District administration in 2020 has flourished across India. Every year we conduct the annual State of Governance review to see how states have performed over the past year. We study the triumphs and challenges of governance and the impact of administration on citizens’ lives. Today, over a year since the world came to a crashing halt, we have more insight into the challenges we face, both as a nation and as a global community. We can finally begin to imagine a world freed from the pall of the pandemic. As we undertake our annual review, the most dominant theme, of course, has been the Covid-19 pandemic.
As we studied governance through, despite and in response to the global healthcare crisis, we began to notice a few interesting patterns. It stands to reason that a world-changing phenomenon like this will affect governance at the macro and micro levels – but exactly how did it do so? A new development is the robust manner in which district administration in 2020 really came into its own.
For 2020, a large number of impactful schemes have come from the District Administration niche. Our evaluation process is the most comprehensive, balanced and transparent independent authority of its kind. Expert juries, peer review committees, focus groups and discussions make for a rigorous appraisal and ranking procedure. We welcome participation from all over the country. In fact, a whopping 196 districts participated this year. Nearly a 100 of these projects were found to be transformative. This signals a shift in currents from 2019, with its far more modest showing.
We have ranked states on the basis of district administration in 2020 as well, in addition to our annual states’ ranking. The Top 10 states on the basis of performance at the district level are:
|State Rank by District Administration||State Name||No. of Districts Per State||No. of Districts Ranked|
District Administration In 2020 Highlights
SKOCH assesses overall state function but this time we’ve decide to delve a little deeper. A closer look at the District Administration segment has thrown up some interesting trends. To begin with, projects in response to Covid-19 account for the lion’s share (19.51%) of District Administration in 2020 initiatives, which is understandable given the situation. In addition, we’re seeing administrations prioritise long-term goals in the wake of the crisis. Equally heartening, the Water subcategory comes in strong with 16.76% of total DA-level projects, followed by non-Covid healthcare schemes at 16.46%. Furthermore, Education and General Administration have done better as well, as have the Agriculture, e-Governance, Swacch Bharat and Skill Development sectors.
A bird’s eye view of state performance from 2015-2020 using our primary research data shows District Administration has grown by approximately 4.4 times from 2019 to 2020. As can be seen from the following table, 40.34% of the total projects ranked in 2020 belong to the District Administration niche.
|Shifting Governance Priorities: State Governments From 2015-2020|
|Projects Ranked Per Year (%)|
|Ease of Doing Business||0.74||0.00||0.00||0.00||0.00||0.00||0.22|
|Finance & Revenue||0.12||0.92||1.24||2.63||4.05||10.09||2.06|
|Food & Civil Supplies||0.00||1.28||1.44||0.00||0.00||0.00||0.52|
|Governance (General Administration)||2.83||7.88||2.06||8.88||9.80||9.21||5.73|
|Police & Safety||12.92||9.34||1.44||0.00||3.04||0.00||6.44|
|Power & Energy||2.21||3.30||2.47||0.00||0.00||0.00||1.80|
|Social Justice & Social Security||0.00||0.00||0.00||1.97||0.00||0.00||0.22|
|Tourism & Culture||0.00||0.37||0.41||0.00||0.00||0.00||0.15|
|Women & Child Development||1.35||1.47||1.65||2.30||0.00||0.00||1.27|
|Total number of projects studied||813||546||485||304||296||228||2672|
|Response to covid %||24.97%|
|Numberof Projects related to Response to Covid||203|
Amongst the hundreds of schemes and projects studied, we found 87 to be the most noteworthy. We used the same evaluation and ranking process we use to study state function and assessed these to be noteworthy performers. Shown below is a sector-wise analysis of the most transformative projects at the district level.
Districts Respond Proactively To The Covid Crisis
16.66% of the most impactful projects from 2020 were in response to Covid-19. The fundamentals of fighting the pandemic -lockdowns, social distancing, the use of masks and sanitisers, testing etc., – are universal. What’s especially interesting is district administrations are getting creative. They have gone beyond basic governance blueprints and shown real initiative. Many local authorities devised innovative solutions to the healthcare crisis and the challenges it raised.
