Government is methodically shattering the glass ceilings that trap Indians in poverty
12/11/2017 4:57:04 PM
|written By : M J Akbar|
Reform has become the trope of our times. After nearly a quarter-century of hop, side-step and crawl, the Indian economy remained shackled to shibboleths till 2014, when India languished, to offer only one example, at a pathetic 142 in the ease of doing business index. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intense effort for change is delivering outcomes: an unprecedented leap has taken India to step 100 on this ladder. The PM’s next destination is the top 50. It will happen.
But reform is only part of the Narendra Modi story. He has set himself a far more daunting challenge: to liberate 100 million households, or nearly half a billion Indians, from the whiplash of poverty, into a world of aspiration, empowerment and gender equality. This mission too has a deadline: 2022.
This will not happen by reform alone. It needs a radical transformation in resource mobilisation and a shift in the focus of public investment across class lines to turn the impoverished into masters of their own economic emancipation. The existing broadband of unjust hierarchies is not easy to alter, however; nor will any deep establishment accept change without a fight for preservation of its entitlements.
India’s poor were trapped under at least three glass ceilings. The first was exclusion from banking. This, crucially, denied them credit facilities and made bank loans the preserve of a small demographic pyramid where, as it tapered to the peak, loans became fatter and cosier. This was not crony capitalism; this was crony corruption in capital letters. Exclusion from banking also made the poor vulnerable to middlemen within transfer institutions. Cash attracts sticky fingers.
Prime Minister Modi designed the architecture of change through a series of logical, inter-connected decisions. Many observers and all partisans could not conceive the second or third step when he ventured on the first.
It began with Jan Dhan Yojna, the largest banking inclusion project in history. Within a startling three months, over 300 million new accounts were opened for those who had never crossed the threshold of a bank before. Critics packed the airwaves with jeers, laughing at the fact that these were accounts without money. They missed the point completely. For the first time, banks were opening doors for those without money, rather than for those with cash. The multi-dimensional results are in. Among them is an uncomfortable fact for the old critics: those 30.24 crore “zero” accounts now have Rs 66,466 crore as deposits. The poor, particularly in the villages, have secure savings.