The Modi Government is worried that if it is forced to withdraw the farm bills under pressure of the farmers’ movement, it may inspire people’s struggles against other elements of neoliberalism imposed on India by the World Bank – such as cut in education and health subsidies.
It is now 47 days since the farmers began their epic struggle on Delhi’s borders. Several lakh farmers—including men, women, children and elderly—are sitting on a historic dharna at the borders of the country’s capital. The fascist government in power at the Centre thinks that their will can be broken by forcing them to camp out in the open, in Delhi’s winter chill. The fascists don’t know anything about the power of fraternity, that the warmth it provides is more than enough to counter the most biting cold. And then the farmers have their movement songs, their slogans, their rallies, their alternate media, their kabaddi matches, their skits and plays, to keep their spirits high. The fascists don’t know anything about all these too, brought up as they are on a diet of individualism, casteism, communalism, goondaism, hatred, discrimination, and all the other most rotten values.
In the hearing before the Supreme Court on January 11 regarding the farm laws and the farmers’ agitation, the government desperately pleaded that the Court should not stay the farm laws—arguing that it would send a message to the people of the country that the government had bowed, it had been pushed on the backfoot. Clearly, the government has made repealing the farm laws an ego issue. Why is the government desperate that it should not be seen as having bowed before the farmers’ agitation?
[When in actuality, the government should bow before the will of the people, as it has been elected by them. But the Modi Government has completely divorced itself from the people. The fascists win elections on the basis of false propaganda unleashed by their propaganda machinery, and then use their majority to ride roughshod over the people.]
The reason is that the farm laws are a key element of the entire neoliberal reform package being rammed through by the Modi Government, at the behest of the imperialist powers led by the USA, and the World Bank and IMF—international financial institutions controlled by these countries.
We have pointed out in a previous essay in Janata (“Support the Struggle of the Farmers: It Is Our Struggle Too – Part 2”, Janata Weekly, 10 January 2021) that consequent to the external debt crisis in 1991, the Indian Government signed an agreement with the World Bank agreeing to implement a Structural Agreeement Programme. Important conditionalities of this loan were:
- Changing the basic orientation of economic policy to benefit corporate houses, both domestic and foreign.
- Reducing subsidies for all sectors, from agriculture to the social sectors like education and health.
- Gradual privatisation of these sectors.
- Removal of government controls on profiteering, even in essential social sectors.
For agriculture, the implication of these conditionalities is that the imperialists want the government to end all subsidies to agriculture, including procurement of farm produce, pushing small farmers to ruin, and gradually corporatise agriculture. We have discussed this in much detail in a previous essay in Janata (“Support the Struggle of the Farmers: It Is Our Struggle Too – Part 1”, Janata Weekly, 13 December 2020). Similarly, they are also demanding that the government gradually eliminate its subsidies for social sectors like education and health, and privatise and corporatise these sectors too.
Since then, successive governments that have come to power at the Centre have assiduously implemented these conditionalities. Just like for agriculture, they have reduced government spending on important social sectors like education and health too, pushing them into a dismal state.
The Modi-led BJP came to power in 2014 promising to rectify this situation, and greatly increasing the government’s social sector expenditures. However, just as for agriculture, it has made a complete U-turn on these promises too, pushing these sectors into an even more terrible state.
At the same time, the Modi Government has also indulged in transfer of mindboggling sums of public wealth to the coffers of private corporations.
The Modi Government’s nationalist slogans are actually a cover for its sellout of the country to corporate, especially foreign corporate, interests.
With the Modi Government implementing the WB-imposed reforms at an accelerated pace, it is worried that if it is forced to withdraw the farm bills under pressure of the farmers’ movement, it may inspire an avalanche of people’s struggles against other elements of this neoliberal package. The fascists very well realise the power of HOPE, that hope is contagious, and they don’t want to ignite even a single spark for fear that it may spark a fire—endangering the entire neoliberal reform programme.
In this article, we take a look at the implementation of the neoliberal reforms for the education and health sectors under the Modi regime—to illustrate their link to the agrarian reforms of the Modi Government.
School Education: Back to the Dark Ages
Education is fundamental to human as well as societal development. Which is why in all developed countries, governments have taken the responsibility of providing FREE, EQUITABLE and GOOD QUALITY school education to ALL their children (the private sector invests only for profit).