Khagaria District Administration Contains Covid Spread
The District Administration of Khagaria, Bihar, has done exceptional work in response to the pandemic. The local authorities shared that the Lancet identified Khagaria as one of the most vulnerable of Indian districts in 2020. Despite grave odds, the administration exceeded expectations with stringent lockdown, social distancing and migrant-quarantining protocols. In addition, they used innovative crisis management solutions such as boat ambulances to service flood-affected areas. Consequently, relief camps and community kitchens could receive aid. Consequently, Khagaria managed to keep the mortality rate down to 0.25% with a recovery rate of 97%. It was the second-last district of Bihar to report a positive case. The district administration proactively introduced a screening routine for at-risk populations such as media persons, government staff, banking staff, healthcare workers and Self Help Groups.
Mirzapur Prioritises The Underprivileged
Mirzapur in Uttar Pradesh made the news early in the pandemic with several Tablighi Jamaat members testing Covid-19 positive. Firstly, the district administration worked actively to conduct contact tracing for each patient. They enforced enforcing lockdown protocols strictly, while ensuring the delivery of essential products and services. Additionally, they started a control room to receive calls from people for information and assistance. The administration also launched 20 community kitchens to cover each block/ tehsil, a 24*7 operational community kitchen zilla panchayat and 13 mobile vans to make sure nobody went hungry during this time. Moreover, village Pradhans of 809 Gram Panchayats, under the guidance of the District Magistrate and Chief Development Officer, took the initiative of feeding the underprivileged in their communities. As a result, Mirzapur ranked second in the country for rations distribution, providing raw materials to 3500 people each day.
Burhanpur Builds Trust Through Communication
Burhanpur, Madhya Pradesh, is an example of how information and knowledge are often the most powerful tools in one’s arsenal. The District Collector’s office held media briefings daily. Constant communication proved reassuring, augmenting people’s trust in the government. In addition, it helped fight misconceptions about the pandemic. Apart from traditionally frontline workers, the local administration also enlisted the help of teachers to spread information about the situation. Fever clinics and mobile medical units prioritised early reporting and home testing. Better isolation facilities and a 24*7 helpline encouraged people to report more. The administration has also been sensitive to the emotional and mental toll the pandemic took on people, offering counselling services to those affected by the virus. Police counselling patrols were organised to support neighbourhoods. The Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh has congratulated the local administration for its robust response to Covid-19.
Basti Women Find Employment In The Pandemic
Lady Tailors of Basti, Uttar Pradesh displayed immense grit, resourcefulness and community spirit at the peak of the pandemic. 1.09 lakh labourers returned home with the lockdown. As a result, families in the district suffered from the loss of income. Rallying around a shared sense of responsibility, the women tailors began sewing masks. They sold 2.5 lakh masks at a time when the essential commodity went out of stock all over the country. Realising the potential of these women, the Basti District Administration called on them to make PPE kits. The women worked in new sewing centres to make and sell 7500+ kits. The state government awarded the SHGs the responsibility of producing school uniforms. This offered an unparalleled employment opportunity to the local residents.
The authorities established 81 decentralised sewing centres, 2 cloth-cutting centres, 4 centres for fixings and interlocking and 14 Block-level packaging and storage centres. Pravasi Mazdoors working as tailors in industries and bigger cities trained the local women. The women received skills training, supply chain management, capital investment opportunities and improved mechanisation infrastructure. 1500+ lady tailors and 175 Pravasi Mazdoors worked in Basti through the pandemic and sold over 2.5 lakh uniforms. The women have set their sights on bigger goals now, specialising in niche fashion design and manufacturing opportunities. They are also planning to foray into the e-commerce landscape soon. The women tailors are an example of the AtmaNirbhar Bharat spirit encouraged by PM Modi.
Non-Covid Successes Of District Administration In 2020
Creativity is catching if the district administrations’ performance is anything to judge by. The spirited response to Covid-19 has echoed across non-Covid niches as well.
