New Delhi: The United Progressive Alliance, or UPA, made only mixed progress in its showpiece programmes in the past five years, said an official report.
An internal review of 13 Centrally sponsored schemes, or CSS, suggests that while the UPA did reasonably well in its initiative on universalization of elementary education, rural employment and building low-cost housing, it has done poorly on several other fronts.
The report on the government’s flagship schemes, which was reviewed by Mint, was circulated among the ministries concerned last week.
Slow pace: A government school at Faridabad in Haryana. The Mid-day Meal Scheme, which the UPA claims benefited 117.4 million children in 2008-09, saw a row between the Planning Commission and minister for women and child development Renuka Chowdhury drag on for months. Rajkumar / Mint
“To review 13 top CSS, the principal secretary to the Prime Minister, T.K.A Nair, held a meeting of concerned senior officials in the last week of February, and the deputy chairman, Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, held another meeting in the Planning Commission in the first week of March,” said a senior government official who didn’t want to be identified.
The official also confirmed that the focus of the meeting was on comparing the performance of the previous National Democratic Alliance government in some of these schemes.
“There was a general sense of satisfaction on both occasions,” the official added.
However, by the government’s own admission, a lot needs to be done under the National Rural Health Mission, or NRHM, a programme aimed at improving health facilities for the rural poor.
For instance, the government, in its agenda paper for the meeting, admitted that the “strengthening of hospitals” at taluka levels has seen slow progress due to lack of standardization of medical facilities. Talukas are parts of a district.
It also conceded delays in “concretizing” district health action plans in Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh.
Some schemes fell victim to conflicting views within the government.
Under its Mid-day Meal Scheme, which the UPA claims benefited 117.4 million children in 2008-09, a row between the Planning Commission and minister for women and child development Renuka Chowdhury dragged on for months.
While the Planning Commission was in favour of supplying hot cooked meals for children, Chowdhury said it is not possible because anganwadi workers, the government’s agents for supplying food to children, were overworked. There is only one anganwadi agent for 1,000 children.
The Mid-day Meal Scheme aimed at supplying fortified food to children in primary and upper primary schools.
Despite big claims, the UPA has also done very little to bring down malnutrition levels. The incidence of malnutrition, according to government statistics, came down to 46% in 2006 from 47% in 1999 and 51% in 1993.
However, under the Integrated Child Development Services, the review said the total number of beneficiaries receiving supplementary nutrition has doubled, from 41.5 million in 2004 to 84.5 million in 2008.
The UPA’s Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, or SSA, is a big success story. It aims to provide basic education for all children in the 6-14 age group by 2010. So was the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, or NREGS.
NREGS was launched in 2006, covering some 200 districts across the country. The scheme, which aims to provide at least 100 days of employment to at least one member of a household in rural areas a year, was extended to all districts in 2008-09.
Since it was extended, the scheme has benefited nearly 38 million households across the country.
The official data also show the government has done well in rural housing and telephony, both part of Bharat Nirman, a four-year, Rs1.76 trillion rural infrastructure development programme launched in 2005 with 31 March 2009 as the deadline for completion of projects.
However, Bharat Nirman has just been partly successful.
As of March 2008, according to a review by the Planning Commission, only 50% of the programme’s targets had been met in irrigation, 60% in drinking water and about 33% in rural roads and electrification.
“These projects are likely to take another two years to complete,” said a Planning Commission official requesting anonymity.
“NRHM is bound to fail. The (health) ministry itself has admitted there are loopholes and the programme needs to be reviewed,” said N.J. Kurian, visiting professor at the Council for Social Development, a New Delhi-based think tank.
Kurian is currently working on a public report on health. “I personally don’t understand the concept of accredited social health activist, or ASHA. Most usually, the relatives of influential people in panchayat or health department get the job,” added Kurian.
ASHA is a government agent to help all those wanting medical attention, especially women and children.
Kurian also questioned the authenticity of data received by state governments such as Uttar Pradesh for the Mid-day Meal Scheme. “Most often, these data are very hollow and give a wrong picture.”
He, however, says that NREGS is one scheme that has done well. “Even its (the programme’s) critics feel it has been able to push up wages and control distress movement of labour from states like Bihar and Jharkhand to Punjab and Haryana,” added Kurian. He gave an average rating to SSA.
Experts also say the Planning Commission should be doing a larger quality assessment of the leakages in these programmes rather than working on reviews of this kind.
“Five years of the UPA have passed and these programmes have been going on before that. Naturally there are wastage and leakages, otherwise the programme would not have continued that long,” said S.L. Rao, chairman, Institute for Social and Economic Change.
Rao says SSA, NRHM and NREGS are conceived well but do need a quality assessment on leakages.
“The government’s analysis is based on status data which will show good results. For a deeper insight, one has to look into the implementation data, which should include quality assessment,” adds Laveesh Bhandari of Indicus Analytics Pvt. Ltd, a New Delhi-based economics research firm.
For instance, he said, a true assessment of SSA can be done not just by looking at how many children enrolled, but how many of them dropped out. “Children start dropping out as soon as the mid-day meals are stopped,” he added.