The performance of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has varied significantly across different social sectors. There are some areas, where one must acknowledge the progress made through visible political commitment and ambitious initiatives despite persisting challenges.

For example, the Ujjwala scheme needs to be commended for providing new cooking gas connections to 70 million under-privileged households over the last three years. But the challenge of several Ujjwala beneficiaries finding the cost of refilling cylinders unaffordable remains to be addressed, as a result of which cooking gas use among its beneficiaries has not increased satisfactorily. The oil and gas companies deferring the recovery of loans from consumers by a year is a temporary measure, which cannot solve the affordability problem in the long run. Likewise, the progress made by the NDA government in increasing household electrification through Saubhagya scheme is creditable. But, in this case too, ensuring good quality electricity connections in the long run poses a tough challenge. The limited progress made over the last two years in improving the operational efficiency of power distribution companies in most states doesn’t augur well for the sustainability question on this front.

The Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM)-Grameen has succeeded in providing access to toilets in rural areas nearly all over the country. But the actual use of the toilets constructed across the country and its sustainability depends heavily on availability of water as well as waste management. Also, in a number of states, the prioritization of SBM has happened at the cost of neglect of the National Rural Drinking Water Programme. Despite the gaps and challenges, however, it can be argued that the NDA government has succeeded in achieving considerable progress in these areas; sustainability though poses a challenge in several of these.

Agriculture and healthcare are two sectors, where the NDA government’s initiatives merit acknowledgement but the impact of those initiatives is unlikely to be what the government would have expected. The Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) has invited criticisms for being designed in a manner that favours the insurance companies and the banks or lending institutions over the farmers. The initiative of providing income support to small and marginal farmers through the PM- Kisan scheme, introduced in the interim budget for 2019-20, has come very late in this government’s term. The amount of support ( 6,000 per year to an estimated 120 million small and marginal farmer households that have cultivable land of up to 2 hectares) is grossly insufficient, unless state governments add higher amounts of matching support from their own funds. Also, this scheme is linked to land ownership and hence will not address the plight of landless farmers. Ayushman Bharat, launched last year, has been referred to as a significant step towards ensuring universal healthcare ‘coverage’ in the country. But the poor state of provisioning of healthcare in the public sector, and the deep-rooted problems in private sector healthcare in the country, would pose a serious challenge.

As regards social sectors, it can be argued that both the current government as well as its predecessor have been inclined towards stepping up public spending through direct cash transfers and insurance-based coverage instead of increasing spending on public sector provisioning of essential services. But the loopholes in public sector provisioning can be plugged comprehensively through a more progressive fiscal policy, decentralization, reforms in administrative procedures and strengthening of social accountability in these sectors. The policy agenda for the social sectors, over the next five years, needs to take this into account instead of giving up on the ability of public sector to deliver essential services effectively.

Subrat Das is executive director at Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability. The views expressed are personal.

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