Bank on people
The Planning Commission has recently mooted the Rashtriya Sam Vikas Yojana (rsvy) to ensure minimum livelihood to people in the country's most backward districts. As per the commission's latest plans, rsvy will target more than 100 districts. Most of these have been identified through the use of an index that measures backwardness by according equal significance to three parameters: value of output per agricultural worker, agricultural wage rates and the percentage of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. The others have chosen because they have been at the receiving end of militant activities in the last few years.
As an initial measure, panchayati raj instititutions and other local bodies have been directed to prepare three-year master plans -- along with concomitant action plans -- to review the strengths and weakness of ongoing projects in these districts. The master plans would identify how the new programme could intervene in existing government programmes in order to increase agricultural productivity, raise employment and also improve the social and physical infrastructure of the targeted districts.
Rs 45 crore will be given as grant to each of these districts over three years -- 15 crores every year -- to ensure that they are brought at par with other areas in the country. The state governments have been directed to create a separate head under their district rural development agencies to disburse this grant. They have been strictly instructed to release these grants within 15 days of their receipt; failure to do so would lead to forfeiture of subsequent instalments and the funds released earlier would also be treated as loans.
How to implement? But will all this help improve matters in India's most backward districts? They can, if increasing livelihood options are built upon enhancing existing skills of the people. To do this, authorities should have in place comprehensive inventories that take stock of the existing resources of these districts and also their urgent needs. They should also ensure effective inter-sectoral linkages to make rsvy cost-effective. For example, helping farmers with crop diversification is not going to be enough; they will also have to be aided in marketing their products. Similarly, concerted efforts are needed to ensure proper utilisation of irrigation amenities created by the programme; this can be done by providing on-farm development facilities such as field channels and water regulators; electricity distribution infrastructure must be enhanced if new shallow wells and pump sets are envisaged for the rsvy-targeted areas.
But all this does not mean tying people to the apron strings of government bodies. In fact, the authorities must take care to not fritter away the funds by trying to revive ailing government-sponsored cooperatives. So, they must identify local-level self-help groups (shgs) to carry the programme further; these groups can then be given training and even infrastructural assistance. Schemes for self-employment should be based on credit rather than subsidy; the projects must be bankable enterprises and fiscal discipline should be a key criterion. Among other things, operation and maintenance costs must be integral to all programmes to create community assets. Moreover, wherever possible, these assets should be created with some contribution from the intended beneficiaries.
But in rare cases Subsidies cannot, however, be totally ruled out. They should only be given as supplementary aid to shgs. There should be complete transparency in the choice of schemes and their locations. The prioritised schemes, the reasons for taking up them, the criteria for choice of locations and the basic information on all tenders also must be made available on the programme's website. Besides the shgs, panchayati raj institutions and non-governmental institutions should also be involved in the different stages of the programme. And, care should be taken to ensure effective coordination between different bodies involved in implementing rsvy. Most importantly, projects must be executed within the stipulated timeframe. Only then will rsvy not lapse into a trite repetion of other government programmes.
Srikanta K Panigrahi is with environment and forest division of the Planning Commission. The views expressed in the article are that of the author's alone
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