Take Development to the People

The devolution of finances directly to the people’s elected representatives with the authority to determine themselves how that money is going to be spent can change the face of the nation, says Mani Shankar Aiyar

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Mani Shankar Aiyar, AICC Convenor
Rajiv Gandhi Panchayat Raj Sangathan

There is no country in the world, which has a larger resource base in terms of manpower for resourcing Indian social democracy. Irrespective of how effective institutions of local self-governance are, we do have close to 300,000 institutions, which enjoy constitutional status, constitutional sanctity and constitutional sanction. We have elected as many as 3.2 million representatives in local bodies. There are more representatives democratically elected at the grassroots in India than the population of about 30 or 40 member States of the United Nations. The number of elected representatives is almost equal to the total number of adult voters in Norway or in New Zealand. Of these 3.2 million elected representatives, as many as 1.2 million are women. There are more elected women in India alone than in the rest of the world put together. Almost 86,000 women hold office as either the President or the Vice President of their respective local bodies. When the share of women guaranteed in our local government institutions increases to 50% then that number would start topping 100,000. There is no other country in the world where 100,000 women are charged with the duty of looking after most of the essential requirements of the people who constitute their community. This is political empowerment on a scale that is without precedent in history and without parallel in the world.

There is no other country in the world where 100,000 women are charged with the duty of looking after most of the essential requirements of the people who constitute their community

We have these resources for social democracy in India penetrating into every village of our country upwards. They exist not because somebody has nominated them or because they were born into the job but because the community in which they live is the one that is choosing them. The extent to which they have to be responsive would be illustrated by the fact that whereas before all this if there was no water in your tap or the waste was not running in your drain you had little alternative but to go to the bureaucracy or possibly even to the minister in the State capital to get your grievance rectified. Whereas every day and every night the Sarpanch in the village finds that his personal door is being knocked at with some one or the other in the community asking for grievance redressal. But the bureaucracy prefers to keep it to itself, which means a few thousand people in place of a few million people. And the political class says what happens to me if my powers of patronage are taken away or devolved to somebody else. Frankly, the progress that we have succeeded in making over the course of the last 20 years or so is miraculous given the hurdles that are there in our way. It was in Kerala that a major beginning was made in people’s planning. People’s planning exercise has actually involved bringing NGOs, experts, enlightened individuals into an organic relationship with elected community representatives in the Panchayati Raj Institutions for them to make an assessment of what each community’s needs are as well as to prioritise them. In consequence of that about 40% of the plan outlay in Kerala is actually planned for and spent by the people’s representatives in consultation with and reporting back to their respective Gram Sabhas. Politics there actually involves participation in community decision making and as a result of such community decision making, a State like Kerala which is relatively deficient in financial resources does not feel any constraint of administrative resources because no one is running the administration for someone else. The administration is being run by the people for themselves, at least to the extent of 40%. It may be that we could move a further 60% but when one sees that states largely concentrated in Hindi belt are not getting even 2 or 3% of their plan funding to decide themselves how to use it and to be responsible for using it and you have the institutions of Panchayati Raj without being endowed with funds, functionaries, functions, one gets disheartened. The Sarpanch, therefore, very quickly gets co-opted by the bureaucracy that result in Sarpanch Raj and not Panchayati Raj there.

The problem of service delivery and public goods delivery at the grassroots to the people who seem to need them is not at all a matter of corruption leeching the system; the real fundamental problem is that our steel frame is very reluctant to allow any of the powers to be taken away from them. It says that if there are 139 schemes to be delivered to the poor of India, there will be 139 separate administrative silos to deliver them. They will also ensure that the silos are completely insulated from each other.

We have invented a system of providing houses to the poorest of the poor, the dalits, under the Indira Awaas Yojana. Then we have a separate scheme called the Total Sanitation Campaign under which we provide toilets to exactly the same benighted poor. We have not had the wit to combine the two schemes to provide houses with toilets to the poor. We cannot do it is because the Indira Awaas Yojana (IAY) is run by the Department of Rural Development and the Total Sanitation Campaign is run by the Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation and each of them has a Secretary who wants to know why should I give my toilet to the other Secretary and the other Secretary says why should I give my house to this Secretary. There is absolutely no convergence.

