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Rural Development and Poverty Alleviation Programmes

Poverty-Alleviation Programmes

Poverty had declined substantially in 1980s. Proportion of people below poverty line declined from 54.9 % in 1973-74 to 36 % in 1993-94. However, recent estimates suggest that the projections on reduction of proportion and number of people below poverty line made in the Ninth Plan have not been realised in the first two years of the plan period.

This may be due to: sluggish agricultural growth which was also less well spread out; labour absorption did not increase hence slow down in growth of real wages; failure of poverty alleviation and watershed development schemes; continuance of certain policies that act against the interest of the poorest, especially tribals; inadequate reach of TPDS to the poorest in the northern and eastern states; fiscal crisis caused by the V Pay commission that led to reduced ability of the states to spend on social sectors; limited growth of rural non-farm sector; and poor governance.

Integrated Rural Development Programme (IRDP) evaluation points: sub-critical investment; unviable projects; illiterate and unskilled beneficiaries with no experience in managing an enterprise; indifferent delivery of credit by banks, overcrowding of lending in certain projects such as dairy; under emphasis on activities like trading, service and even simple processing, poor targeting and selection of non-poor; rising indebtedness; scale of IRDP outstripped capacity of government and banks to absorb.

Integrated Rural Development Programme-Allied Programmes: TRYSEM not dovetailed with IRDP. Non-existent training centres, non-payment of stipend (Chhapra study). DWCRA did well in some states (AP, Kerala, Gujarat).

Sawarnjayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana (the successor to IRDP) aims at micro-enterprises with emphasis on cluster approach. It is a credit-cum-subsidy programme. Focus on self-help groups. In the past, subsidy orientation leads to corruption and distortion of objectives. Too early to evaluate.

Jawahar Rozgar Yojana evaluation points: inadequate employment (11 days as per concurrent evaluation); thin spread of resources; violation of material-labour norms; corruption (fudging of muster rolls). Projects were executed by contractors who sometimes hired outside labourers at lower wages. Positive aspects: durable community assets and empowerment of gram panchayats. Redesigned in April 1999 as Jawahar Gram Samridhi Yojana. Primary aim now rural infrastructure. Employment is secondary. Too early to evaluate.

Employment Assurance Scheme. Initially demand-driven. Funds went to better-off states. Evaluation by PEO: scheme is being executed through contractors in most of the States in violation of the central guidelines; the norm of 60:40 for wage and material is not maintained; the genuine muster rolls are not being maintained by the Gram Panchayats. Family cards have not been issued; the system of registration of job seekers with Gram Panchayats is not in vogue; Central norms of earmarking, 40 per cent of funds for watershed development and 20 per cent for minor irrigation, have not been followed.

From April 1999 restructured as the single wage employment scheme; became allocative; 30% of funds allocated to district reserved for areas suffering from endemic labour exodus/areas of distress. Need to shift focus only to backward areas; should not be a universal scheme.

NSAP. Well-targeted. Fewer leakages reported. Needs more resources.

Delivery mechanism. A major weakness in the implementation of poverty alleviation programmes has been the lack of adequate participation by the people for whom the programmes are meant. There should be emphasis on the role of PRIs and NGOs.

State Initiatives do better because of better ownership and flexibility in the design of programmes to suit local conditions. Examples: Gokul Gram Yojana, Apna Gaon Apna Kaam, Kudumshree.

Rural Housing : Indira Awaas Yojana (IAY) became an Independent CSS from 1.1.1996. Free of cost houses are provided to below poverty line families. Unit cost is Rs.20,000 in plain and Rs.22,000 in hill/tribal areas. Updation of existing houses at a unit cost of Rs.10,000 is now permissible. A new component of credit-cum-subsidy has also been added. In any given village/block/district it would take a long time before all the families are covered. This is dividing the poor instead of helping them to organise into groups. Despite orders, gram sabhas are not active in deciding beneficiaries.

Land Reforms : Access to land is still critical for employment and income generation in rural areas.

