It is important to understand that the overall monitoring and evaluation structure institutionalised by the ministry is the main reason behind restructuring, redesigning and radical improvements in the structure of the schemes for better outcomes.
By NR Bhanumurthy
Based on the 5th Common Review Mission (CRM) report of the ministry of rural development & panchayat raj, some media reports cast doubts on the overall monitoring and implementation of various programmes of the ministry. Like many other distinguished academicians, I had the privilege of being part of these missions and was extensively involved in undertaking independent projects for the ministry (focusing on MGNREGS to PMAY-G schemes). With all these experiences, I can confidently say that these there has been very selective reporting by the media, without a complete/balanced view of the way rural development programmes are designed, implemented, monitored and evaluated.
It is important to understand that the overall monitoring and evaluation structure institutionalised by the ministry is the main reason behind restructuring, redesigning and radical improvements in the structure of the schemes for better outcomes. To those who have read the CRM report fully and carefully, without any bias, it would be clear that the report highlights various positive outcomes, and in some cases, best practices. Being part of the team that visited Sikkim, Uttarakhand and Odisha, I can confidently say, despite various constraints, the officials have managed to deliver to the beneficiaries. You could see PMGSY roads, PMAY-G houses (especially in good condition), NRLM/MGNREGS works, etc., in most of the places. However, as CRMs are independent review missions, the efforts are also to help the ministry identify the areas in which there may be a need to focus more. I doubt such institutional, multi-layer monitoring mechanisms exist for other ministries. Indeed, the integration of e-FMS, geo-tagging, JAM, as well as the real-time data systems for monitoring introduced in the past 5-6 years, has led to significant improvement in governance. The most important part of the CRM exercise is the Action Taken Report that the ministry submits to the next CRM. In a sense, the issues and recommendations of the CRMs are taken seriously and implemented if within the purview of the ministry. There are other issues, related to SECC data, that every CRM has raised to foreground inclusion/ exclusion errors; these are mostly inter-ministerial issues that couldn’t be sorted out.
If one wants to understand the efficacy of implementation of rural development programmes, one could simply download ‘Gram Samvaad’ or the individual apps for each scheme which provide real-time information about implementation. It is important to highlight that, in the times of Covid-19, rural development programmes and infrastructure have become the first line of defence for helping the rural poor and migrant workers. After the lockdown ended, MGNREGS generated over 105 crore persondays at the end of June. In terms of number of workers offered jobs in the same period, it is about 3.4 crore workers versus just about 1.5 crore people during the comparable period last year. This, and other positive news from the rural areas right now, in my view, is not really surprising and is largely due to the mechanisms in place for the rural development programmes on the ground.
This is, by no means, to suggest that there are no design or implementation issues. If one looks at the ATR, even the ministry agrees on some issues raised by all the CRMs related to design, coverage, targeting, transparency, monitoring, social audit, as well as the impact of the programmes. It has been putting its efforts to address those issues by the next CRM. The entire CRM exercise acts like a mirror to the ministry and helps it refine the programmes. One can only hope that such mechanisms and assessments are encouraged and not broken.
The author is Vice Chancellor, BASE University Views are personal