By Dhurjati Mukherjee
The process of governance over the years, via discussions and debates, has undergone a change in India. As is evident, there is a new trend of launching policies and programmes in a hurry without ensuring their effectiveness or for that matter the actual gains for the intended beneficiaries. Besides, neither lackadaisical pace of progress at the grass-root level, nor making requisite necessary amends for better governance seems a priority.
There is no denying that the need for infrastructure development has been high on the agenda. Successive governments have launched several plans with some improvement having taken place, but the spectre of Indian villages has fundamentally not changed. The most affected are the densely-populated northern as well as Eastern states, where people are poor, and infrastructure development rather insignificant. At the same time, it’s rather unfortunate that backwardness is manifest in many of these districts, which send politicians to the power of seat.
For example take the Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana (SAGY), launched six years ago aimed at developing model villages. Reports indicate the programme has been found to be ineffective in ushering in development in chosen gram panchayats with a central performance audit urging the Union Rural Development Ministry to review the scheme. The Common Review Mission (CRM) 2019 of the Ministry pointed out: “The CRM teams that visited the States neither did, nor found any significant impact of this scheme, in many of the SAGY villages.”
In detailing the reasons for the lapse, it was found that Members of Parliament did not give any significant amount of money from the MPLADS. In isolated cases, where MPs have been proactive, some infrastructure development has taken place but the scheme has not made any perceptible impact. Though SAGY scheme has no budgetary allotment, each MP is expected to select a village in his constituency for development. The goal being to develop three model villages by each MP by March 2019 and five more by 2024, so far very few MPs were seen to be adopting villages under SAGY.
The CRM has also expressed concern over the quality of roads constructed under schemes of State governments and maintenance of rural roads under Centre’s Pradhan Mantri Gramin Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) after the end of five-year warranty period. It is significant that the audit urged the Centre to frame a ‘National Rural Roads Policy’ to ensure uniform norms of construction and maintenance, irrespective of whether the road belongs to a State scheme or the PMGSY. However, there are grave doubts whether this would be earnestly followed up, as an indifferent administrative machinery, which is no secret, doesn’t really shortlist the lapses and to make amends.
Another example which the Central audit found even more intriguing is the work generated under MGNREGS. It remains half of the entitled 100 days per household annually despite a higher demand in States, urging the Centre to order a study in the mismatch. The audit termed the Distract Development Coordination & Monitoring Committee, which oversees the implementation of Central schemes in every district, unwieldy and non-functional!
As per the CRM 2019, work given under MGNREGS is much less than the demand. In 2019, the average work per household was 48 days. It was a bit higher at 50 in 2018 but lower at 45 in 2017. The report pointed out: “A study may be undertaken for reviewing the wage rate under MGNREGS and the reasons why number of days of work provided per household is less than half of the entitlement despite the fact that in several places visited by CRM, the demand for more work was articulated.”
Though from recent reports it is quite discernible that in the current fiscal this will not happen, with States like Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat having already touched around 90% of mandays compared to the work done in 2019-20, there is need for giving additional resources of around 15 to 20% as most migrants don’t want to venture out of their States and are facing acute financial crisis.
The examples are proof enough that the Government’s crucial programmes aren’t being properly monitored but are not reaching the intended beneficiaries. While this is one side of mis-governance, the other is the lack of direction and judicious planning. Not just the government but the ineffectiveness of the private sector, which plays a less pivotal role, is equally manifest.
Recently, the Adani Green Energy, the renewable energy arm of Adani Group, bagged the world’s largest solar energy contract to build an 8000 MW capacity photovoltaic power plant and also set up 2000 MW capacity domestic solar panel manufacturing facility. But questions do arise as the group is reported to be facing massive debt burden and this dampens the project becoming successful. Incidentally, the Adanis are said to have defaulted in taking over three government-run airports set for privatisation. State-run Airports Authority of India (AAI) was said to be ready to extend its contract with concessionaires at six airports until March 2021. It is feared that the government decision to delay airport privatisation will eventually benefit the group.
Thus, it’s time to thoroughly examine awarding of vital projects to ‘favoured’ private sector partners, who may not be so successful. Earlier, two debt-ridden Indian private enterprises were awarded the task of large-scale manufacturing of semiconductors. This is despite the fact that the semiconductor industry was estimated to grow from $10.02 billion in 2013 to $52.58 billion in 2020 at a compound annual growth rate of 26.72%. This inability led to imports rising and the country continuing to lose billions of dollars in this sector.
Further, at this time when the government is reeling under severe economic stress, it has taken loans from the Asian Development Bank worth $1.5 billion to fight COVID-19 and $1 billion from the World Bank to help protect livelihoods. Shockingly, amidst this, the Government proposes to execute its Central Vista project for New Delhi, costing a whopping Rs 20,000 crore and not shelve it!
The amount could have been used instead to aid the country’s health infrastructure, which continues to be quite poor in the times of the pandemic, even in comparison to emerging economies. The country is struggling to provide hospital facilities, oxygen equipment and ventilators, among others and a sum of Rs 20,000 crore could according to estimates help buy 14 lakh ventilators, needed to save lives. There is a massive shortfall even in the number of basic hospital beds and other essential equipment as the pandemic gathers speed in some States. Instead of concentrating on these essential needs, pursuing grandiose vista plans does sound ridiculous. Besides in the backdrop of migrants’ struggling for sheer survival, job creation is vital for the economy. Additional allocation of funds for government welfare programmes is imperative. Reliance on the private sector hasn’t been too encouraging as it normally invests for high returns and profits. Thus, the government needs to get its priorities right and ensure that its programmes and welfare schemes make an impact, specially where its most-needed i.e. rural India and the economically weaker sections. Only then can governance, through welfare programmes, usher in what is being termed as ‘Ram Rajya’.