On Dr Manmohan Singh’s birthday, here are 15 reasons to be grateful to him
A grateful nation remembers with thanks and gratitude the remarkable achievements of Dr Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister on his 89th birthday on September 26, 2021
It is now seven years since Dr. Manmohan Singh left office as Prime Minister of India and passed on the baton to his successor Narendra Modi on 26th May 2014.
Speaking for the last time as Prime Minister in the ‘address to the nation’, Dr. Singh said he entered the office of Prime Minister with “diligence as my tool, truth as my beacon, and a prayer that I might always do the right thing”. Giving full credit to India and its people, he added, “in the last 10 years, we as a country have seen many successes and achievements that we should be proud of. India is a far stronger country in every respect than it was a decade ago.”
His words were not part of a random rhetorical speech of a politician that was far from reality. Each word was weighed in, before he spoke, since his last speech to the country needed to reflect reality, truth, and honesty. India indeed was a far stronger country in every respect since the achievements of Dr. Singh and his government was commendable in the backdrop of the moody coalition he headed, volatile international turmoil, the price of oil, the financial meltdown of 2008 and the shadow of terrorism.
Some of the initiatives for which he would be remembered are the following:
1. Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT)
DBT was launched as a new year gift to the country on 1st January 2013 to ensure the benefit of “welfare schemes for simpler and faster flow of information/funds and to ensure accurate targeting of the beneficiaries, de-duplication, and reduction of fraud” of the various government schemes. DBT helped ensure that government benefits like pensions, wages, subsidies, scholarships, social security would directly be credited to the accounts of the beneficiaries.
2. Aadhaar Number
As we queue up to receive our Covid-19 vaccinations by flashing our Card bearing the Aadhaar number, thoughts go back to the launch of India’s uniform identity card which was equivalent of the USA’s social security number in India. Launched on 28th January 2009 with Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani as the Chairman of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), Aadhaar became the world’s largest biometric program in the world. Extended to all Indian residents, Aadhar faced challenges in its early implementation but 12 years down the line, Aadhaar has become the most commonly used identification proof for an Indian. Dr. Manmohan Singh envisioned the need to link the Aadhar Card with the Direct Benefit Transfer to ensure the programs reached the beneficiary without leakages.
3. Poverty Alleviation
Though Indira Gandhi’s 1971 slogan “Garibi Hatao” became a popular catchphrase, it is the government of Manmohan Singh that can proudly claim to have reduced poverty in absolute terms. In its report card presented by Dr. Singh, the UPA government claimed that the poverty ratio in the country has fallen steeply during the UPA regime to 21.9% in 2012 from 37.2% in 2004.
The report claimed the number of poor people came down to 26.93 crore, which was 21.9 percent of the total population in 2012, from 40.71 crores in 2004. In May 2015, Chief Economic Advisor to the Narendra Modi government, Arvind Subramanian remarked that the rate of poverty reduction achieved during the five years from 2005-2006 to 2011-12 was the fastest in the history of the country.
4. Chandrayaan & Mangalyaan
Congress Party and its Prime Ministers have been deeply invested in space research and exploration since the early days of Nehru. The Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR- 1962) and later Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO- 1969) has established itself as an institution of world repute. Dr. Manmohan Singh furthered the space agenda by launching India’s first lunar probe mission, Chandrayaan-1 on 22 October 2008 from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC) at Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh. The lunar exploration helped scientists to get an insightful understanding of the moon and its chemical composition. Setting his sights farther from the moon, Dr. Singh launched Mangalyaan or the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) on 5 November 2013 to explore and learn about planet Mars.
5. Polio Eradication
Before Covid-19 jabs entered our lives, Polio and pox jabs were part of our lives since childhood. On 24th February 2012, the World Health Organization (WHO) removed India from the list of “endemic countries with active poliovirus transmission” when India registered its last Polio case on 13th January 2011. Though India is a signatory to global agreements to eradicate polio since 1988, Dr. Manmohan Singh and the health ministry strove hard, since taking office in 2004, to make India Polio free.
6. Right to Information Act (RTI)
A monumental bill passed by both houses of Parliament, the Right to Information Act was aimed to bring the citizen and government closer and make the government more transparent in sharing information with its citizens. “The basic object of the Right to Information Act is to empower the citizens, to promote transparency and accountability in the working of the Government, to contain corruption, and to enhance people’s participation in the democratic process thereby making our democracy work for the people in a real sense”.
The requested information is timebound and is required to reply expeditiously or within thirty days by a government entity under the purview of the law. The act came into force on 12-October-2005 and redefined the process of information dissemination when a citizen can demand information from the government on matters concerning the country, state, or public services.
