Recall the narrative about how the village, with a population of little over 3,000, where over 100 welfare schemes are being run, continues to be a spectacle of underdevelopment and subhuman living conditions.
Speaking to local government officials, FE found that the reason for the disastrous performance of central and state-level schemes at the grassroot level is a lack of convergence of schemes with similar objectives, very limited authority given to district officials and poor monitoring due to the massive number of schemes with very small outlays.
There is a lack of coordination at the local level. There are many schemes that if converged at the local level can be implemented in a better way. Schemes such as Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, midday meal scheme, Total Sanitation Campaign and Rajiv Gandhi Drinking Water Mission are connected in the some way or the other, said a block development officer (BDO) of Ambedkar Nagar district administration, asking not to be named.
Officials at the district level concede that too many schemes, most of them having as as little an outlay as Rs 15,000 for a village, are difficult to implement, let alone monitor. It is not easy for the BDO to keep an effective vigil on the proper execution of such a number of schemes, Harishankar Singh, project director (rural development), Ambedkar Nagar, said.
While inadequate monitoring and evaluation of the schemes is one issue, the lack of flexibility given to the district administration also makes it difficult to implement the scheme efficiently. Of course, the need for enhanced local-level freedom to alter the design and priorities of the schemes is being recognised at the level of the Planning Commission and the 12th Plan document recognises this. But the situation on the ground surely reflects the urgency of ushering in this conceptual (if not attitudinal) change in administration of the schemes and make one wonder what delayed this transition for so long.
The BK Chaturvedi report on restructuring of CSS talks about giving state flexibility to spend 20% of CSS funds according to their special needs. But at the district level there's a feeling that the magistrate or the city development officer (CDO) should be given some autonomy to spend funds according to the needs of the city/village. There's also a view that the CSS funds should be given directly to the districts to strengthen the local governance.
The Chaturvedi committee suggests that states should be given a provision of 20% flexi funds in CSS to be spent according to their needs but it would do little good. In a state like UP, the need of Bundelkhand or Avadh region is completely different from the fertile western UP. In my view, the DM or the CDO should be empowered to decide how the flexi funds should be spent in their district, Singh said.
The Chaturvedi report on restructuring CSS also talks about how big a waste schemes with small outlays are. As it devolves to the local level, the funds available are minuscule. For example, there are 13 schemes related to agriculture and 15 concerning animal husbandry and dairying... It is possible to merge many of these schemes into a comprehensive scheme for development of sub-sectors. Schemes with small outlays are a major disadvantage. These envisage expenditure of small amounts spread over the country. These need to be weeded out, the report said.
There are several schemes that are operational but due to their small budgets have limited utility on the ground. Bigger programmes like NREGS with an outlay of over Rs 50 crore for a district have had a salutary impact on the lives of people but here again, the designing has to improve. Schemes such as the national biogas and manure management programme, for which there's hardly an allocation of Rs 2 lakh for the district, can hardly make any difference on ground, said a senior district officer, requesting anonymity. The proposed revamp of the CSS needs to complemented with greater sensitivity to the needs of the different localities facing diverse problems in a vast country like India.