Fund game

A credit-unworthy government put paid to eco-development

Published: Wednesday 15 September 2004

Fund game

-- Several years back, I mentioned to an editor of an environmental magazine that I was associated with a project under the World Bank- sponsored India Eco-development Programme (iedp). He immediately flew into a fit of rage. "Apologise immediately in writing," he said. "And resign immediately from iedp, else I will give you a bad press."

At that time I was taken aback at this umbrage. And my editor friend was not alone; there were a series of articles in the national media against the programme. Having watched iedp in the Kalahad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve (kmtr), Tamil Nadu from close quarters, I was left wondering if the programme would have drawn such flak if it had been funded by any agency other than "these running dogs of imperialism".

To be sure, there were quite a few things right with the iedp. Some of the park managers involved had sufficient local standing and security of tenure to ensure that the projects were well-planned; there was also very little doubt on their managerial acumen. Besides, experts well acquainted with the project area were involved in framing out the programmes in quite a few places; in other areas, highly-trained non-government organisations' (ngos) workers implemented iedp.

So what went wrong? For one, in most cases people unfamiliar with the project area framed the programme. More importantly, people with conflicting interests -- such as tribal rights and wildlife conservation -- worked out iedp's operating proposals. No wonder, the projects very often ended up with clashing goals.

Moreover, the World Bank's procurement proposals are baffling to the uninitiated. In spite of this, very few park managers made any effort to understand them. Consequently, funds were delayed and so programmes had to be stopped midway -- only to resume after they had lost all momentum. Sometimes, the funds never showed up -- politicians siphoned them off.

There were other problems. Staff shortage forced forest officers to play conflicting roles. For example, park wardens who had to enforce the law against village communities also had to develop friendly relations with these very communities in their avatar as ecodevelopment officers. It is not surprising that these officers played little heed to eco-development.

In umpteen cases, recommendations of various studies initiated by iedp projects were ignored after the programme ended. For instance, proposals to acquire private holdings and integrate them into the park and to promote ecotourism in kmtr lie unimplemented.

In a nutshell, we had poor planning, inadequate staffing, tardy evaluation, and faulty implementation. All these indicate governance failure -- that has nothing to do with the World Bank. However, the Bank is not totally blameless. Basically, this institution doles out huge sums of money to government agencies with the assumption that shortage of funds is the main reason for development projects not getting implemented. Its mandarins forget that official agencies have displayed very little initiative in such projects in the first place. This faulty choice of agency marred ecodevelopment as well: it became rural development under another name. The Bank's assumption that fund shortage is the main reason for things not working is also incorrect. When issues such as local kleptocracies, class and caste conflicts and lack of local human capital dominate, more money is not going to fix any problems. Since the Bank's culture does not demand excellence in planning, staffing and project evaluation these problems are accentuated.

Now a much larger version of iedp has been proposed: Linking Biodiversity Conservation and Rural Livelihoods. It claims to have learned from iedp's failure. However, the new programme's plan document shows that the lessons learnt all relate to field approaches; they ignore governanceI again.

iedp needs to be properly evaluated by an independent body composed of wildlife managers at local levels and reputed governance experts -- from the government, ngos and also from the industry. Once this body's assessments are converted into practical administrative measures, the new avatar of iedp may actually end up doing a lot of good.

Rauf Ali is a wildlife biologist who has worked in the Kalahad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve and in the Andamans

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