Call it the call of conscience, or attribute it to the larger fiscal ability of the government to push resources into rural development, the coming years will see significantly large public spending on sectors far from urban Indias day-to-day view. This is to be welcomed. Capital investment in agriculture, and in the rural sector in general, has been lagging other sectors of the economy. Yet, the big lesson to emerge from the Bharat Nirman Report Card series that FE has been running over the past fortnight is that a wide gulf is developing between different states on how effectively the benefits of the Centres big-ticket programmes are reaching the poor. Observant readers, by now, will have noticed the pattern that Express correspondents have begun piecing together. Those states that have striven to raise the performance level of their administrative machinery have delivered on the promise of rural development far better than the non-performing ones. With a few exceptions, Indias southern and western states have managed to reach the benefits of Bharat Nirman programmes to a large swathe of the deserving population, while others have put in a patchy performance. The implication is that sound policies that promote growth also deliver benefits to those at the bottom of the pyramid. These also happen to be the states that have roped in the private sector in innovative ways to push up the quality of rural life, whereas states like West Bengal and Orissa have failed to create any meaningful linkages.
So, as the Centre pumps in money, it will now face a bigger dilemma. The poor are now even more likely to be concentrated in poorly-performing states. The leakages from the funds sent to them, presumably, would also be much higher. Yet, since the human development indicators of these states are falling so far behind the better-off states, their need of help would be the largest. The obvious answer would be to import best practices from the well-performing states. But that would mean jettisoning many political shibboleths that dog our polity. Despite the amazing success stories that the FE series has dug up, there are political players who actually value poverty. The Centre would need to get over that hump as it sets about opening its purse.