However, the implementation of the neoliberal reforms in education since 1991 led to gradual neglect of the public education system and a gradual push towards its privatisation. Consequently, school education was in bad shape even before the BJP came to power. Here are some figures for the state of our schools in 2015:
- In a majority of the primary schools in the country, a single teacher was teaching two or three different classes at the same time in a single room (data for 2015)!
- And for all schools, upto higher secondary, 42% schools had 3 or less than 3 classrooms, and 50% schools had 3 or less than 3 teachers!
- At the same time, because of low level of government spending, a majority of our schools lacked even basic infrastructure like electricity and computers.
It is because of the neglect of education by successive governments that the 2011 Census figures, the most reliable data source in the country, show that of the 20.8 crore children between the age of 6–13 in the country, 3.2 crore or 15.4 percent children have never attended any school! That is huge.
And of those who did enrol in schools:
- Only 70% of the children enrolled in Class I reached class 8—the remaining dropped out.
- For those who completed elementary education, the quality of education was so bad that a survey found that 48% of Class V students were unable to read Class II–level text; and 43% of Class VIII students could not divide numbers. 
- Barely 15-17% of the children enrolled in Class I cross Class XII—and this percentage is much lower for SC, ST and Muslim children.
During its 2014 Lok Sabha election campaign, the BJP promised to rectify this situation, and increase government spending on education (Centre + States combined) to 6% of GDP, from 3.1% of GDP in 2013-14—implying a near doubling of educational expenditure. It has turned out to be yet another of Modi lies.
On the contrary, during its six years in power, the BJP has made an unprecedented 32% cut in its budget for school education (in real terms) (Table 1). It is the first time any government has done this since independence. This only implies that the condition of government schools must have worsened considerably. The reason for this huge budget cut for school education is simple: the BJP wants to privatise school education completely. For this, the strategy adopted is simple: ruin the quality of government school system by cutting the funding of school education and keeping teaching posts vacant; children will automatically exit government schools, and those who can afford it will join private schools. The consequence: more than 2 lakh government schools have closed down till date.
Meanwhile, for the well-to-do classes, a wide range of private schools have mushroomed all across the country, with fees varying from Rs 1 lakh per year to as much as Rs 15 lakh per year and more.
Table 1: BJP Budget Allocations for Education, 2014 to 2020 (Rs crore)
|2014–15 BE (1)||2020–21 BE (2)||Reduction: (2) over (1), CAGR|
|Department of School Education and Literacy||55,115||59,845||32%|
|Department of Higher Education||27,656||39,467||10%|
|Ministry of Human Resource Development: Total||82,771||99,312|
|MHRD Budget as % of GDP||0.66||0.44|
Business of Higher Education
The privatisation and commercialisation of education has taken place at such an accelerated pace ever since the neoliberal reforms began in 199, that by 2011–12, total number of private higher educational institutions (including both degree and diploma institutions) accounted for more than two-thirds of all higher educational institutions, and for nearly 60% of student enrolment (UGC data).
Since coming to power, the BJP has further slashed higher educational spending. During its six years in power, it has cut its spending on higher education by 10% in real terms (Table 1).
Even within the limited higher education budget, more than half of the allocation has gone towards funding the so-called ‘institutions of excellence’ such as the IITs, IIMs and the Central Universities. On the other hand, the allocation for the All India Council for Technical Education, the regulator of engineering education in India, has remained dismally low during all the seven Modi years and is a lowly Rs 416 crore in the 2020-21 BE. And the allocation for the University Grants Commission, that regulates the higher educational institutions in the country and provides grants to more than 10,000 institutions, has been halved in the seven Modi budgets, from Rs 8,978 crore in 2014–15 BE to just Rs 4,693 crore in 2020-21 BE. Because of this, most government funded colleges are starved of funds. They are being forced to increase student fees using all kinds of excuses to cover their expenses. Consequently, studying in even government funded educational institutions, not just engineering colleges but also arts and commerce colleges, is becoming unaffordable for students from poor families.
Cogs in Corporate Wheel
The neoliberal model looks at everything, including education, from the perspective of maximising corporate profits. There is no need to look at education from the perspective of human development, as a means of unlocking the inherent potential of human beings, so that they can enjoy an enhanced quality of life. For neoliberalism, all this is gibberish. The sole aim of education must be to prepare youth for employment in the assembly lines of multinational corporations. For this, the youth must be imparted the necessary skills, so that they can become cogs in the corporate wheel.
This philosophy also fits well with the fascist philosophy of the BJP–RSS regime, which wants to transform our youth into mindless automatons in the service of virulent Hindutva.