Nabarangpur Focuses On Agriculture
The Office of the Collectorate, Nabarangpur, Odisha has made progress in the Agriculture segment. 90% of the local population is dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods. Frequent natural calamities and tough weather conditions have made life very difficult in the region. Both the national and state governments have designed many schemes for the same. Local authorities launched the “Farm Based Scientific & Technological Intervention for Socioeconomic Development” scheme to offer more assistance.
The primary idea is to introduce technology to the landscape in keeping with available resources. The project intends to introduce better seeds, post-harvest processing, value addition, skill development opportunities and new cash crops. Improving the nutritional intake of people and optimising water resources is also a project goal. Farmers have become more adept at using modern tech and machinery and their incomes have increased while overheads have fallen. Local employment opportunities are rising. With greater earnings, people can now enjoy better healthcare and educational access.
Thoothukudi District Administration Gets ODF Status
Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu is setting an example in the Swacch Bharat category with a project tackling the problem of open defecation in the district. 463 Sanitation Motivators worked with authorities and several departments came together to build 2,52,735 Individual Household Latrines across the district. Thoothukudi has the highest ODF ranking amongst all TN districts. The district is paving the way for Tamil Nadu to become an ODF state. Public Line Toilets have been built for homes without the adequate space. Community toilets are being fitted with solar panels for hot water supply. There are also dedicated toilets for children and those with physical disabilities. To keep the surface clear of wastewater, underground drainage systems have been built. To reduce water waste, household water is being used in kitchen gardens. The project aims to improve water usage, environmental impact, and personal and public health and hygiene.
Namsai District Administration Pushes For Better Education
Quality education has long been a concern in Namsai, Arunachal Pradesh. The district once ranked in the bottom three in the state for learning. With a predominantly tribal population and heavy migrant labour community, developing the educational facilities is a priority. The Humara Vidyalaya scheme is a monitoring and motivational strategy that involves appointed officers evaluating school performance. The officers’ duties include identifying infrastructural and human resource gaps. They note attendance, promote hygiene standards, assess learning outcomes and encourage extracurricular activities. The real-time needs assessment has helped better plan and deploy resources for development. There has been increased attendance and all stakeholders, including parents, are now more involved. Appreciation from the authorities is motivation to improve. This has fostered an environment of friendly competition, with schools making a distinct effort to perform better.
Baran District Administration Improves Aanganwadi Monitoring
The Aanganwadi Pulse Inspection scheme is an impactful Non-Covid Health project from Baran, Rajasthan. Regular assessment is critical for Aanganwadis so that their target populations can receive uninterrupted services. This includes children and pregnant and lactating women. The project boasts the highest number of centres inspected in one day. It also involved most government officials at Aanganwadis in a single day. Project staff used Google forms in real-time and a record number of time-stamped photos taken. The daily opening rate of Aanganwadis has gone up by 20%. More than 90% remain open every day. This has directly empowered beneficiaries who are more aware of the facilities available to them and able to access them better. Around 1,50,000 people -10% of the district population- have benefitted. API is a Zero Cost project: training, logistics and promotion require minimal investment. It’s a simple, cost-effective way of kicking existing systems into high gear.
Covid-19 And The Impact On Governance
The question on everyone’s mind: what changed in 2020 that district performance accelerated so in such a short time? Short answer: Covid-19 happened. But there are so many layers to understanding and assessing governance that can it really be as simple as that? The pandemic is the most potent phenomenon to affect the world this past decade. But it’s not enough to just know that: we wanted to understand how and why and what it means for administration going forward.
To begin with, the top tiers of government too functioned differently in 2020. To illustrate: Centre and State leaders communicated most passionately and frequently with people this past year. In particular, PM Modi’s national addresses helped unify the nation. In like fashion, Chief Ministers too spoke with their constituencies more. The country’s leaders are more visible and engaged than ever. Granted that as the crisis deescalates these interactions must be scaled back but there are some key lessons to be adapted. After all, the power of intense messaging and approachable, sensitive authorities is the sort of transformational leadership we need more of.