7. Special Economic Zones (SEZ) Act 2005
Receiving the assent of the President of India on the 23rd June 2005, the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) Act aimed to provide for the establishment, development, and management of the Special Economic Zones for the promotion of exports. Before the GST era, India had recognized the need to set up dedicated export promotion zones to encourage goods export to other countries for valuable foreign exchange with the first Export Processing Zone (EPZ) model in promoting exports, with Asia's first EPZ set up in Kandla in 1965.
Manmohan Singh conceptualized to set up Special Economic Zones with tax holidays to encourage trade and industry to manufacture and export goods. Inviting a simpler process with a ‘single window clearance system’, the act aimed to give a boost to the burgeoning Indian economy.
8. National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGA) Act 2005:
The Manmohan Singh government launched the revolutionary initiative, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGA) that became law on 2nd February 2006 intending to employ rural India for a fixed number of 100 days for definite wages in a financial year.
The bill encouraged the twin benefits of rural employment and rural infrastructure development with its launch in 200 districts initially and its success prompted the government to extend the program to additional 130 districts in 2007. Manmohan Singh in his remarks on the NREGA said "The Mahatma Gandhi NREGA story in numbers is a story worth telling.... the scheme scores high on inclusiveness...no welfare scheme in recent memory has caught the imagination of the people as much as NREGA has", Singh said alluding to the fact that the act redefined rural infrastructure projects like roads, wells, canals, bridges in the villages and talukas.
9. Indo-US Nuclear Deal
One of the most defining moments of Singh’s 10-year governance was the passage of the Indo-US Nuclear Deal despite stiff opposition from the communist parties and allies. He stuck to his stand till the very end, staking his prestige to place India on the high table of nuclear countries. Manmohan Singh meticulously drove the step-by-step process by partnering with President George Bush to secure India’s future energy needs to be fulfilled substantially by peaceful use of nuclear energy. The country rewarded Singh’s steely resolve by voting him back to power in 2009 with the chants of “Singh is King”.
10. Manual Scavenging Act 2013
Upholding the right to dignity, the Manmohan Singh government initiated the Manual Scavenging Act of 2013 to provide for the prohibition of employment as manual scavengers, rehabilitation of manual scavengers and their families. The act states “to provide that the State shall protect the weaker sections, and, particularly, the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes from social injustice and all forms of exploitation; the dehumanizing practice of manual scavenging, arising from the continuing existence of insanitary latrines and a highly iniquitous caste system, persists in various parts of the country, and the existing laws have not proved adequate in eliminating the twin evils of insanitary latrines and manual scavenging”.
11. FDI- Multi-Brand Retail
To encourage the rise of modern trade in India, Singh allowed up to 51% Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail and 100% FDI in single-brand retail in 2012. The exploding retail market in India welcomed the government initiative to allow more FDI into the retail sector which employed millions of Indians and was growing at a steady CAGR.
Charged with multiple corruption charges (none of them proved yet in a decade), the Singh government pushed the passage of the Jan Lokpal Bill and established an independent body of Lokpal to investigate corruption cases of people in senior government positions. The bill was in the works since 2010 but got notified and commenced on 1st January 2014 as the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act of 2013.
13. GDP & Economy
Apart from the record reduction in poverty in Manmohan Singh’s years as PM, his government also delivered the highest GDP growth since India’s independence at 10.03% in 2010-11 (a number which was released by Narendra Modi government but withdrawn) and maintained a healthy GDP growth rate of 7.5% + average in his 10-year reign.
Fresh out of the financial crisis of 2007-08 perpetrated due to the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, the global financial meltdown, and the US economic fallout, the Manmohan Singh Government increased the savings interest rates from the fiscal year April 2011 of the interest rates of 5-year time deposits from 7.5% to 8.3% for all National Saving Schemes from the modest savings rates to the increase in the public provident fund rates. This monetary policy depicted the buoyancy of the Indian economy. His government did not increase fuel prices despite exorbitant pressures from the pricing of oil.
14. $1 Trillion Economy
In his silent way, Dr. Manmohan Singh marked a milestone when India became a 1 trillion economy in 2007. Joining an elite listing of 10 trillion-dollar economies around the globe, India made a subdued celebration of this major achievement. Continuous GDP growth of 8%-9% helped achieve this significant milestone backed by strong fundamentals of the Indian economy and an economist Prime Minister.
15. National Food Security Act
The Manmohan Singh government launched the National Food Security Act on 12th September 2013, which aimed to provide subsidized food grains to approximately two-thirds of the country's 1.2 billion people. The act undertook the Mid-Day Meal, Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), and the Public Distribution System (PDS) to provide equitable and subsidized food grains to citizens.
Manmohan Singh’s achievements are not lost in history. His only wish at the end of his tenure was “history will be kind to me”, and kind it shall be.
In his farewell speech as Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh gave his life’s gist “my life and tenure in public office are an open book I have always tried to do my best in serving this great nation of ours.” May this country continue to benefit from his wisdom and experience.
(Dhiraj Kumar is an author and columnist based in Mumbai.)