August 15, 2014
Speaking at the Red Fort, Prime Minister Narendra Modi reached out to the India he had just won, calling for a pact between citizen and government, and promising to rule by ‘sahmati’, not mere ‘bahumat’. He spoke of female foeticide, the need for toilets in girls’ schools, and asked mothers to question sons just as they questioned daughters. In 2015, he will be expected to walk this talk.
The year of loving thy neighbour
By: SHUBHAJIT ROY
The year 2014 will be remembered for proactive diplomacy from a new government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with a focus on the neighbourhood and an aggressive engagement with both major and emerging world powers. In a departure from the past, the new government defined its foreign policy through various public events and outreach exercises.
If the year began with Japan PM Shinzo Abe’s visit to India for Republic Day celebrations, it is ending with preparations for US President Barack Obama’s visit for the same reason in 2015. This will be the first time a US President is the chief guest on Republic Day.
Delhi’s diplomacy push gathered momentum in May this year — within five days of the Modi-led government coming to power — with his gambit to invite leaders from SAARC countries to attend the swearing-in ceremony.
With all leaders, including Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif, responding positively, Modi’s move — a first for any PM in independent India — paid off. The neighbourhood remained high on priority, with Modi making Bhutan his first international stop. He went to Nepal twice this year — the second time to attend the SAARC summit in November — and declared Delhi’s readiness to play a leading role in the region.
The engagement with the P-5 countries — the acronym used for permanent members in the UN Security Council — was evident as they came calling, starting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. Then followed French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, British Foreign Secretary William Hague, Russian Deputy PM Dmitry Rogozin and US Secretary of State John Kerry — all within the first eight weeks of the new government assuming charge.
By year-end, Modi had met Obama thrice, including during a visit to the US when the two pledged for a vision document.
With China, the border dispute took centre stage as incursions on the Ladakh border overshadowed Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit in September. Interestingly, this happened soon after Modi’s visit to Japan.
Then, Russian President Vladimir Putin, battling sanctions from Western countries, committed to building at least 12 nuclear reactors during his trip to India.
Modi’s engagement with major economies was on display during the G-20 summit in Australia and the ASEAN and East Asia summits in Myanmar, where he met over 40 world leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British PM David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande.
His first engagement with the wider world started with his participation in the BRICS summit in Brazil, perceived to be an alternative grouping to the US-led western bloc.
While Modi’s moves mostly garnered applause, his decision to cancel the foreign secretary-level talks with Pakistan, over the issue of the Pakistan envoy meeting Hurriyat leaders from Kashmir, received criticism. “It was not a wise move,” said professor Ajay Darshan Behera, who heads the Pakistan Studies Programme at Jamia Millia Islamia. “Pakistan has come out looking positive and eager to talk while India comes across as one with the big brother attitude.” Towards year-end, Modi’s conversation with Sharif on the sidelines of the SAARC summit and then a phone call after the Peshawar school attack is understood to have opened channels of communication.
Beyond the neighbourhood, the new government was saddled with a hostage situation in Iraq, with at least 40 Indian nationals still in captivity of the militant group Islamic State. South Block is still trying to resolve the situation.
Going forward, Obama’s visit in January is expected to take the India-US relationship to new heights. During the course of the year, Modi will head to Germany for bilateral talks, Russia for the BRICS summit, Turkey for G-20 and Malaysia for East Asia summit. He will also undertake trips to China, UK and Canada since he has already made commitments.
A new green architecture in the offing
By: AMITABH SINHA
As the environment versus development debate continued to torment policy makers in 2014, the new government initiated the process of rewriting the rules of environmental governance in a bid to bring more clarity into the system.
The NDA government appointed a committee under former cabinet secretary T S R Subramanian to suggest changes to existing laws to bring these in line with “current requirements”. The committee, instead of just suggesting amendments to existing laws, recommended the creation of an entirely new environmental governance architecture, the contours of which were quite in line with the government’s own thinking.
The year 2015, therefore, is likely to see swift movement towards setting up of a new green architecture that will have twin objectives: remove bottlenecks and delays in the regulatory framework to pave the way for faster and greater industrialisation, and force the industries to submit to a higher level of environmental integrity.
Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar has already indicated that the Subramanian committee report was likely to be the basis on which the evolution of environmental governance will take place. Accordingly, a host of amendments to environmental laws are being prepared to be introduced in the Budget Session.
Environment campaigners, however, complained that government policies had further eroded the green cause, and hurt the interests of tribals and forest dwellers.
The Ministry of Environment and Forests was renamed as the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change but apart from that, there was little initiative from the government on the climate front. But that is likely to change next year as the government has revealed its intention to review various climate ‘missions’ and give a new direction and urgency to them.
After conflicting signals, some key challenges
By: RUHI TEWARI
The seven months of the NDA government in 2014 saw three rural development ministers — Gopinath Munde, who held the portfolio for a week before his death, Nitin Gadkari, who was in charge for six months, and the incumbent Chaudhary Birender Singh.
Gadkari and Singh sent out conflicting signals on the government’s stance on key rural schemes and legislation. Gadkari began the process of reviewing the Land Acquisition Act and MGNREGA, and received criticism for allegedly attempting to “dilute” them. Singh is reportedly uncomfortable with any major changes in these laws.
The ministry has indicated a need to review MGNREGA implementation, to plug loopholes and strengthen the system of social audits. Singh has assured Parliament that the wage-material ratio would not be changed to 51:49 from the current 60:40, as Gadkari had proposed. But the Finance Ministry has asked the Rural Development Ministry to consider an even more diluted 50:50 ratio, and the new year will see the ministry take the final call on the matter.
The much delayed socio-economic caste census is expected to be completed by March 2015. At the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, watch out for the progress of the PM’s pet Swachh Bharat campaign in rural areas.
NHAM set to roll, once Modi gives go-ahead
By: ABANTIKA GHOSH
The National Health Assurance Mission, in the works since 2011 when the Planning Commission’s expert group submitted its report on universal healthcare, is likely to take final shape in 2015. PM Narendra Modi is, however, still to see the presentation.
From April 1, 2015, the Health Ministry is scheduled to take charge of the Rashtriya Swasthya Suraksha Yojana, a healthcare scheme for BPL and migrant workers that is now under the Labour Ministry. The scheme is intended to prepare the ground for NHAM’s countrywide rollout.
2015 will see revision of the national list of essential medicines, putting a cap on the price of more drugs. In a first, National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority has written to pharma firms saying it is looking at including drugs of mass consumption in the list.
The Medical Council of India is expected to finish revising the medical education syllabus — an exercise that is being undertaken after 55 years. By June, the council hopes to start training medical teachers.
AYUSH is will see a lot of activity. The department has a dedicated MoS for the first time, and is working to make ayurveda and other Indian systems of medicine acceptable globally.
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