And so, while on the one hand, the Modi–Jaitley regime is slowly strangulating our higher educational institutions by starving them of funds, on the other hand, the government has hugely increased funding for skill development. The BJP Government inaugurated the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship soon after coming to power in 2014. Its main programme is the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana, the allocation for which has trebled since its inception in 2015–16 (Table 2).
Table 2: Budget Allocations for Skill Development (Rs crore)
|Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana||991||2,726|
India’s health system is in “crisis”. India is the disease capital of the world:
- More than 2 lakh people in the country die of malaria every year, while TB kills 3 lakh;
- According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), India accounts for nearly one-fourth of the deaths in the world due to diarrhoea, more than one-third of the deaths due to leprosy and more than half of the deaths due to Japanese encephalitis;
- India’s under-five child mortality rate is the highest in the world, with 12 lakh such deaths in 2015; a majority of these deaths are preventable;
- India is also in the grip of an epidemic of long-term diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases (such as hypertension, heart attacks and stroke), chronic respiratory diseases (such as asthma) and cancers, which account for more than 60% of the deaths in the country.
The reason for this ‘health emergency’ is the dismal state of India’s public health services. India spends barely 1.02% of its GDP on public health services (figure for 2015–16), lower than even most low income countries, and way below that of the developed countries who spend an average of 5.2%. The WHO World Health Statistics 2015 ranked India at 187 out of 194 countries in public health spending.
Consequently, the public health infrastructure in India is in bad shape. To given an example: even by standards set by the government, there is a shortfall of 18% in sub-centres, 22% in Primary Health Centres (PHCs) and 30% in Community Health Centres (CHCs) in rural areas. Worse, of these currently functioning health centres, only 7% of the sub-centres, 12% PHCs and 13% CHCs are functioning as per Indian Public Health Standards. The condition of the sub-centres is so bad that 16% do not have regular water supply, while 24.7% do not have electricity. These health units are also severely deficient in hospital staff. Thus, the functioning CHCs suffer from a whopping 82% shortage of specialists; most CHCs with functional operating theatres do not have surgeons.
This dismal state of public healthcare has forced citizens to depend upon the private sector for treatment. And since a majority of the people are too poor to afford private medical healthcare, lakhs of people are pushed into poverty every year due to out-of-pocket health spending.
The BJP came to power in 2014 promising to increase public health spending and ensuring affordable “Health Assurance to all Indians”. After assuming power, it released a National Health Policy (NHP) in 2017, that promised to increase the public health expenditure of the country to 2.5% of GDP, of which 40% (that is 1% of GDP) would be spent by the Centre. Considering the dismal state of public health care in the country, this was obviously a very inadequate level of public health spending—it is barely half the global average public expenditure on health.
Be that as it may, since then, several budgets have gone by. The total expenditure on healthcare after seven Modi budgets has remained at the same level as in 2014–15 BE (at 0.31% of GDP). Minus the allocation for the Ayushman Bharat health insurance scheme, which does not go to improve the public health infrastructure in the country, the health budget has actually fallen, to 0.28% of GDP in 2020–21 BE—less than one-third of the target set in the NHP 2017 (Table 3).
Table 3: BJP Budget Allocations for Health (Rs crore)
|2014–15 BE||2020–21 BE|
|Ministry of Health and Family Welfare: Total||37,965||67,112|
|Ministry of AYUSH||1,272||2122|
|Total Health Budget (1)||39,237||69,234|
|(1) as % of GDP||0.31||0.31|
|Ayushman Bharat PMJAY = (2)||6,400|
|(1) – (2) = (3)||39,237||62,834|
|(3) as % of GDP||0.31||0.28|
Before we end this discussion on healthcare, a few words need to be said about the Ayushman Bharat health scheme, rolled out by the government in its 2018-19 budget. This has been much tomtommed by the government and its toady media as a gamechanger in terms in terms of providing healthcare to the poor and needy. In reality, it is a big hoax. Let us see why.
Its main component is the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY). From the propaganda about this scheme, it appears that the government is providing free health care to the people. But that is not so. PMJAY is not a universal healthcare scheme—which is what the poor really need. It is an insurance scheme that reimburses only hospitalisation costs! Past experience with similar insurance schemes raises legitimate doubts about how much the poor are going to benefit from it. But what can be said for sure is that private hospitals and private insurance companies are going to be the biggest beneficiaries of PMJAY—it is in actuality a scheme for transferring public healthcare funds to the private sector.
