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Changing face of Rural India and how it could impact 2019 elections

It is becoming increasingly difficult these days to differentiate between fact and fiction, truth and propaganda. Hence, in the spirit of transparency, before going forth with my analysis, I would like to declare that I am a Central Government Employee and my father is an Assistant Engineer in Irrigation Department under the Uttar Pradesh Government.

This article is my observation of ground realities, far away from the gaze of main stream media. This might explain how BJP won 325 out of 403 seats in UP and where did those votes come from. The constituency I chose to analyse is Raebareli, Lok Sabha seat of Mrs. Sonia Gandhi.

Before we analyze the impact on the ground, lets go through the foundation laid down by a “DESI”, non-technocrat Prime Minister

  1. Jan Dhan Yojna– Under this scheme banks were given the task of opening bank accounts of citizens with minimum documentation and zero balance.
  2. The Payment of Wages (Amendment) Act 2017, mandates employers to pay wages to workers through cheque or by transferring their wage to their bank account without their written authorization.
  3. Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, benefits and services) Act, 2016 makes the seeding of Aadhaar number for PDS and MNREGA. It is the foundation stone of Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) .

In Raebareli, I met a gentleman who owned a Plywood factory with 200 odd workers. Earlier he used to pay them Rs.200 daily with their signature on vouchers made for the amount of Rs.450. He used to also show only 50 workers at labour commissioner’s office, when in reality he employed 200 workers, thus stealing PF of 150 workers. Now with mandatory bank transfer/cheque under The Payment of Wages (Amendment) Act 2017 there is no way to hide the number of workers from labour commissioner as payments have to be made directly to the bank accounts of all 200 workers. These accounts were opened under Jan Dhan Scheme. All those workers are now covered under EPF along with PM Social Security Schemes for Life as well as Accidental Insurance.

During his first year as Prime Minister, when Modi neither scrapped MNREGA nor reduced its funds, he was questioned by his own supporters. While the questions mounted, this is what the Prime Minister did with the scheme and why he thought it was necessary to retain MNREGA and maintain the funds allocated to it :

The relative who was hosting my stay, was in-charge of overseeing implementation of MNREGA. After DBT and AADHAAR, it’s a closed chamber with no leakages. Pictures of daily work have to be uploaded via an app which also captures geo-location. If 2 jobs are within a distance of less than 10 metre, It is not accepted and payments can’t be made. Payments are now made on daily basis after AADHAAR authentication of worker towards his account. No geo-location work can be repeated for 2 years.

This fact was further confirmed when I spoke to my father who is handling irrigation/water conservation projects funded by Central Government, in Lalitpur District of Bundelkhand. Payments are released only after verification of work via GIS by location obtained from uploaded pictures. All forged workers have been removed from system and the genuine workers are getting the full payment due to them.

Next gram sabha elections would be interesting to follow as the main source of funds for Pradhans have dried up due to AADHAAR-DBT implementation.

Next major effect is on PDS-AADHAAR. After Aadhaar feeding, more than 35% fake cards have been cancelled. The distribution is happening only through Aadhar POS machines. PDS shop owners have started asking for fixed monthly commission now while previously such demands were never made. When one analyses closely, one realises that the reason for such demands surfacing now is because the PDS-Aadhaar link has killed the main source of corruption in PDS as there are no incentives now for them.

Aadhaar-PDS (click on the image for larger size)

Another good news is a pilot project on DBT of Urea subsidy. I am sure when it is implemented pan India, it will transform the rural areas, since currently, unless one pays extra, one can’t get subsidised Urea from government shops. Here is the progress on the Pilot Project.

DBT implementation status (click on the image for larger size)

Two ministers who are performing exceptionally well and who would make a difference during the 2019 campaign are Mr. Piyush Goyal and Mr. Dharmendra Pradhan. The Power situation has vastly improved in just the last 3 years since the Modi Government came to power. It may be a low impact issue for urban middle class but in rural areas and in villages, IT IS THE ISSUE. Villages that were immersed in darkness for the last 65 years are now getting 16-18 hours of daily power supply. It has revolutionised the villages and has made android phones and televisions a household thing in areas that did not have access to these gadgets earlier.

For our urban elite, progress can be measured only when the lesser privileged own iPhones or Galaxy S8, but for people who had no access previously, a basic android phone with Whatsapp and cheap data, thanks to Jio, is enough. Even in poor households with 6-10 members, you will find at least 1 Android phone with WhatsApp. It has revolutionised the consumption of news too.

Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana is another trump card, changing the equations in Rural India. 5 years back, in my own village of 200 odd residents, only a paltry 10-15 people had LPG Connections. That mandate of 2014 changed it all. Now everyone has LPG connection. Those who could afford, got it due to easy availability, those who couldn’t afford, got it thanks to Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana.

With these revolutionary changes, one perhaps doesn’t even need to ask those MNREGA Workers, MSME workers and Villagers who they might vote for in 2019.

These are of course my personal observations. But I do believe the story wouldn’t be much different in any of the villages across the country. The country is marching ahead on the path of Vikaas. And while the urban elite might not see the changes, the changes are happening at a dizzying speed.

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Arun Verma
Central Govt employee working at ICAR-IVRI, Ministry of Agriculture & Farmer Welfare.

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