Access to land is possible through liberalisation of leasing, but leasing-in should be limited to small and marginal farmers. In areas characterised by feudal/semi feudal modes of production, there is need to further strengthen the existing laws for security of tenure of the poor.

Alienation of tribal land continues unabated but needs to be arrested.

Gender inequality exists in both inheritance laws and land laws. Suitable Amendments are required to make inheritance laws to agricultural land more gender equal.

There is need to update land records and to computerise them to make access to information easier.


Basic Minimum Services

Public Distribution System and Food Security

Despite hefty increase in the annual food subsidy from Rs.2,450 crores in 1990-91 to Rs.9,200 crores in 1999-00, all is not well with Public Distribution System in India. There is 36% diversion of wheat, 31% diversion of rice and 23% diversion of sugar from the system at the national level. TPDS does not seem to be working in the poorest North and North-Eastern States.

The allocation of poorer States such as UP, Bihar and Assam got more than doubled, as a result of shifting to TPDS, yet due to poor off-take by the States and even poorer actual lifting by the BPL families, the scheme has not made any impact on the nutrition levels in these States.

There is lack of infrastructure and shortage of funds with government organizations in most States except the few in West and South. Adequate infrastructural capacity, in addition to funds, should be ensured at the district and block levels, otherwise wasting scarce resources through leakages helps only contractors and corrupt Government staff, and does not in any way help the poor.

Some other problems associated with the scheme besides illegal diversion are : poor do not have cash to buy 20 kg. at a time, weak monitoring, lack of transparency and inadequate accountability of officials implementing the scheme, and price charged often exceeds the official price by 10 to 14%.

In spite of foodgrain production going up from 175 million tonnes to 206 million tonnes in the 90s, the growth rate in availability of foodgrains per capita has come down to (–) 0.28% per annum as compared to a growth rate in per capita availability of 1.20% per annum during the 1980s. Further, the food consumption of the poor in India has gone down in the last 10 years (and is at least 33% below as compared to per capita consumption of the top 10%). This is a very serious matter taking huge public stock of foodgrains into account. There is a strong case for using these stocks for reducing rampant malnutrition among the vulnerable sections of the society.

The challenge is to reduce foodstocks to roughly half its present level and use it for reducing malnutrition, without adversely affecting the food security. This would need several legal and policy changes, which would make markets less distorted than these are at present.

To take full advantage of a common market, there is a need for Central Act to ban controls and restrictions on all kinds of trade in agricultural commodities within the country. Common markets, all over the world, are coming into vogue transcending the political boundaries of the nation States. Limiting the size of the common economic space of the vast country, is against the current economic trend and needs to be discouraged. The entire country should be treated as one big market.

While it would be expedient to continue with support price for agricultural produce like wheat, paddy, cotton, etc., the need to abolish or phase out levy or monopoly purchase should be considered. Levy acts as a tax on the processors which is then passed on to the producers/consumers. Government should buy rice for its public distribution system through an open tender system.

Remove licensing controls on Roller Flour Mills and other food processing industry in the States.

Food Corporation of India should be allowed to intervene in the market for foodgrains within a predetermined price band with a view to moderate prices as well as to facilitate management of its surplus food stocks.

Essential Commodities Act should be scrapped at an early date. At least, wheat, rice and sugar should immediately be taken out of its purview.

Sugar should be fully decontrolled and taken out of PDS.

The ban on Futures Trading of agricultural commodities should be lifted. This will help in containing the wide fluctuations in commodity prices, besides cut down the cost of marketing by hedging their risk.


Watershed Development: Rehabilitating Degraded Lands and A Means of Sustainable Development

The estimates of extent of wastelands range from 76 million hectares to 175 million hectares. Up to the end of Eighth plan period, 16.5 million hectares of rainfed/degraded land have been treated/developed under different schemes. However, these achievements do not get reflected in the data for Net Sown Area, which has almost remained stagnant at around 142 million ha for the last thirty years. This indicates that either the treated lands were already under cultivation or an equal area is getting degraded or diverted for non-agriculture purposes, or there was no sustainability of the efforts made. The possibility of bogus reporting also cannot be ruled out. Allocation to Watershed Development Programmes has been considerably enhanced in the 9th Plan. NABARD has also set up a fund in 1999-2000 to cover 100 districts within 3 years under watershed development approach.

