In his Independence Day
address, which lasted for about an hour and a half, Prime Minister Narendra Modi
on Saturday gave an overview of his government’s policy approach in the coming days, but steered clear of both the serious growth challenges before the Indian economy and the pressure this was putting on public finances.
Instead, he focused on eight specific areas including the much-talked-about need for building a self-reliant India or an Atmanirbhar Bharat.
The other seven areas that he touched upon were giving a boost to infrastructure, providing support to urban workers, medium enterprises and middle-class Indians, ensuring greater participation of women in economic activities, taking care of farmers, strengthening the existing digital framework, making development more environment-friendly and building a strong network of national cadet corps in all the border districts of the country with the help of the armed forces.
Many of these announcements were a reiteration of earlier policies and showed the prime minister’s key political and economic concerns. But of particular note were three new initiatives unveiled by the prime minister in his 74th Independence Day
One, he announced the plan to hire over 100,000 members of the National Cadet Corps in over 170 border districts of the country to be trained by the armed forces. Since all NCC members get a daily allowance and their chances of joining the defence forces get better, this is probably the biggest initiative announced in recent times to create jobs for people in these border districts.
Two, he set a target of 1,000 days or roughly three years to complete the extension of an optical fibre network to connect all the 600,000-odd villages in the country. Already, 150,000 village panchayats have been covered under the optical fibre network and another 100,000 village panchayats still remain to be connected, Modi said.
Three, he announced the launch of a national digital health mission through which every Indian’s health record data would be collected helping in delivery of health services.
Explaining his approach to self-reliance, Modi said India should economically stand on its own feet, but it must also become strong enough to contribute to an interconnected and interdependent world. Ruing how India over the years was exporting natural resources, he said the time had now come to increase value-addition in such exports.
Modi lauded the Indian farmers, who had already helped the country to become self-reliant in food and said it was now time for India to become self-reliant in space, energy and health sectors. He admitted that there were challenges in making India self-reliant, but it was important that this campaign improved skills at home and led to higher exports.
But he seemed to add a new element to the Atmanirbhar Bharat movement, by noting at the end of his speech that there was also need for reducing imports and pointed out how recently the government had imposed curbs on imports of over 100 defence items.
Drawing comfort from the 18 per cent increase in foreign direct investment flows, Modi said India was becoming a centre for new supply chains in the world. This was an opportunity for transforming the Make In India programme into a bigger initiative – Make For World, he said.
On infrastructure, Modi recalled the Vajpayee government’s Golden Quadrilateral Highways Network project to connect cities and ports with better roads and said there was now need to take that infrastructure push to a new level. Already, 7,000 projects had been identified and an estimated Rs 110 trillion was to be spent as part of the National Infrastructure Pipeline.
While the poor had benefited from the Jan Dhan Yojana bank accounts, Ujjwala gas connections, health insurance, there was need to look after the urban poor also, he said. But he did not announce any specific scheme for job guarantee or income transfer schemes for urban workers. But there was an announcement of ensuring balanced development by focusing government work on the 110 districts that figured at the bottom of the development index.
For farmers, he reiterated the promise to double their income and said their raw material costs had to be brought down and the farmer infrastructure fund of Rs 1 trillion and the relaxation in many old laws restricting their market access would help them in the marketing of their produce.
The middle-class Indian, which many believe has not received much attention from the Modi government, figured in the prime minister’s speech in a prominent way. He recalled how the government had constructed more affordable houses and connected 100,000 houses with piped water supply. Going forward, Modi said the government would lay more emphasis on improving the middle-class Indian’s ease of living, providing him with better internet connectivity, cheaper air travel facilities and an easier taxation policy. Micro, small and medium enterprises too were provided support by the government with the announcement of special funds for them and by bringing the cooperative banks under the regulatory supervision of the Reserve Bank of India. The new education policy would help Indians become rooted as well as global, Modi said.
The prime minister also underlined the need for making development sustainable. He said with the focus on renewable energy India had already figured among the top five countries in solar power capacity. Ladakh would become a carbon-neutral region and the country would launch Project Dolphin on the lines of Project Tiger, to promote ecology, biodiversity and tourism.