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Bill Gates to Narendra Modi: You need to generate new healthcare models for India

After over a year in power, the Narendra Modi government’s decisions to cut federal welfare spending on the poorest of India’s 1.25 billion people have come in for a sharp criticism, including from within his cabinet.

In a break with India’s Socialist past, Modi saved money on federal social and subsidy expenditure, and pumped it into an infrastructure stimulus he hopes will trigger a spurt in economic growth, a Reuters report had said.

Co-founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates in this op-ed piece, which was published in The Times of India, has addressed Modi and said that even though the healthcare system in India has improved quite a bit, it still is uneven from state to state:

Resources matter, but how they are used is just as important. India is immense and immensely complex. There is no existing health system model that can simply be applied to India. You need to generate new models. How can you provide high-quality care in vast rural areas where there are very few doctors? Given that so many Indians use private health providers, how can the government work with the private sector to improve care? How can such a sprawling health system produce and use data in real time to respond to what is happening on the ground? These are challenges India is wrestling with. You have the creativity and intellect to solve them, and I believe you also have the political commitment.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates with PM Narendra Modi. AFPMicrosoft co-founder Bill Gates with PM Narendra Modi. AFP

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates with PM Narendra Modi. AFP

In this May 2015 article, Reuters quoted government sources and said that lower welfare spending will be compensated for by giving state governments a larger allocation of tax revenues to spend as they choose. But state chiefs, government officials and a cabinet minister have warned that the spending shakeup endangers the country’s most vulnerable.

Maneka Gandhi, women and child development minister in Modi’s cabinet, had said the impact of the policy will borne by India’s estimated 300 million poor. “This may result in a situation where the focus is lost on critical programmes related to malnutrition of children… nutrition for pregnant and lactating mothers,” Gandhi wrote in an 27 April letter to the finance minister, Reuters said.

In his first full-year budget, approved by Parliament on 7 May, Modi halved funding for a scheme that gives millions of poor children free food and drastically cut allocations to make clean water available in rural areas.

On the other hand, funding for roads and bridges more than doubled, and is now higher than the sum allocated to education.

The cuts to nutrition and water stand out because of the precarious condition of India’s impoverished. Four out of 10 stunted children in the world are Indian — which is more than sub-Saharan Africa.

In his op-ed, Gates pointed out that statistics show how the quality of life in India has become much better. “But the second thing is how uneven it still is from state to state. The child mortality rate in the worst-performing states is three times higher than it is in the best states.”

In 2013, the country recorded 50,000 maternal deaths. About 1.5 million children die each year before the age of five.

Modi’s first year in office has seen a string of successes, including forging closer ties with major trading powers, boosting foreign investment and cutting red tape.

His approval ratings remain high, although he faces growing headwinds in the countryside, where bad rains and low crop prices have affected the 70 percent of the people that live there. The fear is that the spending squeeze will hit when the most vulnerable need more help.

“Increasing signs of rural distress in India make Modi’s cuts politically risky,” said Milan Vaishnav of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Modi’s gamble is that infrastructure investment will generate dividends for the poor in time for the next general election by increasing the economy’s capacity to grow through better roads, ports and railways.

At the same time as taking away central funding, Modi has increased the share of taxes given to states to 42 percent from 32 percent, money that, if well spent, can cover the shortfall from the spending cuts.

The policy shift is championed by economists in a new body called Niti Aayog, or policy commission, Modi’s replacement for the Soviet-style Planning Commission set up by post-independence leader Jawaharlal Nehru.

It is headed by Columbia University’s Arvind Panagariya, who advocates fiscal stimulus to invest in infrastructure and restore growth, and rely on the growth to later finance health and other social spending.

With inputs from Reuters

Modi government sets up expert group to collate caste census data under Arvind Panagariya

Amid a controversy over not releasing of caste census data, the government on Wednesday set up an expert group headed by NITI Aayog Vice-Chairman Arvind Panagariya to collate caste count even as it blamed the states for not being able to complete the consolidation of different categories.

PTI photo
Amid a controversy over not releasing of caste census data, the government on Wednesday set up an expert group headed by NITI Aayog Vice-Chairman Arvind Panagariya to collate caste count even as it blamed the states for not being able to complete the consolidation of different categories.The decision was taken in a meeting of the Union Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.Announcing it, Finance Minster Arun Jaitley said, “A decision was taken today to set up a committee chaired by Vice Chairman of NITI Aayog, which will classify this caste data. When the task is completed, it will be made public at an appropriate time.”<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>He said that the decision was in line with the one taken during the UPA government in May 2011.The government has been criticised by parties, including Samajwadi Party, JD(U), RJD and DMK for refraining from releasing the caste-based data in its first Socio Economic and Caste Census (SECC). The SECC data released on July 3 is first in eight decades after 1912.Brushing aside suggestions that the government avoided giving the caste count in the survey report due to political reasons ahead of Bihar polls, Jaitley said that it will be good if the states, who are “politicising” it, send their recommendations of caste consolidation at the earliest.He said that the caste census conducted by the Registrar General of India has come out with 46 lakh categories of caste, subcaste, different surnames in the caste and clan names, which have been sent to the states eight-nine months back for clubbing them to consoldiate the caste count.He said that the government is keen to release the caste data at the earliest as soon as the states send the details because the committee headed by Panagariya will only then be able to classify it. “It will be good that states, which are politicising it, send their caste consolidation recommendation at the earliest.They cannot hold back the recommendation and then say you please release it,” he said, adding so far most of the states have not been able to send the caste consolidation details.The government could face a united opposition attack in the Monsoon Session of Parliament on the issue with parties like Congress, CPI(M), DMK, SP, RJD and JD(U) closing ranks.While the government has rejected the charge that not releasing the caste count has anything to do with Bihar polls, Lalu Prasad’s RJD and Nitish Kumar’s JD(U), which have come together to fight the state’s Assembly election, have made a strong pitch to make it public in an apparent attempt to consolidate OBC votes.