Why is the government cutting its spending on healthcare, and at the same time, increasing its allocation for an insurance scheme to reimburse hospitalisation costs of the poor in private hospitals? The real reason: it creates conditions for privatisation of healthcare. The government has already announced incentives, including financial grants, for the private sector to set up hospitals in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. The Niti Aayog and the health ministry have recommended to all states that they partially privatise their district hospitals, and transfer sections of these hospitals, including land and a certain number of hospital beds, to private players.
Modi Govt.: Most Pro-Corporate, Anti-People
During the past six years, the Modi Government has, on the one hand, drastically cut government expenditure on the most important sector of the economy—agriculture—so as to create conditions for its privatisation. It has also slashed its expenditure on the most essential welfare services—not just education and health that we have discussed above, but also other equally, if not more, important services like nutrition and old age pensions.
And on the other hand, it has been transferring mindboggling sums of public money to the coffers of the rich, under various guises. Below is a snapshot of some of these transfers:
- Tax Exemptions: Union budget documents reveal that the Government has been giving tax exemptions to the rich to the tune of lakhs of crores of rupees. We estimate these exemptions—which are in corporate taxes, income taxes and excise duties—to total at least Rs 33 lakh crore rupees during the six years the Modi Government has been in power (2014–20).
- Loan Waivers: During the first five years of the Modi Government, public sector banks have waived loans given to big corporate houses totalling Rs 4.55 lakh crore. Additionally, public sector banks have also restructured loans of the ‘high and mighty’—which is a roundabout way of writing off loans—which also must be of the order of several lakh crore rupees. Despite these write-offs, total bad loans (called NPAs) of public public sector banks had gone up to Rs 8.06 lakh crore as of March 2019. The RBI has been engaged in an accelerated restructuring/write-off of all such corporate loans  Adding up all these amounts, it means that since it came to power in 2014, the Modi Government has written off, or is in the process of writing off, at least Rs 15–20 lakh crore (probably even more) of loans to big corporate houses.
- Other Transfers: And then, the Modi Government has handed over control of the country’s mineral wealth and resources to private corporations in return for negligible royalty payments, transferred ownership of profitable public sector corporations to foreign and Indian private business houses at throwaway prices, given direct subsidies to private corporations in the name of ‘public–private–partnership’ for infrastructural projects, and so on. These transfers of public wealth to private coffers have resulted in enormous losses to the public exchequer, to the tune of several lakh crore rupees every year.
There is no doubt. While one may have strong disagreements with the overall orientation and policy framework of the various governments that have come to power at the Centre since Independence, the present BJP Government led by Narendra Modi is undoubtedly the most anti-people of them all.
The farm laws and the electricity amendment bill are a key component of the entire package of neoliberal policies being implemented by the Modi Government at the behest of giant foreign and domestic corporations. The basic orientation of these policies is not the well-being of people, but the maximisation of corporate profits—even if they result in destruction of livelihoods, deterioration of health, educational and other welfare services, and catastrophic increase of poverty and hunger. By challenging the agrarian reforms, the farmers are in essence challenging the entire neoliberal paradigm.
Therefore, we, the people of India, need to support this historic struggle of the farmers. It is a part of the struggle of the broad masses of the common people against the destructive neoliberal policies being implemented in the country by the ruling BJJP regime. It a part of the struggle of the workers against the new labour laws that seek to rollback all the gains made by the working people during the last several decades, the struggle of the youth for decent, well paid and secure jobs, the struggle of the people against privatisation of education and healthcare and the destruction of the public distribution system …
While supporting the struggle of the farmers and thus challenging neoliberalism, let us advance this struggle to build a new society, whose basic orientation would be the happiness and well-being of the common people, a new system whose every member would have the birthright to a meaningful job, a steady income, good quality education and healthcare, a decent home and security in old age.
- Here, when we are talking of primary schools, we are talking of ‘Only Primary Schools’. This figure based on our calculations from data given in: “Elementary Education in India: Rural India”, and “Elementary Education in India: Urban India”, Analytical Report, 2015–16, NUEPA, http://udise.in.
- See the statistics given in: School Education in India, 2015–16, Flash Statistics, U-DISE 2015–16, NUEPA, New Delhi, 2016, http://www.dise.in.
- “India’s Missing Millions of Out of School Children: A Case of Reality Not Living Up to Estimation?” 2 November 2015, https://www.oxfamindia.org.
- Calculations done by us, based on data given in: School Education in India, 2015–16, Flash Statistics, op. cit.
