gandhi, that this is a verdict for the ‘aam aadmi’ for the poor and so on.
If there is a single factor that challenges India’s efficiency today, it is the absence of rule of law and justice delivery. To rein in bad government, the legal machinery has to be effective, accessible and willing to punish authority. Can Dr. Singh and his mentor, Sonia Gandhi ensure that justice delivery becomes affordable and efficient during this term of the UPA?
Massive investments are also called for to expand public schooling, collegiate education and vocational training. These are as important to India’s future as roads and bridges. This is the foundation on which India’s capacity will be built in coming decades.
And lastly, Dr. Singh has the monumental challenge, which he seems destined to fail, of providing affordable and good medical care to India’s vast population, on the principle of free and universal access. The insurance industry, which is screaming for greater profits in the country, has been positively gleeful about the verdict, because it can expand its activities. This is a supreme irony, because President Barack Obama has been trying to fix a health insurance system in the US that ran amok during the Bush years, and ensured that Republicans got little sympathy.
There are other important deliverables that the UPA must focus on — strengthening of the Right to Information Act and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, raising agri productivity, modernising transport systems for the 61 million-plus cities, providing sanitation in all urban and semi-urban agglomerations, protection of the natural environment, climate change mitigation and adaptation and so on.
So Dr. Singh, your hands are full. Let’s get cracking in the first 100 days. And if there are people who are coming in the way of these pro-poor, anti-fat cat policies, please shout out loud to us. State elections are due in coming months and years, and the public will smoothen the path for you.