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This govt will not shy away from taking bold decisions, says S Jaishankar

The power of digital technology is transforming governance and public delivery of services and making it more participatory

S Jaishankar 

S Jaishankar

The new stories of achievements and accomplishments, and the impatience for change and spirit of enterprise are coming out of small towns and villages. The youth today is more engaged, conscious of the environment, willing to contribute to society, committed to nation building, and able to innovate and compete with the best in the world.

Women are no longer passive bystanders, but equal – and, often better — participants in the development process and national pursuits — be that sports or space. The digital network is spreading across the country and is unifying us, bridging distance between the city and the village, between the rich and the poor.

Scale and magnitude of a task is no longer deterrence. The demands of better governance and faster development have prompted changes in Jammu & Kashmir — modifying temporary laws that had become more of a barrier than a bridge.

The power of digital technology is transforming governance and public delivery of services and making it more participatory. It has also enabled us to address what once seemed intractable problems and impossible dreams. Economic performance is becoming a determinant of political success at the state level, too. And, in a spirit of competitive and cooperative federalism, states, too, are competing for resources, investments and jobs.

Many of the development initiatives today are successful because they ceased to be only government initiatives, and became a people’s movement. In 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a call for Clean India campaign of universal access to sanitation. In five years, we have built 96 million toilets, expanding the coverage from less than 40 per cent of the population to today over 90 per cent.

We have built 15 million affordable rural homes and are building 20 million more; added 19,5000 km of rural roads that now connect 97 per cent of all habitats in the country; provided 80 million women with free cooking gas connections; provided 200 million micro-credits, of which nearly 75 per cent went to women.

And, yes, we have added 360 million new bank accounts. These are not just bank accounts, but also a source of opportunity, identity and dignity. More than $60 billion in direct benefit transfers from the government have flown into these accounts. Millions of farmers, small merchants and workers are now connected to age-old pension and insurance.

India’s success in financial inclusion, creating a digital identity for 1.2 billion people and establishing the most sophisticated digital payment infrastructure is a matter of global recognition. It is one that works even for someone who doesn’t have a phone, but just has Aadhaar. We launched the world’s largest healthcare scheme, Ayushman Bharat, which will cover 500 million Indians with medical care. It seemed audacious to even conceive of it; there was expectedly a high level of cynicism about our ability to finance and implement it. But it is quickly becoming a reality on the strength of governance, digital systems and people’s involvement.

Nothing demonstrates the change in sentiments or the new belief in the possibility of scale more than our new national mission — providing water in every tap and covering the 50 per cent of the population or over 600 million, who do not have access to potable water delivered at home.

It is no longer dismissed as a grandiose idea that will remain on paper, but one that is achievable within a set time frame. Today, the collective national endeavour is extending to many things — giving up single use plastic, avoiding chemical fertiliser, shifting from cash to digital payments, switching to LED bulbs, conservation of water — all that involves a change of behaviour and must necessarily be a partnership between the people and the government.

To achieve our objectives, matters. It is the principle objective of the government and we have set a target of 5 trillion dollars by 2024. There were two ways to look at it. One, we moved up from a $2 trillion to another $3 trillion economy in five years. So, our target is not beyond our reach. Two, this is the first time we are setting ourselves a clear target or goal. It is like a national mission statement. And, it is call for each sector of the economy and section of society to rally together for a common goal.

This is a government that will not shy away from bold decisions. It implemented the GST, the biggest tax reform in decades, in the complex setting of a central government and 29 state governments and competing economic demands in a resource-constrained environment. It has repealed more than a 1,450 laws since 2014 and 60 since it returned to office three months ago. This confidence also stems from the new generation entrepreneurs — iconoclastic, attitudinally different, committed to innovate, benchmarking itself to the world standards and keen to launch and support startups. Around 60 startups from India are in the exhibition today outside this hall. Some are from schools and colleges. Over 5,000 Atal Tinker Labs with the most advanced technology and equipment set up by the government in schools are producing the future innovators of India. In a country of India’s size, scale and speed is important. And, it is changing the landscape of infrastructure in India, from national highways to aviation and railways, from ports to inland waterways, from power grids to digital networks.

Just as a New India seeks growth, prosperity and transformation in the lives of its people, it also wants a strong, secure and united India that can confidently deal with its challenges, meet the world on equal terms and fulfill its responsibility and role. And, a more engaged and proactive India is indeed responding to these expectations. We demonstrated our will to defend ourselves against terrorism and unilateral efforts to change ground situations that could have an irreversible impact on our security.

Remarks on New India By External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, at the India-Singapore Business Summit, in Singapore, September 9

First Published: Sat, September 14 2019. 19:30 IST