Modi @ 2: Digital press gets critical on govt initiatives

From critical to analytical, a look at how digital publishing houses have traced Narendra Modi’s government over the course of two years

e4m by Madhuwanti Saha
Updated: May 25, 2016 8:05 AM
Modi @ 2: Digital press gets critical on govt initiatives

On May 26, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will complete two years in office. Under his leadership, India's GDP has accelerated to 7.6 per cent, CPI inflation has decreased to 5.4 per cent, foreign exchange reserves sit at a high of $350 billion and current account deficit has declined by $4 billion since early 2015.

His stint has seen the mark of several initiatives like Digital India, Make In India, Start Up India Movement and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan among others, which have met with positive response, though his critics wrote them off as publicity stunts to boost Modi’s image. He popularized yoga worldwide, and launched the popular Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao initiative to generate awareness and improve the efficiency of welfare services meant for women.

However, most digital publishing houses seemed to be critical of his initiatives, pointing out the challenges and discrepancies. We look at how prominent digital publishing houses have tracked Modi government’s major initiatives so far:

Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana

This financial initiative was launched by the Narendra Modi government in August, 2014 and the government ordered banks to open 10 crore zero-balance accounts. It also offered an overdraft facility, similar to a credit card facility, of Rs 5,000 or 50% of turnover, whichever was lower, through RuPay debit card.

Scroll went ahead and reported about the limitations of the scheme and highlighted that over 70 per cent of the newly opened accounts were lying dormant with no money in them, even mentioning RBI’s concern over it.

Even ‘The Wire’ published a host of articles, pointing out where government is going wrong; with people’s preference for grain entitlement at ration shops over bank deposits in areas like Puducherry and Chandigarh. One of its articles also talks about how it raises troubling questions of political economy. For instance, a transition to cash transfers could easily be used by the government as an opportunity to dilute people’s entitlements.

A report in Huffpost pointed out the exaggeration in Modi’s claims about the scheme with facts and numbers. Quartz reported how India can race much faster towards universal financial inclusion provided right steps are taken with regards to this scheme.

Firstpost took a neutral stand on the above scheme with general reports and articles dealing with its recent progress, limitations- government not offering financial assistance to banks to launch these products- and government’s need to address banks’ quality and cost concern on the same. At the same time, it did mention it to be a ‘game changer’, as it enables huge subsidy savings.

Make in India

Launched in September 2014 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Make In India was inaugurated with a vision to ‘transform India into a global design and manufacturing hub.’ According to its homepage, ‘it represents a comprehensive and unprecedented overhaul of out-dated processes and policies.’ The initiative saw the opening up of key sectors like railways, defense, insurance, medical devices and foreign direct investment. The week-long ‘Make in India’ fair held this February closed with $222 billion in investment pledges, according to Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP).

Despite the positive outreach and outcome, the initiative received mixed signals from digital publishing journals. Scroll, for instance, published a series of articles highlighting key challenges in the ‘Make In India’ initiative, the similarities with Modi’s Vibrant Gujarat campaign and how it wouldn’t work unless the policies are fixed for micro, small and medium enterprises, as they account for 45% of the total industrial production.

Overall, the approach looks critical with one of them even pointing out how the campaign has the potential to ‘worsen some of the basic structural problems of India’s economy including poor infrastructure, poor health care and education and the very low income levels and consequent low purchasing power of most Indians.’

The Wire also analysed the slow traction of ‘Make In India’ campaign and how it can be made a success (for instance appointing a minister of Make In India and cleaning up the banking system). It also showed the dismal picture of steel industry, whose cost is crucial to the competitiveness of manufacturing in at least nine industries. Mention should also be made of one of its reports which exposed shop floor injuries in the automotive sector, questioning the success of the campaign without ensuring the safety of its labourers.

The Huffington Post takes a neutral stand with general reports on its progress over two years that includes Tim Cook’s plans under the campaign. But some of its articles do take a critical approach, with discussions on the emphasis on design to make this campaign a success, and its similarities with UPA’s 2011 Manufacturing Policy. Some of its columns do point out the dismal picture in the country (read drastic cutbacks in health/education expenditure and displacement of tribal population) and how the government has missed out on service sector in the campaign.

Opindia looks at the projects ‘Make In India’ has brought, starting from Taiwanese firm Foxconn’s grand investment plans, Oppo’s plan to start its own manufacturing unit to Samsung’s initiative to build LNG tankers with Kochi Shipyard.

Firstpost highlighted the challenges faced by ‘Make In India’, moving on to general reporting revolving around the progress by different sectors and success. There are articles which delve into the technology aspect, from smartphone companies’ plan to manufacture handsets in India to developments by ISRO.

