Has Modi been able to deliver on his flagship schemes?

Here is a look at how Modi's five flagship schemes have fared and what is required to improve them.

Launched on October 2, 2014, the Swachh Bharat Mission has undoubtedly been a high-visibility scheme.
What is in a name? A lot, if the government’s various schemes in the past five years are anything to go by. Catchy monikers like the Swachh Bharat Mission and Ayushman Bharat have helped these initiatives strike a chord with the masses, though in some cases like the Smart Cities Mission and Digital India, people may not have entirely understood what they entailed.

These names have caught on so much that these initiatives are talked about as much as, or even more than, some of Modi’s key economic reforms like the goods and services tax and the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code.

After trouncing the opposition to get a second straight term as prime minister, Narendra Modi might double down on his flagship schemes. That was evident in the government’s decision on May 31 to extend PM-Kisan, an income support scheme originally meant for certain categories of farmers, to all farmers. The government also announced a pension scheme for some farmers, traders and shopkeepers.

While fixing the crisis in agriculture, creating jobs and reviving private investment are expected to top Modi’s agenda, he will also closely monitor the progress of the government’s various schemes. ET Magazine takes stock of five of Modi’s flagship initiatives — including the PM Ujjwala Yojana, the Smart Cities Mission and Swachh Bharat. We spoke to experts to understand what tweaks in these schemes can make these better. Questions were sent to the ministries and the departments handling these schemes. Only the ministry of drinking water and sanitation and the National Health Authority responded.

PM Kisan Samman Nidhi


The last big decision of the first Narendra Modi government was also one of its most crucial. Emulating schemes introduced by Telangana and Odisha governments, the Centre in February announced that each of India’s nearly 125 million small and marginal farmer-families having combined landholding or ownership of up to 2 hectares would get Rs 6,000 every year in three instalments. But on May 31, the government decided to cover all farmers under the scheme, which would add another 20 million beneficiaries. This is expected to cost the government Rs 87,200 crore a year. The government has so far released money in two instalments to farmers — 31.1 million beneficiaries got money in the first lot and 26.6 million farmers in the second. How much money has been released is not clear as there might be overlaps.

The Prime Minister Kisan Samman Nidhi (PMKisan) was seen as something that would give the BJP-led NDA electoral gains (NDA won 353 of the 542 seats in the Lok Sabha). But not only is PMKisan not as generous as the state schemes, it also has a loophole that leaves out the most disadvantaged class. While the scheme originally excluded tenant farmers, it is unclear whether the expanded scheme covers them. R Radhakrishna, chairman of the Centre for Economic and Social Studies in Hyderabad, says tenant farmers must be included. If they are, how the money will be divided between the owner of the land and the tenant is yet to be seen.

According to National Sample Survey Office data from 2013, there were 13.65 million tenant farmer households in rural areas and leased land accounted for 12% of land. In Andhra Pradesh, the figure is as high as 59% of farmed land. “In a lot of cases, it is oral tenancy. There are no records,” says Radhakrishna. That means even if the government includes tenant farmers in the scheme, a lot of landless farmers may be still left out.

Ayushman Bharat-PM Jan Arogya Yojana


Five months before PM-Kisan came the far-reaching Ayushman Bharat-PM Jan Arogya Yojana, which aims to provide an annual health insurance cover of Rs 5 lakh to 107.4 million poor and vulnerable families, or around 500 million people. This was seen as a key step towards universal health coverage. As of May, around 2.7 million people had been admitted in hospitals under the scheme and around Rs 3,580 crore had been authorised for admissions, according to the National Health Authority (NHA).

But the scheme does not cover some sections of the financially vulnerable population, says K Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India. “The Jan Arogya Yojana also does not cover the costs of outpatient care and long-term medication, which form a high share of out-of-pocket expenditure.” What a person directly pays a health care provider (or out-of-pocket expenditure) as a share of health expenditure was 65% in 2016 in India, nearly 3.5 times the global average, according to the World Bank.

“There is disproportionate attention on the insurance part,” says Rajib Dasgupta, professor at the Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health at the Jawaharlal Nehru University. It will also have to spell out ways to address longstanding issues in healthcare delivery, like the lack of healthcare centres in tribal districts in hilly areas and discrimination against lower castes and minorities.

“PMJAY is improving the paying capacity of the poor in rural areas. With the increased paying capacity, we hope new private hospitals will open in the locations which are closer to the beneficiaries. This will bridge the gap between rural and urban India in the medium term,” says Anushree Goel, officer on special duty to the CEO of the NHA. The scheme is designed for disadvantaged communities, she adds.

Ayushman Bharat also aims to bolster the public healthcare system by setting up 1.5 lakh primary healthcare centres. The government wants to almost double public health expenditure as a share of GDP to 2.5% by 2025. If the scheme achieves its target, it could be a game changer for the healthcare system, and also for the BJP.

