The 11th Plan document was adopted by the National Development Council last week. It reflects the basic tenets of the United Progressive Alliance government, of the need to focus on “inclusive growth”. As many as 27 detailed national targets have been set in the plan ranging from enhancing incomes to reducing poverty, to education, literacy, health, infant mortality and child development.
Instead of being all over the place, this is an exemplary document that clearly identifies the gaps in development, and attempts to provide outlays to address these shortfalls.
This is not to say that clarity in objectives will automatically lead to better outcomes. There has already been news that the targets for power generation in the Plan are unlikely to be achieved. The real worry is that the Plan does not talk about how all this will happen, and how different the implementation strategy will be. Let us look at two examples.
The National Family Health survey conducted last year shows deterioration in maternal mortality, child health and nutritional parameters, as well as increasing anaemia among rural women and deterioration in preventive health measures such as inoculation. The question is how improvement would take place. If the answer is that by everyone doing his job better, then it is no answer, for it does not look at the reasons why the current structures are not delivering.
For infrastructure, there is implicit faith in public-private partnerships (PPP), and that model concession agreements that have been developed will ensure that infrastructure investment takes place. In short, the state has withdrawn from infrastructure provision, except in rural areas, and is looking for entrepreneurs to make good infrastructure happen. I have not heard of such a model of development elsewhere. I can only see that at the New Delhi airport for example, the revenue sharing model adopted is giving good revenues to the government as well as the franchisee—at minimum convenience level to the passengers, for there is nothing in the model that requires a defined standard of comfort to be provided to the travellers.
It is vital that this Plan should succeed. All the accumulated backlog of development in agriculture, health, education and infrastructure must be cleared in the next five years. The challenge is to make this happen, given the poor implementation record, and the federal nature of the polity. Let us think about rural health initiatives.
In Andhra Pradesh, a private sector initiative, in combination with the government, has set up a network of ambulances that are available on call with a guarantee that they will reach the patient within 30 minutes and take him to hospital within the hour. There is funding from the private sector, and from hospitals overseas. There is government staff assisting this organization. More than 500 ambulances have been deployed. The entire state is to be covered. Private sector does what it is good at, running the ambulances, providing them with skilled personnel and organization and maintenance. The hospitals then have to deliver, for there is a record of patients brought to them, the kind of illness, etc., that can be monitored easily and is on record. It is starting to show results. The focus is not on building a lot of rural health centres where doctors do not wish to go, but on ensuring that the patients get to good hospitals fast, and that their movement is tracked.
There are several successful initiatives in agriculture. I had earlier written about a fertilizer company that provides end-to-end solutions, from soil testing to crop practices to fertilizer use to marketing, working in tandem with government agencies. This initiative now covers more than 50,000ha. A commodity exchange has started working with villagers to bring them closer to the market, and to improve prices that the farmer gets for his produce.
The private sector is working on setting up food storage chains, e-choupals and providing technology and inputs for commercial crops. In all these experiments, the initiative works hand in hand with the state administration and institutions. The coverage touches more than 1 million farmers. Not a small number, but still a long way to go.
The core common feature of these examples is that the PPP shares tasks and responsibilities in a manner that each partner does what he is good at.
The Plan document, on the other hand, is only talking about PPP that are rentier models—of the state granting a concession for revenue earning by the private sector that is then shared with the government. In the airport example, if there were standards that could be set by the regulator to oversee standards of service delivery, then there would not be so much chaos in New Delhi.
We can do better than what is envisaged in the 11th Plan.
S. Narayan is a former finance secretary and economic adviser to the prime minister. We welcome your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org