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Prof. Arindam Chaudhuri
Editor-in-Chief - The Sunday Indian

It is time that our government at the centre looks at social development as its key business!

Arindam Chaudhuri, Editor-in-chief, The Sunday Indian

Since the last two terms, the UPA government has come out with several development schemes – which on hindsight look very impressive. Welfare schemes under NREGA, NRHM, midday meal, universal education scheme, JNNURM and many others, not only have aimed at uplifting the underprivileged but also have had an objective of bringing about some uniformity within the existing regional and social imbalances. But then, what is being experienced is something that defies these aims and objectives. There is no doubt that these schemes have done small wonders, but these wonders are confined to select pockets of the society. For instance, if NREGA saw success in a few south Indian states, then it also saw rampant corruption in most of the other states, especially in north India. Same has been the case with most other development schemes. Great initiatives, but equally great failures!

It doesn’t take rocket science to gauge the gaps. And it is also nothing new! The nation’s development schemes would have delivered to their promise across the length and the breath of the country if and only if the state governments had not been suffering from inadequacies in their delivery mechanisms. Most of the times – rather, almost every time – it is the local (state level) bureaucracy and administration that fails to effectively execute and implement most of the national schemes. Not just that, the state governments are invariably found to be careless about preventive and precautionary communication emanating from the Centre. Recently, all the major cities of India experienced a massive outbreak of malaria and dengue. Now, in spite of regular and pre-emptive alarms from the central government, most of the state governments failed to act. So much so that a few states even found their hospitals and medical centers incapable of handling the rush. The hospitals were not only full to the brim but also lacked necessary manpower and facilities to tackle the outbreak. A similar situation is being experienced with respect to food security. There is much talk that has gone on and on about the distribution of food grains to people below the poverty line; but it seems there is still a state of complete crisis over the same. The state delivery mechanisms are so weak and porous that huge amounts of these grains find their way to the black market – or at best are found rotting in warehouses. To top it up, in spite of having grain stocks that are enough for food security, the states mostly waste time deciding whether to sell the same in the open market or through Public distribution System (PDS), knowing very well that PDS does not have a great track record. A March 2010, CVC (Central Vigilance Cell) report concludes that corruption is pervasive in the entire chain and grains are distributed for 2-3 months only, in spite of the Centre allocating around Rs 30,000 crores for the same!
Year after year, our annual budget allocates and disburses hundreds of crores of rupees to states for developmental programs viz. universal education, health and sanitation, agriculture reforms – to name a few. But half of the time, either the funds are returned unused or find their way to bureaucrats’ and government coffers. Recently, it was reported that the states have managed to use just 20% of the funds allocated by the Centre for the backward regions. What is worse is the fact that the biggest offenders are the states which have the maximum regional imbalances. It was also reported recently that the state of UP has indicated its failure to allocate funds for implementing the Right to Education Act, even after the Centre has agreed to bear 75% of the budgetary responsibility. The cases are endless. The Public Accounts Committee 2008-09 tabled in the House of the Manipur Assembly this July, reveals the grim fact that the state failed to achieve the target mentioned for road connectivity to rural habitations under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) project. Even the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) found out that Meghalaya’s Education Department was very inefficient with the implementation of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan scheme. The list of such gaps and subsequent failures goes on and on. It is incredible that most state governments most of the times still shamelessly bargain for budgets in the name of development.

The failure in implementation is just one part, the bigger worry is to know about it and still continue with it. Recently, the Economist magazine reported how the Obama and the Cameron governments in their respective nations have embarked upon a new mission to reach out to masses with their developmental schemes. They have entrusted the job of carrying out the developmental initiatives to large NGOs and social entrepreneurs with sparkling track records. Although the project is at an initial stage, it holds a huge promise. It is time that our Central government starts thinking on the same or similar lines.

There is no doubt in the fact that the state has been incapable in rolling out national developmental schemes up to its promise; and it is foolish to continue with the same. The globe is embracing PPP – Public Private Partnership – which is increasingly becoming a proven concept; and so, an immediate transformation at the Centre’s level has almost become an imperative. It is time that our government at the Centre looks at social development as their key business!

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