PM Ujjwala Yojana

The government in January announced it had given the 600 millionth liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) connection under the PM Ujjwala Yojana, a scheme launched in May 2016 to shift people away from polluting traditional cooking fuels and methods. Deaths due to pollution caused by solid fuels, like firewood and crop residue, claimed 4.8 lakh lives in 2017, according to the Health Effects Institute. Smoke inhaled by women from unclean fuel is equivalent to burning 400 cigarettes in an hour, says the PM Ujjwala Yojana website, quoting the World Health Organization. The scheme’s aim was to ensure more people moved away from such fuels, helping the country save on medical costs and also reduce pollution.

LPG coverage has reached 90% of households in early 2019 from 55% in 2014, said Dharmendra Pradhan, minister for petroleum and natural gas. He also said 80% of the people who got the connection have refilled their cylinders. But things start to appear less impressive when you look deeper.

The average number of refills in 2017-18 under the scheme was 3.4, while refills not covered by the scheme were 7.3, Pradhan said in response to a question in the Rajya Sabha. This is because of two reasons: cost of refills and misconceptions about LPG stoves.

A subsidised refill costs about Rs 500 a cylinder, against the unsubsidised price of around Rs 900. To make it easier for a beneficiary, oil marketing companies also give a loan of Rs 1,500 to fund the purchase of the LPG stove and the first cylinder. But until the loan is paid off, the beneficiary would have to pay the unsubsidised price for each refill. The added burden of loan might put off poor people, especially when they can get traditional cooking fuels like cow dung cakes for free.

“Reducing the cost of refills alone will not be enough,” says Aashish Gupta, research fellow at the Research Institute for Compassionate Economics (RICE), pointing to resistance to change among beneficiaries. A 2018 survey by RICE of 1,550 households in rural Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan found that the scheme’s beneficiaries seemed to prefer traditional stoves, which use solid fuels, over LPG ones. They were of the opinion that food cooked on traditional stoves were healthier and tastier. More than a third of those with a gas stove still cooked all items on their traditional stove the day before the survey, the report said. The government certainly has its task cut out in changing people’s minds on using LPG stoves.

Smart Cities Mission

The linchpin of the Modi government’s urban development plans, the Smart Cities Mission (SCM) is being implemented in 100 cities. The focus of the scheme includes affordable housing, multi-modal transport, waste and traffic management and smart governance.

The cities have proposed 5,151 projects costing more than Rs 2 lakh crore. Nearly a fourth of this would come from the Centre, and an equal sum from the state governments and the urban local bodies concerned. The rest of the funds would come from the corpus for other urban schemes, loans and public-private partnerships.

But fund flow might not be that smooth. An analysis of city proposals by the Centre for Policy Research (CPR) says only 17 cities have identified sources of funding for individual projects. Moreover, there are unanswered questions about the role of the city administrations in the programme. “It is taking control away from local bodies instead of empowering them,” says Sama Khan, research associate, CPR.

Another criticism of the Smart Cities Mission is that it is not very different from urban initiatives such as the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission ( JNNURM) and the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation. “The focus of smartness is often not IT-based infrastructure projects but the nuts and bolts of urban life like sanitation, roads, and housing,” says a report co-authored by Khan.

Another report by CPR says transportation, energy and ecology, water and sanitation, and housing constitute almost 80% of the SCM’s budget and are similar to JNNURM projects. On the other hand, new categories of projects like IT, governance, culture and heritage, and health account for less than 15% of SCM funding. Without these issues being addressed, SCM runs the risk of becoming yet another urban development initiative that looks better on paper than on the ground.

Swachh Bharat Mission

Launched on October 2, 2014, the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) has undoubtedly been a high-visibility scheme, helped in no small measure by the ranking of the cleanest cities in the country.

Under the scheme, 92.8 million household toilets have been built in rural areas and 5.8 million in cities and towns. Moreover, nearly half a million community toilets have been put up in urban areas, according to government data. But CPR’s Khan says there is too much focus on building toilets. “We also have to look at changing behaviours and inculcating better sanitation practices.” The government claims 93% of villages are free of open defecation now. But are they really?


A 2018 survey by RICE of around 9,800 people in 1,560 households in rural areas of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan highlighted a key problem. While open defecation in these states had declined substantially since 2014, nearly a quarter of those who owned a latrine at home still defecated in the open.

But Parameswaran Iyer, secretary of the ministry of drinking water and sanitation, says three other surveys have claimed toilet usage to be at over 90%. “The transformational change in reduction of open defecation in rural India is a testament to the Swachh Bharat Mission’s emphasis on behaviour change.” He adds that his ministry is working on a 10-year sanitation strategy.

SBM also aims to improve waste collection and management, especially in urban India. So far, nine of 10 wards have door-to-door waste collection, but just over half of municipal solid waste is processed. There is clearly a long way to go before our cities and villages can be called clean.
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