Cham­pi­ons of change

‘As­pi­ra­tional’ dis­tricts: Raise in­comes of poor house­holds; not just im­prove a ‘de­vel­op­ment in­dex’

Governance Now - - DEVELOPMENT - Mukul San­wal San­wal is a for­mer civil ser­vant.

Fi­nally there is a po­lit­i­cal tar­get and a timetable for trans­form­ing 115 most back­ward dis­tricts by 2022, but does the niti Aayog ap­pre­ci­ate the un­prece­dented na­ture and scale of the ef­fort?

The prime min­is­ter is stress­ing ef­fec­tive im­ple­men­ta­tion through elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives, of­fi­cials sent from Delhi and young IAS of­fi­cers. The NITI Aayog is em­pha­sis­ing mea­sure­ment, tweak­ing schemes and com­pe­ti­tion. With­out clearly defin­ing the ob­jec­tive, the ef­fort will not pro­duce out­comes dif­fer­ent to the pre­vi­ous failed ef­forts for re­mov­ing ‘back­ward­ness’.

These dis­tricts have re­mained “back­ward” be­cause of poor con­nec­tiv­ity and ed­u­ca­tion, lack of re­li­able power, ab­sence of bank­ing, gaps in ap­pro­pri­ate sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy for the dif­fi­cult cli­matic con­di­tions and depen­dence on forests; weak ad­min­is­tra­tive sys­tems are only one fac­tor.

Most of these dis­tricts have a large num­ber of the “poor” be­cause their dis­persed house­holds are largely land­less, tribal and dalit and have re­mained out­side the am­bit of sec­toral pro­grammes, in­sti­tu­tions and mar­ket econ­omy largely be­cause the budget merely ex­tended schemes de­signed for very dif­fer­ent con­di­tions.

That is why the top-down ar­range­ments of the Back­ward re­gion grant Fund, over a 10-year pe­riod (2007-17), were un­suc­cess­ful; its ob­jec­tive was re­dres­sal of re­gional im­bal­ance. The real need is to con­sider the “char­ac­ter­is­tics” of eq­uity-ori­ented pro­grammes and their ef­fect on ac­tors, activities and actions.

New in­sti­tu­tional model

The fo­cus should be on poor house­holds and the in­ter­face of vil­lage-level im­ple­menters with the ru­ral poor for link­ing them with new ar­range­ments, based on shared goals. in­fra­struc­ture projects like roads, elec­tri­fi­ca­tion, drink­ing wa­ter and hous­ing re­quire pri­mar­ily the pro­vi­sion of re­sources, tech­ni­cal ef­fi­ciency and stan­dard­i­s­a­tion through de­sign. Welfare projects like ed­u­ca­tion, health and nutri­tion re­quire pri­mar­ily an ef­fec­tive or­gan­i­sa­tion for ser­vice de­liv­ery and stan­dard­i­s­a­tion of out­puts. Their ‘vis­i­bil­ity’ tends to cover prob­lems of en­sur­ing con­tin­ued ac­cess to the ser­vice. eq­uity ori­ented pro­grammes re­quire a con­tin­u­ing role for vil­lage-level func­tionar­ies for sus­te­nance of the ac­tiv­ity.

A new in­sti­tu­tional model is needed. First, the crit­i­cal de­ci­sion is se­lec­tion of at least one in­di­vid­ual from each poor house­hold and choice of ac­tiv­ity that will en­able that per­son to cross the poverty line, to support the fam­ily later. Sec­ond, ben­e­fi­cia­ries should be se­lected prior to the de­ter­mi­na­tion of the ac­tiv­ity with en­gage­ment, re­spon­sive­ness and sim­pli­fi­ca­tion of pro­ce­dures rather than ad­her­ence to pre­scribed tech­ni­cal rec­om­men­da­tions and rules.

Third, the mo­ti­va­tion of the staff is more im­por­tant than abil­ity. Fourth, in mon­i­tor­ing re­sults di­rect feed­back is im­por­tant with con­tin­u­ing stake­holder con­tact. The need is to as­sess the ob­jec­tive, the im­pact on poor house­holds, or well­be­ing.

The in­hab­i­tants of ‘as­pi­ra­tional’ dis­tricts are phys­i­cally, so­cially and eco­nom­i­cally dis­tinct with vary­ing de­mo­graph­ics, in­fra­struc­ture, and land ten­ure and com­mu­nity rights. in most of these dis­tricts the poor con­tinue to be de­prived of sub­stan­tial eco­nomic ben­e­fits un­der the For­est Rights Act and district Min­eral Foun­da­tions, con­ser­va­tion of mon­soon run-off is more im­por­tant than canals; teach­ers should be lo­cals re­ly­ing on tech­nol­ogy and district ad­min­is­tra­tors must spend most of their time tour­ing.

Cat­alytic role of the cen­tre

The ini­tia­tive should be de­signed as a part of ‘co­op­er­a­tive fed­er­al­ism’, with prab­haris from the cen­tral government as fa­cil­i­ta­tors. For ex­am­ple, ex­pe­dit­ing im­ple­men­ta­tion of cen­tral schemes, like fi­bre-op­tic laying-out and broad­band con­nec­tiv­ity; re­view­ing func­tion­ing of banks in pro­vid­ing loans for small-scale eco­nomic activities like shops and taxis; pulling in cen­tral re­search in­sti­tu­tions to pro­vide a solid tech­ni­cal back-up to agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tiv­ity; and, as­sess­ing im­ple­men­ta­tion of cen­tral leg­is­la­tion with a so­cial im­pact and rec­om­mend­ing amend­ments to rules.

Tech­nol­ogy will be the game-changer, mov­ing from the ear­lier fo­cus on ac­cess to out­comes through the net­work ef­fect of Aad­haar-en­abled ser­vices, in­dia Post-led bank­ing, Jan-dhan, Kisan and swasthya Bima, ujwala Yo­jana and eklavya schools. This is an op­por­tu­nity to de­velop big data an­a­lyt­ics to support the poor and serve as a model for the rest of the coun­try.

gen­er­at­ing em­ploy­ment through link­ages with the pri­vate sec­tor, for ex­am­ple, the grow­ing mar­ket for herbal prod­ucts and hand­i­crafts, should be a top pri­or­ity.

Hu­man re­sources will be crit­i­cal. Con­di­tions in these dis­tricts are ar­du­ous, and just as the armed forces are paid hard­ship al­lowance, a part of cen­tral funds should go towards an equiv­a­lent al­lowance to all field staff over the next five years. Out­stand­ing district of­fi­cers and other of­fi­cers opt­ing for a five-year post­ing should be con­sid­ered for the Padma shri.

In­dis­pens­able state part­ner­ship

The states of West Ben­gal, odisha and Ker­ala which are hes­i­tant in par­tic­i­pat­ing will see an ad­van­tage once the fo­cus shifts from re­view­ing sec­toral pro­grammes largely im­ple­mented by the state government to re­source gen­er­a­tion, tech­nol­ogy adop­tion, and poor house­holds and staff mo­ti­va­tion, bring­ing to­gether the in­dis­pens­able PM-CM-DM link­age for ef­fec­tive im­ple­men­ta­tion.

Then, un­der broad guide­lines, cen­tral funds can be al­lot­ted to dis­tricts and states which are en­cour­aged to do the same. The miss­ing link in this chain has been district bud­get­ing.

Source: NITI Aayog

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