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Why government schemes are slipping badly
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February 11, 2009

With the financial year about to end, it has become clear that most of the centrally sponsored social and infrastructure development programmes are unlikely to hit their targets. This is true also of many components of the government's flagship programme, Bharat Nirman, which will run its full course of four years at the end of March. The chief poverty alleviation and job insurance programme, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, is also well short of targets.

Since there is no constraint on the availability of central funds for these programmes -- thanks to additional grants, over and above liberal allocations at the start -- tardy implementation by states seems wholly to blame for the lack of progress.

The concern expressed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his letter to the states, asking them to get their act together, is therefore not unjustified. It is obvious that many of these programmes, such as road connectivity, housing, electrification, irrigation expansion and infrastructure development, have the potential to provide a fillip to economic activity that is badly needed in the context of the economic downturn.

As things stand, the gaps between target and achievement till the end of the third quarter of the current fiscal are far too wide to be bridged in the remaining part of the year, even if states perk up after getting the prime minister's letter.

The rural roads scheme (Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana), for instance, had managed to achieve only 25 per cent of its target for the year by December-end. The progress of the rural electrification programme was even less, at 18 per cent, and that of the rural housing scheme no more than 50 per cent. The ambitious goal of creating additional irrigation potential of 10 million hectares under the Bharat Nirman programme was also only half met till December.

It should be obvious that it is too late in the day to bring all these programmes up to speed, and therefore it will be a fresh government that will have to look at the factors that have caused such massive delays.

One problem could be the states' inability to arrange for their share of the expenditure (despite the centre allowing them to go in for additional market borrowing for this purpose); another could be the failure to tone up the administrative machinery.

The involvement of the District Rural Development Agencies and Panchayati Raj institutions in the execution of many of these programmes may prima facie seem a good move as it helps rope stakeholders also into the task; but this has proved counter-productive in many cases. The DRDAs are, in any case, not known for their efficiency in the administration of development programmes. Where Panchayati Raj bodies are concerned, their socio-political structure is such that, instead of ensuring equitable sharing of benefits, they tend to distort the gains in favour of the better-off, at the cost of the needy. Moreover, the very desirable convergence of different schemes is generally missing because of the disconnect between the different implementing agencies.

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