Need a mission-mode approach to clean Ganga: PM

Ensuring minimum ecological flow of River Ganga into the plains of Bihar and Jharkhand and silt management were some of the key issues discussed by Ganga-basin states during their meeting with prime minister Narendra Modi on Thursday. The PM was chairing the fifth meeting of the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) to take stock of progress on the government’s Clean Ganga project. The meeting saw Nitish Kumar, Harish Rawat and Raghuvar Das, chief ministers of Bihar, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand respectively attend the meeting along with Union ministers Arun Jaitley, Uma Bharti, Prakash Javadekar, Nitin Gadkar, Piyush Goyal and NITI Aayog chairman Arvind Panagariya.

Ensuring minimum ecological flow of River Ganga into the plains of Bihar and Jharkhand and silt management were some of the key issues discussed by Ganga-basin states during their meeting with prime minister Narendra Modi on Thursday. The PM was chairing the fifth meeting of the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) to take stock of progress on the government’s Clean Ganga project. The meeting saw Nitish Kumar, Harish Rawat and Raghuvar Das, chief ministers of Bihar, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand respectively attend the meeting along with Union ministers Arun Jaitley, Uma Bharti, Prakash Javadekar, Nitin Gadkar, Piyush Goyal and NITI Aayog chairman Arvind Panagariya.According to sources from the Bihar government, the Ganga plain states have been bearing the brunt of low natural flow of the river due to issues of sedimentation and siltation up north. During the meeting, the chief ministers presented these issues and discussed single-window clearances for proposals.The PM urged his ministerial colleagues and the three chief ministers to adopt an “uncompromising mission-mode approach” to halt pollution of River Ganga. Already in January this year, the PM had directed the water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation ministry to prioritise pollution control and taking remedial steps. But, on ground, the progress has been rather slow and effluent treatment plants have still been found wanting.In the meeting, the PM also called for harnessing the potential economic activity provided by the Clean Ganga project and urged states to pay special attention to development of towns and villages located on the banks of the River Ganga, and to ensure sufficient awareness in these areas to stop pollution. The water resources ministry recently submitted the Indian Institute of Technology consortium report on Ganga River Basin Management that proposed working in three different missions. When asked about the IIT report and its recommendations, Uma Bharati, minister for water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation said, “We have gone through the report’s interim version and I have asked them to narrow down the recommendations. Hence, it will take some more time to shape up.”The minister also added that a new and stringent legislation is being worked upon to aid the Clean Ganga project. “A committee has been set up (for the legislation) and states will be duly consulted on the new legislation.” Rs 2,017 crore – The funds allocated in the Union Budget for the Ganga cleaning and rejuvenation project3,636 million litres of sewage generated per day by 118 urban local bodies1,027 -The capacity in million litres of the sewage treatment plants700- The number of industries across Uttarakhand, Bihar, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand that have been served notices to submit fresh action plans on pollution control

