From planning to implementing commission

Written by Santosh Tiwari | Updated: Aug 19 2014, 09:49am hrs
Prime Minister Narendra Modi did well by putting a full-stop to all the speculations made about the Planning Commission in his Independence Day speech. Once it is clear that the government is not going to continue with the conventional Planning Commission, the next task would be to ensure that the whole rejigging exercise doesnt become old wine in a new bottle by changing the name and bringing in new experts.

Whatever be the form, going forward, the body will have to find waysif it has to go beyond mere symbolismto ensure that the money being spent through various schemes yields optimum results on the ground.

There has been too much focus on devising new schemes and allocating money to them, but implementation has never received the attention it should get.

So, the first and the foremost job of the new Planning Commission (the name is being kept just for the sake of simplicity; soon there will be a new name) will be to analyse, modify and restructure the existing central schemes in consultation with the states.

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Though the Prime Minister did not outline the specifics in his speech, he did spell out the broad roadmap how it needs to be done.

It would be apt to quote Modi to bring in clarity: Planning Commission has contributed to the growth of the country in its own way but the prevalent situation in the country is different, global scenario has also changed, governments are no longer the centre of economic activities, the scope of such activities has broadened. State governments have been at the centre of development and I consider this a good indication. If we have to take India forward, it can happen only by taking the states forward To strengthen our federal structure a team of chief ministers and the Prime Minister should be there. (The Planning Commission) is a very old system and it will have to be rejuvenated, it will have to be changed a lot within a short period, we will replace the Planning Commission with a new institution having a new design and structure to lead the country based on creative thinking, public-private partnership, optimum utilisation of resources, utilisation of youth power of the nation, to promote the aspirations of state governments seeking development, to empower the state governments and to empower the federal structure.

Clearly, the approach in the planning process has to take a complete U-turnfrom the Centre devising developmental and social sector schemes and the states implementing these, to the states themselves being an active partner in formulation, implementation and monitoring of such schemes.

There are enough examples to demonstrate how individual states can modify and make particular schemes workable.

Take the case of the rural housing scheme, the Indira Awaas Yojana (IAY). The shelter-less BPL families are given R70,000 assistance in the plains and R75,000 in hilly/difficult areas for construction of a new house. In FY14, a total of R13,895 crore was allocated for constructing 24.81 lakh houses and R12,970 crore was released. The problem with the scheme is, it is very difficult to construct a proper house in any part of the country today with R70,000. So, Tamil Nadu has come up with an innovative and workable idea. The state provides additional R50,000 from its side over and above the Centres R70,000 for constructing the housewith a little money from their own savings or by taking small loans, the poor families in the state are able to build their own house which costs R1.5-1.6 lakh. This can either be replicated in other states or the IAY can be restructured to make it more attractive. Either way, this is what the new-look Planning Commission should look at.

Then, even the scheme for creating sanitary toilets for households without access to onethe issue was among the most important ones highlighted by the Prime Ministerneeds to be looked at afresh. Only 32.7% rural households had sanitary toilets according to the 2011 census. The total sanitation campaign, renamed the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA) in 2012, seeks to achieve 100% access to sanitation for all rural households by 2022. Under the NBA, the grant has been increased to R4,600 (R3,200 from the Centre and R1,400 from the state) per individual household, with R500 extra for hilly and difficult areas, from the Centre. Additional financial assistance up to R4,500 per Individual Household Latrines has been provided in convergence with MGNREGA for all eligible beneficiaries.

The scheme has done well in villages where the residents have been proactive but is facing several implementation issues besides the inadequate funds provided under the scheme to the individual households.

A finance ministry sample survey report on performance of major social sector schemes points out that rural sanitation being a state subject, the state governments need to accord high priority to the programme. So, good results are seen in states such as West Bengal, Tripura, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra where high priority is attached to the scheme. Clearly, the success of sanitation schemes is heavily dependent on the state governments and they need to be completely on board with the Centre and this can happen only if they are equal partners in the making and implementation of the scheme.

The same report suggests that while generally MGNREGA has been able to serve its purpose, better management and further modifications are needed to make the programme more fruitful and development-oriented. Why not use it for development of tourism in the areas where other community-related farm activities have been completed by now

One of the key tasks of the new body will be to come up with efficient delivery mechanisms. As the Economic Survey FY14 also highlights, The outlays for the different schemes have not often translated fully into outcomes owing to the poor delivery mechanism. Leveraging modern technology for efficient delivery of programmes, removing the multiple layers of governance, simplifying procedures, and greater participatory role by the beneficiaries can help in creating a better delivery mechanism.

These are the type of issues which the new plan body would need to look at and it will be a good idea to begin with the independent evaluation of all the existing schemes afresh. The days of

Centre playing the big brother in the handling of developmental schemes are over. A note of caution is that intent is still just words; but the preliminary efforts, undoubtedly, are in the right direction.