Demonetisation to Agnipath: Policy flip-flops of Modi government

The Federal takes a look at some of the prominent decisions the Modi regime has taken, only to quickly withdraw or modify them, earning itself the nickname ‘amendment government’

The Narendra Modi government first announces a major policy decision. Following widespread protests or discontent or both, it announces a series of alterations.

The workflow is more or less recognisable now. The Narendra Modi government first announces a major policy decision. Following widespread protests or discontent or both, it announces a series of alterations and ‘improvements’ to the policy, claiming that was the plan all along.

After several rounds of tweaks, U-turns and overhaul, the policy is a barely recognisable version of the original. The pattern has been more or less the same, be it demonetisation, GST rollout, Land Acquisition Bill, farm laws, or, the CAA and NRC legislation.

So much so that the ruling dispensation has earned itself the nickname ‘amendment government’.

Follow The Federal’s live coverage of the happenings around Agnipath 

The most recent addition to the list is the Agnipath short-term military recruitment scheme.  Rising discontent among armed forces job aspirants has compelled the Centre to make a few announcements in less than a week after rolling out the scheme.

Speaking at a function on Sunday (June 19), Modi said, without referring to the protests over Agnipath, that several well-intentioned schemes of the government have been politicised.

It has already announced several incentives including reserving 10 per cent vacancies in its paramilitary forces and the Defence Ministry for Agnipath retirees. It has promised to look into any grievance about the new scheme “with an open mind”. 

On Monday, June 20, India Inc pitched in with enthusiastic offers for future Agnipath retirees. From the Mahindra Group to Biocon to RPG to NewsX, various corporate houses promised to absorb Agniveers in their workforces. 

Agnipath decoded: How to join, salary, benefits — and criticism

The Federal takes a look at some of the prominent decisions the Modi government took, only to quickly withdraw or modify them. 

Demonetisation 

On the night of November 8, 2016, an unsuspecting India was told its Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes were no longer legal tender. Even before people could fully grasp what this meant, came the fresh rules. And then some more. 

On November 19, for instance, the RBI said deposits of demonetised notes in excess of Rs 5,000 would be allowed only once till December 30. This too after strict scrutiny. This raised such ruckus that the RBI withdrew the circular regarding KYC-compliant accounts. 

Also read: Demonetisation and GST: A tale of two economic ‘mis’adventures

One day, people had to go in person to the bank exchange notes. The next day, proxies were allowed. The exchange limit was frequently altered. There were so many policy flip-flops that most bank employees, who bore the brunt of demonetisation, were themselves confused about the rules.

By six weeks after the demonetisation announcement, over 50 amendments had been made.

Goods and Services Tax (GST)

Ending decades of twists and turns, GST subsumed 17 large taxes and 13 cesses on July 1, 2017. It was touted as a policy that would end tax ambiguities and discrepancies.

According to estimates, over 1,100 amendments have been made to the GST law. Goods and services have shifted slabs. Slabs themselves have been altered. The forms have been overhauled. The ITC (input tax credit) component of GST has an amendment history of its own.

Amid the GST amendments, separate battles are being fought over cess and surcharge. The compensation that the Centre promised states for GST revenue shortfall has also seen a string of policy changes. 

Farm laws 

The purported reforms suggested by the Union government to improve the lot of farmers backfired as Modi was compelled to call back the three contentious farm laws that resulted in farmers, mainly from Punjab, Haryana and west UP, hitting the roads.

In November 2021, days before the all-important Uttar Pradesh Assembly  elections, the PM appeared on the TV, announcing that the farm laws will be repealed. He then rued that his government failed to convince farmers about the ‘benefits’ of the new laws, which were mainly  opposed due to a clause that did away with the guarantee of the Minimum Support Price (MSP) on specific crops – mainly paddy and wheat.

Land Acquisition Bill

The Modi government’s first big decision since it first came to power in 2014, was the Land Acquisition Bill in 2015. It was opposed tooth and nail by the opposition parties, mainly in the backdrop of resentment among a section of land owners, mainly farmers, who argued that the Centre brought in the amendment in the land law without seeking the opinion of landowners. They also said it ignored a social impact assessment to gauge the need and effect of such an amendment.

Also read: A look at Agnipath-like schemes adopted by other nations

The Centre had to roll back the reforms introduced in the British era Act. This time too the trigger was a state assembly election (Bihar, 2015) and the BJP did not wish to risk its vote share in the Hindi heartland.

Though the Land Acquisition Bill was okayed in the Lok Sabha, the Rajya Sabha blocked it because the NDA did not have the numbers among the elders to see the Bill through.

Sedition law

The Sedition Law is another British era hangover, enforced under section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, which has been slapped on individuals since Independence for “speaking” against the “interests” of the nation. The Modi government too has been charged with “misusing” the law to quell dissent. Popular examples are of JNU protests when student leader Kanhhaiya Kumar was arrested under the law and later agitation protesters who opposed the CAA, an Act which discriminates between Muslim and other religion migrants from Pakistan and other neighbouring countries.

When a matter related to review and need for a sedition law in modern India came up for hearing in the Supreme Court recently, the Union government preferred to take a soft stand and told the apex court that it is willing to repeal the colonial-era law based on widespread deliberations.

As a consequence, the Supreme Court put on hold the British-era law temporarily and asked the Centre and states to not file fresh FIRs under the Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) which criminalises the offence of sedition.

The Centre welcomed the SC decision, stating that “the government is committed to removing outdated colonial laws while protecting the sovereignty of the nation”.

Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA)

The CAA sparked widespread protests. The law seeks to grant Indian citizenship to persecuted minorities like Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis and Christians from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, who entered India on or before December 31, 2014. The Centre has said that citizenship to the eligible beneficiaries of CAA will be given only after rules under the legislation are notified.

However, the controversial Act has not been implemented so far. The Centre had to take a partial U-turn on the controversial Act though. It has been two years since the Act was passed in Parliament but nobody has been granted citizenship under the law so far as the Centre is yet to frame the regulations for its implementation.

Last July, the Union government sought an extension of six months to frame the rules. It has made it clear that it will provide citizenship under the law only after the rules are notified.

‘Agnipath’ fallout

The ‘Agnipath’ scheme, announced on June 14, provides for the recruitment of youths in the Army, Navy or Air Force between the age bracket of 17.5 to 21, for just four years, with a provision to retain 25 per cent of them for 15 more years.

The provisions of the recruitment plan invited large scale protests from several places, mainly in the North, which send a huge number of people to defence forces. The protesters said the new method of recruitment, happening after two years of pandemic, leaves many of them ineligible on the age front. 

Seeing the unrest on the streets, the Centre extended the upper age limit for recruitment of ‘Agniveers’ to 23 years, but for the 2022 recruitment season only. Protests have been raging in several states against the Centre’s scheme since then.

The Army said based on organisational requirements and policies, ‘Agniveers’, on completion of their engagement period in each batch, will be offered an opportunity to apply for enrolment in the regular cadre.

“These applications will be considered in a centralised manner by the Army based on objective criteria, including performance during their engagement period and not more than 25 per cent of each specific batch of Agniveers will be enrolled in regular cadre post completion of their four-year engagement period,” according to the document released by the Army.

“Agniveers so enrolled as regular cadre would be required to serve for a further engagement period of 15 years and will be governed by terms and conditions of service (of Junior Commissioned  Officer/ Other Ranks) currently in vogue,” it said.

The Army said the Agniveers will not have any right to be selected after completion of their four-year tenure, which is the major reason for protests by aspirants.

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