After his stringent criticism of the slow progress in the New Delhi airport project that invited a scathing response from aviation minister Praful Patel, Planning Commission deputy chief Montek Singh Ahluwalia announced that public service delivery in India had failed.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
It is not that Patel needed to hold up the mirror, though he had reminded Ahluwalia of the lack of any time-bound progress in other crucial, much-needed infrastructure works — roads, electricity, water, sanitation and public transport — the things that affect citizens on a daily basis. It seems that a public blame game is all what this is about as the failure of our public service delivery is no revelation for anyone. The Prime Minister had last May expressed public anguish at corruption in the government blocking rural roads.
But, do such admissions lead to stronger resolve in actually addressing what are clearly problems of governance and accountability?
There’s no dearth of examples where outcomes of public projects and programmes have been criticized both by panels within the government and outside it. Where private partnership is involved, the poor structuring of policy (concession agreements), bureaucratic delays and the consequent glitches have been seen in airport and toll road projects. Consider next the latest scorecard in two vital areas where substantial budgeted funds are involved.
First, in rural roads — under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana — by last July, only 20% of the target for 2009 had been achieved. Tuesday’s data from the rural development ministry puts the figure at 31%. The chances of the status by next year being less than 50% are thus quite high. Whether that’s acceptable or affordable is a moot issue. Yet, as late as 29 April this year, a parliamentary public accounts committee indicted the ministry for not introducing mechanisms to check graft in this programme.
Second, the United Progressive Alliance’s (UPA’s) flagship National Rural Health Mission that gets 75% of the health care budget came under harsh scrutiny recently on the grounds that the scale of roll out and the rate of roll out are inadequate — and service quality has not been looked at yet. Meanwhile, social indicators of mortality, malnutrition, et al, continue to tell a dismal story.
Can the UPA government in an election year take urgent steps to improve accountability in public projects? If only the corporate concept of a “balanced scorecard” could find weightage in electoral outcomes!
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