Recently, in collaboration with UNDP, NITI Aayog brought out a book. This is titled “Good Practices Resource Book 2015”, with a focus on social sector delivery. Social sector delivery is part of the NITI mandate, as is dissemination of good practices. Social sector public expenditure (and delivery) is mostly a state subject, and cutting across states, there are 37 case studies in this publication. By “social sector”, one often means education and health. The 11 heads in this volume (child protection, education, environment, financial inclusion, food security and public distribution, health, infrastructure and development, local governance, social security, water and sanitation and women’s empowerment) have a broader “social security” canvas. The cases also reveal the obvious —some states are not exclusive paragons of good governance, nor are some other states exemplars of bad governance. Without getting into details of cases (you can search them out on the Net), here is a flavour. (1) Child protection—Sampark (Odisha); (2) Education—Migration cards (Gujarat), Porta cabins (Chhattisgarh), Pratibha Parv (Madhya Pradesh); Saakshar Bharat (Andhra Pradesh); (3) Environment – Avadi sewage treatment plant (Chennai), Dhara Vikas (Sikkim), environment management (Andaman & Nicobar Islands), forest produce tracking system (Karnataka), integrated basin development and livelihood promotion (Meghalaya), lake restoration (Rajasthan and Karnataka), well recharging (Kerala), air quality forecasting (Delhi), plastic waste management (Himachal Pradesh); (4) Financial inclusion—panchayat banks (Jharkhand); (5) Food security and public distribution—e-PDS (Andhra Pradesh), Annashree Yojana (Delhi), e-Uparjan (Madhya Pradesh); (6) Health—Care project for the chronically ill and infirm (Kerala), health-care for all (Sikkim), decentralisation of ICDS (Odisha), Indira Bal Swasthya Yojana (Haryana); preventing vision loss in premature infants (Karnataka), malaria protection for pregnant women and children (Odisha), NRHM improvements (Assam); (7) Infrastructure and development—public transport (Mysore); (8) Local governance—24X7 metered water (Punjab), entitlement-based district planning (Bihar); (9) Social security—Aam Aadmi Bima Yojana (Andhra Pradesh), rehabilitation of manual scavenging (Uttar Pradesh), land deeds to tribal people (Tripura), placement-linked skill development (Jammu & Kashmir), early intervention for disability (Madhya Pradesh); (10) Water and sanitation—community-managed water supply (Gujarat), open defecation free villages (Jharkhand); and (11) Women’s empowerment—joint house ownership by husband and wife (Maharashtra), organic rice production (Maharashtra). Naturally, there are caveats to this listing. First, the choice of those heads can be a trifle subjective and arbitrary. For instance, is the integrated basin development and livelihood promotion programme in Meghalaya about environment management? I think it is more about driving entrepreneurship and synergising existing public expenditure schemes to that end.
Second, do realise, this is a documentation only for 2015, though one cannot necessarily pin down an intervention to a specific year. It is just that a claimed intervention has to be documented, vetted, approved and then docketed for a specific calendar year. Therefore, don’t take this to be an inventory of all good practices in social sector service delivery. This is like a flow of social sector good practices and adds to the stock, which is the inventory. Therefore, if you are looking for PDS delivery in Chhattisgarh or Bhoomi in Karnataka and can’t find it, that’s because those have been docketed in other years. Third, states represent neat administrative boundaries and successes are inevitably clocked against states. However, good practices often originate in districts, sometimes even in blocks and villages. Consider the rehabilitation of manual scavengers. This is listed against UP, but is really a Badaun district initiative. “The Daliya Jalao initiative was a result of the combined efforts of the District Magistrate and the district administration of Badaun, with the support of the local community…” (It is now being tried out in 15 other districts in UP.) Fifth, why bother to bring out a publication like this? The answer is the obvious one, disseminate and advocate its replication elsewhere. But what do we replicate? If replication is limited to an exact mechanical duplication of ingredients of a successful intervention, that’s easier.
However, there is another kind of replication that is more valuable and difficult too. Throughout India, you will come across interesting and innovative instances of governance and delivery, transcending the social sector. You will inevitably ask, how did this come about? And you will be told—so and so was the DM (more rarely, a BDO may be mentioned) and he/she thought of it. That’s an unsatisfactory answer, because it means we don’t know what the systemic template is for driving such innovations. It tends to be completely individual-driven. Throughout the development sector, you come across NGOs too. You ask, why did this NGO germinate in this specific geographical area and not in others? What guaranteed its success? You will never know about failures. Even then, what lessons can be extracted from failures? For most small NGOs (most of them are small), you will again get an answer that this is individual-driven and not systemic. Therefore, returning to good practices from public sector or social sector delivery (there was also a World Bank compilation of case studies in 2006), I am not sure what the broader replication message is. Perhaps, it amounts to no more than decentralisation, fiscal devolution and community participation, providing the DM (or BDO) with flexibility and independence. This is an aspect of civil service reform and I don’t mean all-India services alone. While we ponder that conundrum, a compilation like the NITI Aayog/UNDP one is useful also because it imparts an element of optimism to the development and governance discourse.
The author is member, NITI Aayog. Views are personal