New Delhi: Pruning the number of centrally sponsored schemes, as suggested by the Planning Commission in a recent report, is being considered a mere tinkering exercise by experts associated with the planning process.

Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

A draft report brought out last month by B.K. Chaturvedi, a member of India’s apex planning agency, had suggested reducing the number of programmes to 59 from 147 and giving flexibility to states to use the funds meant for these schemes for better monitoring and efficiency in the 12th Five-Year Plan starting April. The central government funds these schemes through gross budgetary support.

“It is nothing but window dressing. A finance committee under me had suggested in March that there should be just one centrally sponsored scheme under one sector. For instance, for drinking water and sanitation, there should be one scheme, so that monitoring becomes more effective," said Yashwant Sinha, leader of principal opposition Bharatiya Janata Party leader and a former member of the Plan panel. “Unfortunately, the Planning Commission has done no such thing; rather it just tinkered with existing schemes."

The share of centrally sponsored programmes have risen to 42% of gross budgetary support in the 11th Plan from 39% and 31% in the 10th and ninth Plans, respectively. The number of such programmes was reduced from 155 in the 10th Plan to 99 at the beginning of 11th Plan, but rose again to 147 in 2011-12.

Centrally sponsored schemes are based on sharing proportionate resources between the centre and the states; and the Centre’s contribution can typically range between 25% and 90%, barring a few schemes where the Union government funds it fully. If states don’t match funds to be raised by them, additional resources from the centre get blocked.

The Chaturvedi panel report has not suggested changes in the nine so-called flagship programmes that together constitute 80% of the total 6.6 trillion provisioned for centrally sponsored schemes in the 11th Plan.

These include Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, Indira Awas Yojana, Mid Day Meals, Total Sanitation Campaign, Rajiv Gandhi Drinking Water Mission, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and National Rural Health Mission.

“We have suggested a 10% flexi-fund in flagship schemes to enable the states to meet their special needs. Together with others the flexibility with states can be as high as 25% from 6% earlier; so it’s a big change," Chaturvedi said, defending his recommendations.

S.L. Rao, former director general of the National Council of Applied Economic Research, said this will not affect the way states function. “The states will be happier having more funds at their disposal as they are used to diverting funds meant for such schemes in meeting their administrative expenses, including paying salaries to the staff.

The report has also suggested restructuring 99 centrally sponsored schemes and reducing them to 39 umbrella schemes. Besides, 39 other programmes will be clubbed into 11.

It has also suggested transfer of funds directly to states to ensure accountability. Currently, they are being sent to districts and agencies executing the programmes. “This is against the principles of empowering the panchayats (village-level administrative bodies) for executing these projects, which will result in poor outcomes," said Rao.

N.J. Kurian, visiting professor at the Council for Social Development, said similar recommendations of reducing centrally sponsored schemes have been made earlier, but they have failed to make an impact. “These kind of tinkering with schemes don’t work well as the state bureaucracy is used to getting some funds from the Centre, which they routinely utilize without getting into the development benefits of the programmes," said Kurian.

N.C. Saxena, a member of the National Advisory Council, says the respective ministries executing these programmes will not be happy either. “These ministries want patronage by states, which will naturally diminish if the number of schemes are reduced," said Saxena. He, however, said given that absenteeism among staff is high and professional competence low in states, the Chaturvedi panel’s recommendation makes sense. The report has been sent to respective ministries and states for their views. A copy of the draft report has been put up on the Planning Commission website.

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