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Niti Aayog’s dismal failure

EducationWorld April 2020 | Postscript

Shoot first and investigate later. This seems to be the modus operandi of the BJP/NDA government, vaulted to power at the Centre with a landslide victory in 2014. Two years later, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a dramatic announcement on November 8, demonetising high value currency notes. The unstated prime objective of the demonetisation initiative was to delegitimise large cash hoards believed to have been accumulated by the routed Congress party during its ten-year rule (2004-2014) at the Centre.

The stated objective was to delegitimise black money piles of industry tycoons, businessmen, anti-socials, terrorists, smugglers, gangsters, and to usher in a digital cashless economy. Evidently the overweening mandarins of the government think tank, Niti Aayog, established in 2014 to replace the 64-year-old Soviet-style Planning Commission, failed to warn the prime minister and cabinet about the repercussions on 90 percent of the country’s working population in the informal sectors of the economy — farmers, small scale industry, retail trade and daily wage labour — heavily dependent upon the cash economy. Thousands of small businesses and farmers across the country were wiped out and millions of daily wage labourers died of starvation. Mysteriously over 95 precent of the delegitimised high value notes were legitimised before D-day, rendering the whole exercise fruitless. Four years later reacting to the new coronavirus pandemic sweeping the world, in a national broadcast on March 24, the prime minister announced a countrywide lockdown giving four hours notice, confining all citizens to their homes for 21 days. Again Niti Aayog failed to advise the PM and cabinet of the likely impact of the lockdown on the 90 percent working in the informal economy who would suffer loss of daily wages, in particular migrant labour which is obliged to scour the country in search of low-paid employment.

Because of post-independence India’s foolish embrace of sterile socialism, over 100 million of the poorest of society are forced out of their rural homes to work for daily wages in distant parts of India. They can’t stay “at home” because they live on their working sites. And following the lockdown order, couldn’t get back to their villages because all public transport was shut down. With no faith in the powers that be, millions of these indomitable citizens started trekking towards their villages even as the Central and state governments blamed each other for not foreseeing massive unemployment, wage loss and malnourishment they would suffer.

To tide over low income households and daily wage migrants during the lockdown, the Union government has announced a pathetically inadequate Rs.1.70 lakh crore relief package. Against this your editor has repeatedly sent a detailed schema to mobilise Rs.8.09 lakh crore for education and health by cutting establishment and defence expenditure, middle class subsidies, disinvestment and imposition of modest flat taxes on income tax payers.

Redirection of this package proposed by EducationWorld last month (March) would make direct cash transfers of Rs. 4,444 per month to 150 million hard-pressed households for the next 12 months. This resource mobilization proposal has been repeatedly sent to the PMO and Niti Aayog, without acknowledgement or response.

The national interest demands that a sum of Rs.8 lakh crore is immediately disbursed to 150 million households by printing notes, and recovered in the next Union budget by implementing the EducationWorld schema (vide My credentials are good. I was the founding editor of Business India and BusinessWorld — India’s first two business magazines.

Moreover a word of advice to the country’s insecure media pundits and passive intellectuals: Even if you can’t support the EW emergency resource mobilisation and disbursement proposal, let’s debate it. The unprecedented Covid-19 challenge confronting the Indian economy requires intensive deliberation. This is the time to think beyond the box and speak up. The national interest demands it.

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