Indian-American economist to be Vice Chairman of NITI Aayog

Almost a year preceding the general elections of 2014, it was in July 2013 that eminent economist Jagdish Bhagwati lapped up the economic conviction that only reforms which boost economic growth can generate resources to finance social and infrastructure spend. This was the constant point he reiterated in his famous public discourse with another stalwart Amartya Sen – thereby, in his own way also setting the agenda for whosoever would be taking over the reins of the country post the elections. Now, almost a year after the government formation, it is Bhagwati’s protégé, Arvind Panagariya, a reformist himself who will take government’s growth agenda forward. He has been appointed as the vice chairman of the Niti Aayog, which replaces the Planning Commission.Noted economist Bibek Debroy and scientist VK Saraswat have been appointed as the members of the Aayog. The body will also have finance minister Arun Jaitley, home minister Rajnath Singh, agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh and railway minister Suresh Prabhu as ex-officio members. Nitin Gadkari, Smriti Zubin Irani and Thawar Chand Gehlot will be special invitees.Panagariya is professor of Indian Political Economy at the Columbia University. He holds a PHD degree in economics from Priceton University. Panagariya has served as a professor of economics and co-director, Center for International Economics, University of Maryland. He has also served the World Bank, World Trade Organisation, International Monetary Fund and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development in different capacities.Panagariya has authored several books and edited some others. India: The Emerging Giant, by Panagariya was published in March 2008 by the Oxford University Press, New York.Panagariya had been vocal in his support for the Modi model of development for the last two years. He has supported the Gujarat model in his articles. On the state of the minorities in Gujarat, he observed in his article in an Indian daily, “Gujarat also deserves applause for the large cuts in poverty among the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Muslims. At 7.7 per cent, Gujarat boasts the lowest poverty ratio for Muslims in rural areas. The state also counts among the seven states with lower poverty ratio for Muslims than Hindus in rural and urban areas combined.”Noted economist Bibek Debroy is professor at the Centre of Policy Research, New Delhi. Debroy studied at University of Calcutta, Delhi School of Economics and Trinity College, Cambridge. He has earlier worked with the finance ministry as a consultant in the department of economic affairs and director of the Legal Adjustments and Reforms for Globalising the Economy set up by the finance ministry and the UNDP. Apart from an economist, Debroy is also an indologist with works such as transalation of Bhagwad Geeta to his credit.Vijay Kumar Saraswat has also been inducted into the Aayog as a member. Saraswat retired as the chief scientific advisor to the minister of defence in May 2013. He is the former director general of the Defence Research and Development Officer.

New era dawns: Niti Ayog empowers states for development; Prime Minister Narendra Modi to head new body

New Delhi: A view of the Yojana Bhawan in which the erstwhile Planning Commision was located, in New Delhi on Thursday. The restructured body will henceforth be known as the `NITI ((National Institution for Transforming India) Ayog` in its new avatar.
On the last day of 2014, curtains came down on the last relic of the Nehruvian socialist economy with the Union government replacing the Planning Commission (Yojna Ayog) with another body, the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI Ayog). In 1950, Jawaharlal Nehru, who admired Joseph Stalin’s drive to industrialise the Soviet Union, set up and chaired the Commission to map out a development path for India’s agrarian economy.A 2,883-word long Cabinet resolution on setting up this institution calls it a Think Tank of the government or a “directional and policy dynamo,”providing governments at the central and state levels relevant strategic and technical advice.” Noted economist Arvind Panagariya (62) will be the vice-chairman in the NITI Ayog.Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced in his Independence Day address to the nation that the Planning Commission would be dumped. US-based academic Panagariya is a free market, right wing economist who, over the last two years, has been writing advisories to the BJP about how to run the economy. He had also openly offered his services and now has been given the job he wanted. How will NITI differ from Planning Commission?Unlike the Planning Commission, the new body is for governance across the public and private domains, the Cabinet resolution says. “Everyone has a stake in ensuring good governance and effective delivery of services. Creating Jan Chetna, therefore, becomes crucial for people’s initiative. In the past, governance may have been rather narrowly construed as public governance. In today’s changed dynamics – with ‘public’ services often being delivered by ‘private’ entities, and the greater scope for ‘participative citizenry’, governance encompasses and involves everyone.” The NITI Aayog will also seek to put an end to slow and tardy implementation of policy, by fostering better inter-ministry and better Centre-State coordination. Will it be Modi’s economic bureau?Yes. Modi took the chief ministers into confidence on December 7 to go ahead with the new institution to strengthen “cooperative federalism” by promoting the concept of “Team India,” noting that even then prime minister Manmohan Singh said on April 30 last year that the current structure of the Planning Commission has “no futuristic vision in the post-reform period”. What else does the resolution say?The Cabinet resolution, which provides the ideological framework, invokes Mahatma Gandhi on constant development in life, BJP ideologue late Deen Dayal Upadhyaya for uplifting the downtrodden, Swami Vivekananda, Constitution’s architect Dr Ambedkar and Tamil poet and philosopher Thiruvalluvar, to let the NITI Ayog act as the “pillars” that provide a “Bharatiya approach to development.” It prescribes 13 objectives on which the NITI Ayog has to remain focussed. Will NITI devolve more powers to states?The new body will allow state governments to determine the architecture of economic growth and development, the resolution says: “The one-size-fits-all approach, often inherent in central planning, has the potential to create needless tensions and undermining the harmony needed for national effort. The resolution quotes Dr Ambedkar that it is “unreasonable to centralise powers where central control and uniformity is not clearly essential or is impracticable.”The Planning Commission was unpopular with chief ministers as it engaged in promotion of Centre-to-state one-way flow of policy..” How is it structured?The structure will be the same as the Planning Commission with the Prime Minister remaining its chairperson, but the difference lies in its governing council comprising chief ministers of all states and lieutenant governors of Union territories and fixed-tenure regional councils to address specific issues, affecting more than one state or region. How will members be nominated?The new institution leaves scope for the PM to nominate experts, specialists and practitioners with relevant domain knowledge as special invitees. The members of the new body will include PM as the chairperson, his nominee as the vice-chairperson, full-time members, rotational part-time members, four Union ministers as ex-officio members, a chief executive officer for a fixed tenure in the rank of the secretary to the Centre and the usual secretariat.