New Delhi: India seems to be getting serious about its efforts to ensure that taxpayers’ money is used optimally and that social sector programmes are implemented according to design.
While the Planning Commission is examining measures to ensure that public money is fully utilized and targets met while executing various Centrally funded programmes, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) on Wednesday announced setting up of a delivery monitoring unit (DMU) for some of the government’s social sector and development programmes.
Public orientation: Montek Singh Ahluwalia (left) at a meeting with Planning Commission members in New Delhi on Wednesday. Kamal Singh / PTI
President Pratibha Patil first mentioned the unit in her address to Parliament on 4 June.
The programmes that the Planning Commission plans to focus on include those on food distribution, rural employment, housing, roads and electrification. These are financed fully or partially by the Union government but implemented by state governments.
“The Prime Minister has said there should be no slippages in all schemes, the funds for which are provided by the Union government, and that they should be closely monitored,” said a government official close to the development who didn’t want to be identified.
The newly constituted plan panel, India’s top policy planning agency, met on Wednesday and discussed issues related to effective utilization of funds, among others.
DMU will function as an oversight body while the primary responsibility of implementing and monitoring these programmes will lie with the respective ministries.
Missing targets and leakages are common in state-funded programmes. For instance, the irrigation scheme achieved only half of its four-year target between April 2005 and March 2008 in its third year of implementation. Similarly, the drinking water scheme fell short by 40% of its aim and the programmes to build rural roads and provide electricity connections to villages missed their targets by at least 60% for the same period.
Even programmes which are largely perceived to be doing well, such as National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), which promises 100 days of work to a member of a poor household, has invited public criticism, including that from the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, on leakages.
A Planning Commission study of 2005 found that 58% of the subsidized foodgrain issued from the Central pool does not reach poor families. The study found that for a Re1 worth of income transfer to the poor, the government spends Rs3.65, indicating Re1 of budgetary consumer subsidy is worth only 27% to the poor.
This data is from a paper on the public distribution system written by N.C. Saxena, a Supreme Court commissioner, on monitoring an interim order on a public interest litigation on the right to food.
“There was also talk (at the meeting) of grading these schemes and including non-governmental agencies in evaluating these schemes, as also suggesting measures to improve them,” the official said. “Monitoring is also essential because lots of such schemes have got incremental allocation of over 30% in the Budget.”
The Budget has proposed raising allocation for several state-sponsored schemes. Under NREGS, the proposed increase in allocation was 144% over budget estimates for 2008-09. For Bharat Nirman, a Rs1.76 trillion rural infrastructure programme, the proposed outlay has been raised 45%.
According to Laveesh Bhandari of Indicus Analytics, a think tank based in the Capital, evaluation and monitoring are essential to such schemes. “The more the evaluation and more the monitoring—be it within the government, be it by outside agencies—the better would be the outcome of the projects,” he said. “I would say this should have started three years back when NREGS was launched.”
Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia has said that a mid-term review of the 11th Plan, which runs till 31 March 2012, will be undertaken before the next budget is presented. Mid-term reviews also set detailed guidelines and targets for these schemes.
The opposition has welcomed the move. “We expect that the initiative of the Prime Minister’s Office is implemented in letter and spirit but the outcome of the initiative will only be known once it is made functional and adhered to. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would be supportive to the constructive ideas of the government,” said BJP spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy.
Santosh K. Joy contributed to this story.