- “One in Two Indian Students Can’t Read Books Meant for Three Classes Below: ASER”, January 19, 2017, http://www.livemint.com.
- Estimates made by Prof. Anil Sadgopal, the eminent Indian educationist, cited in:Lokesh Malti Prakash, “Education in the Neo-Liberal Limbo”, November 2, 2012, http://khwabesahar.wordpress.com. These figures are indirectly verified by another study, that says that 88% ST children and 84% SC children drop out by the time they reach secondary level: Ramesh Pandita, “Dropout Percentage of Scheduled Caste & Scheduled Tribe Children in India: A Decadal Analysis up to Secondary level”, June 2015, https://www.researchgate.net.
- Ambarish Rai, “Budget Focus on Infrastructure, Digital Education Cannot Work in a Vacuum”, February 2, 2018, https://thewire.in.
- M. Abdul Salam, Higher Education in India at a Glance, University of Calicut, http://www.slideshare.net; Higher Education in India at a Glance, UGC, June 2013, http://www.ugc.ac.in.
- T.J. John et al., “Continuing Challenge of Infectious Diseases in India”, Lancet, January 12, 2011, http://www.thelancet.com; N. Dhingra et al., “Adult and Child Malaria Mortality in India”, Lancet, 2010, http://www.thelancet.co; Global Tuberculosis Report 2012, World Health Organisation, 2012, http://who.int.
- David Coady et. al. (ed.), The Economics of Public Health Care Reform in Advanced and Emerging Economies, International Monetary Fund, 2012, http://books.google.co.in, p. 288.
- “20% of World’s Under‐5 Deaths Occur in India”, September 9, 2015, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com.
- “Non-Communicable Diseases Cause 61% of Deaths in India: WHO Report”, September 20, 2017, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com.
- “India’s Health Burden”, Down to Earth, https://www.downtoearth.org.in; “India Needs to Reform its Ailing Healthcare”, December 18, 2017, https://www.asianage.com; “R 3: Amount India Spends Every Day on Each Indian’s Health”, June 21, 2018, https://www.indiaspend.com; “Who Is Paying for India’s Healthcare?”, April 14, 2018, https://thewire.in.
- Figures from Rural Health Statistics, 2017—18, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Govt of India: “RHS2018 – nrhm-mis.nic.in”, https://nrhm-mis.nic.in.
- “In the Wake of Ayushman Bharat Come Sops for Private Hospitals”, January 9, 2019, https://thewire.in; “Only a Strong Public Health Sector Can Ensure Fair Prices and Quality Care at Private Hospitals”, March 28, 2019, https://scroll.in.
- Budget documents reveal that in 2014–15 and 2015–16, the Modi Government gave tax exemptions given to the country’s uber rich totalling Rs 11 lakh crore. In 2016–17, the government changed its methodology of making this calculation to show a much lowered figure—we have shown that actual tax concession had actually increased for this year. Then, in the subsequent years, it stopped making a full estimate of these tax concessions. Considering the overall attitude of the government towards giving subsidies to the rich, we can safely estimate that tax concessions for the subsequent years must be at least at the same level as the first two years, if not more. For more on this, see our article: Neeraj Jain, “Pandering to Dictates of Global Finance”, Janata, 19 February 2017, http://www.janataweekly.org.
- According to a report in Business Today, public sector loan write-offs during the first five years of the Modi Government total Rs 4.94 lakh crore, of which loans pertaining to agriculture total only Rs 39,000 crore: “Bad Loans Worth Rs 80,893 Crore Written Off by Banks Till September Quarter”, 3 December 2019, https://www.businesstoday.in.
- “Gross NPAs of PSBs Declines to Rs 8.06 Lakh Crore End March 2019: FM”, 25 June 2019, https://www.business-standard.com; “Banks May Have to Take 60% Haircut on 12 Largest NPAs: Crisil”, 26 June 2017, http://www.thehindubusinessline.com; “Haircuts: A Way to Address NPAs in Banking System”, 24 February 2017, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com.
- For more details on this, see our booklet: Is the Government Really Poor, Lokayat publication, Pune, http://lokayat.org.in.
[Neeraj Jain is a Btech in Electrical Engineering. He is a social activist with an activist group called Lokayat in Pune, and is also the Associate Editor of Janata Weekly, a weekly print magazine and blog published from Mumbai. This article was earlier published in Janata.]
Contact Information: firstname.lastname@example.org