The Narendra Modi government is all set to scrap the Aadhar scheme and the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), and tweak the flagship social welfare project of the UPA -- the Mahatama Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme (MGNREGA).
About Rs. 2.47 lakh crore has been spent on these schemes, which mostly benefit the poor, but does not look proud enough on the wish-list of a party which draws its support from the middle class.
As per initial government assessment, MGNREGA and Food Security scheme (launched in a limited way in a few states) have played havoc with farmers and small industrial units in villages and towns. Farmers in Bihar have complained that farm labour costs have gone up by 300%, forcing them to keep vast stretches barren for want of labourers in the sowing season.
The Aadhar scheme apart, the government will also come up with a heavy dose of amendments to the new legislation on land acquisition. States, as well as industrial groups, have been complaining that, under the new legislation, brought at the behest of Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, acquisitions have become almost impossible.
Meanwhile, with the government keen to give priority to the National Population Register (NPR), there's uncertainty on Unique Identification Authority of Indian (UIDAI's) Aadhaar number project. The home ministry believes NPR is more credible as it can also be used to identify illegal migrants. Aadhaar, however, fathered by former Infosys founder Nandan Nilekani, focuses on giving IDs to all residents, whether citizens or not.
An official associated with UIDAI told dna that though there has been no formal communication yet on scrapping UIDAI, the pace of work on UIDAI has already slowed down at Vighyan Bhawan. The body is also headless ever since Nandan Nilekani left to make a political debut in Parliament, but lost the election to BJP's Anand Kumar in Bangalore South.
Officials believe scrapping UIDAI will have a cascading effect on schemes meant for direct beneficiary transfer (DBT). As per an estimate, the government has already spent Rs 3,494 crore to enrol 53 crore people in UIDAI. Defending the scheme, they said it was only because of UIDAI that oil companies were able to detect around 45,000 duplicate connections.
Government sources, quoting Independent Evaluation Office (IEO), said that two major UPA flagship programmes, JNNURM and MGNREGA, were also not working to the benefit of the poor. Preliminary evaluation of both schemes, as per government sources, is that they failed to create rural infrastructure or boost local economy.
"The programme (JNNURM) has a basic design flaw. There was no relation between the urban reform being sought and projects being approved, if the reforms were implemented," a senior official told dna.
Officials said the scheme was lagging and doesn't fit into the Modi government's agenda to provide housing to all citizens by 2022. Under JNNURM, just one per cent of housing projects and 18% urban infrastructure projects could be completed till last year. Urban development minister M Venkiah Naidu has made it clear that a new mission, in tune with new priorities, will be launched in its place.
"It will focus on spatial planning, liquid and solid waste management and public transport, among others," Naidu said, adding that the new mission will be based on lessons learned from JNNURM. The new mission will take care of the fact that half of the county's population will be urban by 2050.
Naidu's colleague in Rural Development Ministry Nitin Gadkari has set his eyes on tweaking MGNREGA. The scheme, along with loan waivers to farmers, was singularly responsible for returning the UPA to power in its second term in 2008. Officials in his ministry say the scheme has stagnated during in last three years. Funds for this crucial scheme remained at Rs. 29,213 crore in 2011-12, Rs. 30,274 crore in 2012-13, and Rs. 33,000 crore in 2013-14. Keeping inflation in view, there was a demand for a comprehensive review of the scheme.
Economists like Prof Krishan Mohan Prasad argue that NREGA , coupled with the food security scheme, belie basic economic principles. "When a labourer gets food and wages without working, why should be toil?" he asks. The professor, who heads the department of Economics in Bihar's Muzaffarpur University, says those making policies in air-conditioned rooms in Delhi have no idea of a village economic cycle, which relies on inter-dependency.
"By getting labourers out of this cycle, they have broken the chain," he said, adding these schemes should have been linked to wages. "If they had thought to link them to work, it would have addressed the issue of unemployment and the money could have been used to increase productivity rather than decreasing it," said Prasad.
He believes NREGA, instead of creating the promised 6 crore rural jobs with government investment, increased absenteeism both in the organised and unorganised sectors. It only increased wage levels in traditional vocations. "Rural recipients instead of working additional hours and enhancing incomes and climbing aspirational ladders seem to have given up their regular occupations, satisfied with their current levels of income and consumption," he said.
The architect of these schemes, former minister in the UPA government, Jairam Ramesh, said they were well thought out schemes which earned India praise the world over. "I don't fear that flagship programmes will actually be stopped," he said.
"On the flagship programmes, the biggest supporters of MNREGA have been Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Raman Singh. On the UPA Government's approach to development in Naxal areas, also the biggest supporters of the UPA Government have been Raman Singh, Arjun Munda, Navin Patnaik," Ramesh said.
The former minister said that effective implementation of flagship programmes have helped increase confidence in people and the administration as witnessed by high voter turnout in the recent elections.