Government schemes to encourage progress at every level of public life have always existed. What’s changed is people’s awareness of them, of the stakes and of the importance of prioritising shared interests. People have learned of different government mechanisms available to them. They have also learned how to leverage them resourcefully. There has been a palpable shift in the collective psyche from a recipient/helpless mentality to a more responsible and energetic citizenry.
The case studies mentioned above barely scratch the surface of how district administrations have taken an initiative this past year. It’s easy to see that governance has to adapt to local contexts to be effective. The insight offered by residents of a particular community will always trump second-hand interpretation of information. Truly effective government schemes are scalable. This means there is room for adaptability on either end and both top-down and grassroots-led schemes have potential. But it cannot be denied that a stakeholder-led effort at the lower tiers of governance this past year has induced growth in a time of stagnation.
District Administration In 2020 And The Decentralisation Debate
One can’t help but wonder if districts are setting an example for change at the macro level. 2020 taught us that even the most complex systems can be made flexible when forced to do so. Is there perhaps potential to scale up the innovativeness and resilience shown by district organisations? Could we implement new models and mindsets at the State and Centre levels? There is no denying the role of the Centre in leading the country out of the crisis. State government laid the foundation for relief and recovery programs and normal functioning. And yet, there is something to be said for a truly-federal system where smaller units of governance are not only allowed but also encouraged to take ownership of their own function and health.
Political pundits have debated the pros and cons of decentralisation for decades now. This past year has taught us that for the effectual delivery of government services, public cooperation and engagement in decision-making is critical. The case studies discussed above have a few things in common: innovative thinking, hands-on implementation, proactive effort, willingness to take initiative and responsibility. We need to encourage such traits if India is to move up the ranks as a superpower and developed nation. The following table depicts how each ranking district has fared nationally as well as within its own state.
|SKOCH State of Districts 2020|
|National Rank||District||State Rank||State|
|7||Udham Singh Nagar||1||Uttarakhand|
|15||Ambedkar Nagar||3||Uttar Pradesh|
|16||Dakshin Dinajpur||2||West Bengal|
|16||Rewa Division||2||Madhya Pradesh|
|16||Udhampur||1||Jammu & Kashmir|
|16||Noida Authority||4||Uttar Pradesh|
|24||Kulgam||2||Jammu & Kashmir|
|24||Kupwara||2||Jammu & Kashmir|
|24||Reasi||2||Jammu & Kashmir|
|24||Sri Muktsar Sahib||3||Punjab|
|24||YSR District||5||Andhra Pradesh|
|25||Budgam||3||Jammu & Kashmir|
|25||Diu||1||Daman & Diu|
|25||Doda||3||Jammu & Kashmir|
|25||Samba||3||Jammu & Kashmir|
|25||Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar||4||Punjab|
|25||South West Delhi||3||Delhi|
|25||Uttar Bastar Kanker||3||Chhattisgarh|
|25||West Garo Hills||1||Meghalaya|
|25||West Khasi Hills||1||Meghalaya|
Governance In The New Normal
Even as we look at datasets, statistics and policies, there is one factor that stands out above all: human nature. It may seem odd to speak of it when discussing political function but can the two every really be divorced of one another? What is the point of administration if not to serve people? The human spirit has historically proven to be the most powerful factor when societies are plagued by challenges. We can question why district administration and governmental projects could not have been as dynamic before 2020 -and it would be a fair question at that- but the fact is that the will of the people in times of emergency and the desire to serve shall always be the cornerstone of great change.
It is a notional argument, but one we have seen take shape all around us this past year. On the one hand, it would be too cynical to say that there is nothing like a crisis to bring people together. And yet, the fact is that when the stakes are so high and the risk of not trying harder is too frightful to contemplate, people will rise up to the occasion. This past year, we saw a marriage between political will and public cooperation. We saw different branches of the governance system working together for the same cause with enhanced coordination like never before. The heightened level of national awareness, mobilisation of police forces and the easier availability of funds and emergency resources has obviously acted as a catalyst of sorts for district administrations to do better.
The following table shows how different states and UTs have ranked in 2020 as per their performance in the district administration niche:
|20||Jammu & Kashmir (UT)|
|27||Daman and Diu|