Less Welfare, More PR

Examination of Union government schemes reveals that they are more hype than substance and non-BJP-run states have a better scorecard of implementation

Since cricket commentators are allowed to make predictions on television before every match of the World Cup, let’s extend that right to an MP-cum-columnist in the buildup to the five assembly elections. At the risk of eating the newsprint this paper is printed on, let me call it — the best-case scenario for the BJP is that they will win only Rajasthan.

The Union government’s welfare schemes are often more hype than substance. Slick marketing succeeds in hiding the flaws. Glib speeches at election rallies present these schemes as “gifts” from the supreme captain rather than what they are: repackaged social welfare schemes, copy-pasted from the states or rebranded programmes that predate Narendra Modi at Lok Kalyan Marg.

Let’s examine half a dozen of these schemes today. How effective have they been? Did they hit a glorious six? Or have they turned out to be a forgettable over of wides and no balls?

Ayushman Bharat: This massively publicised health insurance scheme made headlines recently, albeit for all the wrong reasons. The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), the supreme audit institution of India, pointed out glaring discrepancies in its latest report. 7.5 lakh beneficiaries were linked with a single cell phone number — 9999999999. Rs 1.1 crore was disbursed to patients who were supposedly deceased. In 2.25 lakh cases, the date of surgery was shown after the date of discharge. Health insurance fraud in the United States and Europe is estimated to be 10 per cent of healthcare spending. In India, that number is estimated to be 35 per cent.

Beti Bachao Beti Padhao: Almost 80 per cent of funds spent between 2016 and 2019 under this scheme were used solely for media campaigns and advocacy. The total budget allocation under the scheme has been only Rs 848 crore since its inception, excluding FY 2020. During this period, an amount of Rs 622.48 crore was released to the states. This works out to a measly Rs 3.58 crore per state per year. A study conducted by the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) found loopholes in the implementation process and identified structural barriers to girls’ entry and retention in schools. It showed that three out of four schools pointed towards the unavailability of clean functional toilets, inability to buy uniforms or books, and lack of safe commuting options as key constraints to the education of girls.

Jal Jeevan Mission: Work regarding the mission’s objectives has not even begun in almost one crore households. The government claims that 1.68 lakh villages have received access to potable drinking water under this scheme. However, only 58,357 (35 per cent) have been “certified” after the verification by the Gram Panchayat. Even as the deadline of 2024 is months away, only half of the households have been provided with functional household tap connections. As per NSSO, in Uttar Pradesh, 88 per cent of rural households depend on hand pumps for drinking water and only three per cent have piped drinking water sources at home or on their plot.

PM POSHAN: The Union Budget 2023-24 had increased allocation by just one per cent for this social security programme for women and children. PM POSHAN received an outlay of Rs 11,600 crore in 2023. A decrease of nine per cent as compared to the revised estimates of 2022, which was Rs 12,800 crore. NFHS 2019-21 report showed that one out of three children in India, under the age of five years, were stunted or had not achieved the standard height for that age group. India also recorded the highest child wasting (low weight for height) rate in the world. Figures from 2021 indicate that Uttar Pradesh was one of the worst performers in utilising funds allocated for POSHAN. The Ajay Bisht government failed to utilise two-thirds of its funds.

Jan Dhan Yojana and accident insurance: As of 2022, over eight per cent of the Jan Dhan accounts were zero balance accounts. 18 per cent of the total accounts are either dormant or inoperative. The number of Rupay card-linked accidental insurance claim settlements (linked to Jan Dhan accounts) has decreased from 1853 in 2019 to 188 in 2022. Only 10 per cent of claims were settled in 2022, compared to 2019.

Minority Scholarships: The Maulana Azad Fellowship scheme provided to six notified minority communities, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Jain, Parsi and Sikh, to pursue M Phils and PhDs was discontinued in 2022. This deprived thousands of research fellows. In the same year, the “sab ka saath, sab ka vikas” (sic) government stopped, in part, the two-decade-old Begum Hazrat Mahal pre-matric scholarships for minorities, for classes one to eight, retaining them only for classes nine to 12. The government also slashed funding to the 34-year-old Maulana Azad Education Foundation, a nonprofit that administers a variety of education and skilling opportunities for “educationally backward” minorities, from Rs 90 crore to Rs 1 lakh. One lakh rupees.

Many states run by non-BJP parties have similar schemes, often started even before the Union government padded up to bat. The welfare programmes launched and implemented by these states have a better scorecard when it comes to outreach and implementation compared with what the Union government has done since 2014. But that will be the commentary for another column. Another innings.

[This article was also published in The Indian Express | Friday, November 10, 2023 ]