Figures received by us in the Standing Committee on Rural Development indicate that the highest percentage of households that have actually received a hundred days of work under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme (MGNREGP) is in the State of Tripura where 36% of the eligible households have actually received a hundred days of work that also means of course that 64% haven’t. But in the highly progressive states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, where employment is rampant and unemployment unknown, the percentage of eligible households that has actually got a hundred days of employment varies from 2% to 8%. In answer to a query by me as to how many are, therefore, entitled to the dole which according to the law is to be paid if work is not provided within 15 days, I was told that the lowest figure is in Kerala where one person on one occasion got one day’s dole, and the highest achievement is in Jharkhand where 1,544 man-days of doles were actually added.

If the Sarv Shiksha Abhiyaan i.e. the education for all programme does not have adequate funds to put on labour to build schools, why not link it with the MGNREGP and get many more classrooms built? Impossible.Therefore, we find that there are not only insulated silos but also an impossibility of convergence. For the District Education Officer sees no reason at all why he should release even one paisa to the Gram Panchayat President who is nominally in-charge of the MGNREGS. In the absence of this convergence, there is no multiplier effect.

Oxford has produced an extraordinary report on multidimensional poverty, which measures poverty on several different parameters. You have income poverty, calorific intake poverty, housing poverty, education poverty, health poverty and they have discovered that all these different types of poverty are inter-related with the result that even if you act on one of the elements it has a multiplier effect on other elements.

In light of this it should surely be obvious that all our programmes for the poor should be merged into one single programme and delivered in the shape of resources of money to resources of our social democracy i.e. elected representatives at the grassroots.

The Planning Commission, which is engaged in preparing the 12th Five Year Plan now, says the plan will focus on inclusive growth. I am happy to note this. It is going to make a huge difference because the 139 silos are taking up on an average 85% of the funds that are provided on administrative costs. Kirit Parikh who was a member of the previous Planning Commission told me that he had done a study which was a serious study and proved that Rajiv Gandhi was completely wrong, it is not 85% that goes into administrative costs, it is 83%!

What is the maximum extent of corruption that a lowly elected Panchayat representative can indulge in, perhaps 15% that will still leave 85% for the people? Today a BDO can certify that he spent Rs 35,000 on building a bus stand but a Sarpanch who says that the bus stand has been built will be asked in the Gram Sabha, “But where is it?” It does not require CAG’s exertions. The villagers know it themselves whether the bus stand has been built. They themselves ask why does it cost Rs 50,000 here when the same bus stand has been built in the next village at Rs 35,000 and the answer that soon comes out is because the Sarpanch gave the contract to his son-in-law. Social audit will certainly limit the amount of corruption that can be indulged in. Administrative costs of up to 85 per cent can then be reduced by sending the resources to the people and allowing convergence to take place at their end and for priorities to be determined by each community instead of being set at higher levels and because they will then have a sense of ownership, they will be far more demanding in asking for accountability. This is how you can ensure genuine mobilisation of the resources of Indian social democracy.

In the current budget, out of the Rs 6,000 billion Central Plan Outlay, Rs 1,600 billion is for the social sector. The social sector outlay has increased by about 18 or 19 times from 76 billion in 1994 budget. Yet India’s position in UNDP’s Human Development Index has remained where it was in 1994 (134) because the money has continued to be delivered through 139 insulated silos. We must bridge the gap between the second highest rate of growth of GDP in the world and the highest level of infant mortality in the world, the highest level of maternal mortality in the world and malnutrition at the level of 47% for all children under the age of 5 caused by anaemia infecting 9 out of 10 pregnant Indian women and adding more hungry millions to our population every year than the rest of the world put together. All this fascination with the GDP growth rate needs to be replaced by a recognition that even if incomes cannot be made to grow so fast for 836 million people at least their basic entitlements of public goods and services could be sent to them in a different manner. One manner is smart cards and UID numbers. But you are still left with the problem as to who is entitled to what UID number.

All our programmes for the poor should be merged into one single programme and delivered in the shape of resources of money to resources of our social democracy

How one can be proud of this India where there are 126,740 Indian families that have wealth in the amount of 477 billion dollars when 77% of our people are having a consumption level of less than Rs 20 a day.

We need to take development to the people. The resources for social democracy are to be found in every village and town of our country. If whatever is to be sent to poor goes in monetary terms, i.e., the devolution of finances directly to the people’s elected representatives and they are given the authority through the devolution of functions to determine themselves how that money is going to be spent and the functionaries are placed under the political control of the political authority in exactly the same way as civil servants in Delhi or the State capitals are required to work to the direction of the political authority we will have such an explosion of welfare at the grassroots level that the face of the nation will change. Then I will be proud of being an Indian.

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