The News Minute in its articles agrees that ‘Make In India’ will potentially provide a much-needed impetus to the economy, provided the government brings in women workers and local communities in the picture

Swachh Bharat Abhiyan

Launched in October 2014, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (SBA) was started as a nationwide campaign (with Rs 9,000 crore allocated for it) with a mission to achieve Clean India by October 2019. But the pace of development has been slow. For instance, out of the target of 2.5 million household toilets in urban areas by March 2016, 24 per cent (0.6 million) have been constructed. Also, among all projects of the Narendra Modi government, this has received least amount of funding from private companies for the year 2014-15. But its wide-spread marketing did pay off at some places with over 3,000 workers conducting mass cleanliness drive under ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ at the recently concluded Ujjain Simhastha fair.

Scroll’s reports suggested how the government needs to solve its waste disposal problem to achieve its goal. One of its opinion pieces talks about how the Swachh Bharat Cess must be used to ensure a Swachh Bharat for all citizens, with focus on decentralized composting and recycling.

The Wire analysed the issue with cultural variations and focus on religion, gender, region and caste in toilet use. Its other articles emphasise on providing sanitation facilities and talk about the imposition of Swachh Bharat Cess and the major challenge in getting people to use toilet once constructed, and how only a meagre 8 per cent of funds have been directed towards this.

Opindia took a positive stand and did stories on Varanasi Ghat cleaning, featuring interviews with volunteers, and its impact to bring a behavioural change in society. It even mentioned last year’s mission called #Shramdaan, where individuals across 35 cities volunteered to clean public places and maintain them on a regular basis.

Huffington Post is taking a 360 degree look on the campaign right from touching upon Swachh Bharat’s advertisements, to the Swachh Bharat Cess, school sanitation, innovative cheap toilet models and steps to strengthen the implementation of India’s sanitation policies.

Firstpost also took a similar approach and did varied types of reports on Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’s progress, World Bank’s interest in it, its ground survey- Swachh Survekshan, which decides the cleanest city, the app Clean My Coach; which gets your coach cleaned while travelling, on PSUs being asked to deploy 80 per cent of CSR funds for the campaign, Congress’ digs at Modi for the same and Manmohan Singh’s insistence on SBA being repackaged initiative of UPA’s Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan.

The News Minute did a story on its one-year completion and how it continues to draw criticism owing to how it has positioned itself in the area of solid waste management. It also did stories on the need to turn waste disposal into an economic activity, SBA’S mission in Udupi to make it an ‘open-defecation free’ city by October 2016, and government’s initiative to encourage  ‘Swachhta Entrepreneurs’ in this field.

 NITI Aayog

NITI Aayog (National Institution for Transforming India), set up in place of Planning Commission in last January, is positioned as Government of India’s policy think-tank, that will provide the governments at the central and state levels with relevant strategic and technical advice across the spectrum of key elements of policy.

The Wire’s neutral reportage on NITI Aayog is detailed right from its coverage on the recent Model Land Leasing Act (which provides recognition to farmers cultivating the agricultural land on lease to enable them to access loans through credit institutions) to its framework for foreign universities to set up campuses in India functioning and the appointments at NITI Aayog Panel.

Scroll takes a close look at NITI Aayog’s policies, schemes, meetings and objectives. One of its analytical pieces speculated NITI Aayog’s 15-year vision to transform India, while listing down the challenges and the vision and direction government is taking for NITI Aayog. One of its critical pieces pointed out the challenges NITI Aayog poses, mentioning the advantages Planning Commission has over the former. It also wrote on the meeting on Land Acquisition Bill being boycotted by Chief Ministers.

The Huffington Post reported how NITI Aayog will be different from Planning Commission, moving on to Prime Minister Narendra Modi chairing its first meeting, importance of its Land Acquisition Bill, and its vision for an 8 per cent growth rate this fiscal.

 Quartz, on the other hand, postulated the chances of NITI Aayog not working out. It also wrote about its roadmap to help India cross the $10 trillion mark by 2032, with key areas where government needs to work hard.

Firstpost has been closely following the topic with its articles on the Land Acquisition Bill, NITI Aayog’s decision making, and NITI Aayog’s approach to poverty. It also reported how Narendra Modi is using NITI Aayog in education sector, job creation and mitigating drought situation, among others.

The News Minute keeps track of NITI Aayog’s policies and regularly reports about it. One of its pieces thoughtfully pointed out the lack of women in its panel, briefly mentioning fields where women are most likely to be working in a country where women make up 50 per cent of the population.

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