Watershed Development Programmes are being implemented by several departments of Government of India, often with different guidelines leading to confusion. Even when approach or guidelines are common, sanction of funds is done by different departments and each does separate monitoring. The need for ‘a Single National Initiative’ has been felt for some time, and was also articulated in the 1999-2000 budget speech of the Union Finance Minister, and in the President’s Address for 2000-01. This should be implemented.

Evaluation reports have shown that watershed projects cannot succeed without full participation of project beneficiaries and careful attention to issues of social organisation. This is because success depends on consensus among a large number of users. Moreover, collective capability and action is required for management of commons and for new structures created during the project. Then the costs and benefits of watershed interventions are location-specific and unevenly distributed among the people affected. Unfortunately most projects have failed to generate sustainability because of the failure of government agencies to involve the people. Field staff has no incentive to make the effort to pursue participatory approaches. Pressure to spend substantial resources by a fixed deadline does not enable peoples’ capability to develop. Strict orientation to achieving physical and financial targets discourages project authorities to promote peoples’ participation. It is imperative for successful implementation of the watershed projects that people participate in the planning and execution of the project from the beginning. This would also inculcate a sense of ownership among the people. Similarly, issues of equity need to be incorporated in the design of the project itself to ensure projects sustainability. There is continued insecurity about availability of funding at the grassroot level, as there is no guarantee that funds would be released in time by the GOI or other funding agencies. Other problems are:

There is no arrangement for handing over of structures and maintenance of plantation after a project is completed. Therefore, sustainability of projects gets impaired.

In the present form, schemes are left to be planned and executed by district level officers. The capability of district level officers to do planning and to prepare a good project is extremely limited. There is a need to train both the government officials and functionaries of agencies which take up watershed projects. Moreover, once it is realised that senior officers from the divisional and State capital take no interest in such schemes or their interest is limited to monitoring of financial expenditure alone, the quality of project preparation and of implementation suffers a great deal.

There is little impact assessment or evaluation of physical progress after the scheme has run for a couple of years. It is taken for granted that once money has been spent, physical progress automatically results. One can never be sure that soil conservation structures may not last for more than a few years, or plantation may not survive.

Programmes are run departmentally with vertical compartmentalization. Horizontal linkages between various line agencies at the district level are very weak. Thus, although watershed development may require integration of soil conservation techniques with plantation, there is little likelihood of effective coordination between the District Soil Conservation Officer and the District Forest Officer.

A new Department of Land Resources has recently been created in April, 1999 by merging the schemes of area development, such as DPAP, DDP (Desert Development Programme) and watershed development/soil conservation/social forestry part of the Employment Assurance Scheme with the present Department of Wastelands Development. In order to ensure that past mistakes are not repeated, the new Department would have to lay greater emphasis on performance. Capacity building of grassroot organisations in planning, monitoring, implementation and marketing should be the future strategy. There should be constant monitoring, evaluation, impact assessment by external experts. NABARD, MANAGE, NIRD, etc should be involved in this exercise. High priority should be given to rejuvenation of village ponds and tanks, and recharge of groundwater.

It is important to look at forest lands, non-forest pastures and wastelands and crop lands in an integrated manner. This is often not done as treatment upstream to reduce soil movement does not benefit large farmers who are downstream. They see no advantage and are indifferent or opposed to this strategy. They would prefer to conserve and harvest water in the drainage line so that it can be used directly for irrigation or to replenish groundwater. However, lands in the upper catchment should be rehabilitated first for at least three reasons. First, so that the landless and the poor who depend on upper slopes can benefit; groundwater recharge begins at the earliest; and third, by the time the lower catchment is treated any debris and erosion running down from the upper catchment has been minimised.

Despite problems there are many successful stories, especially in the states such as Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh where state initiatives have been taken. Characteristics of successful and sustainable projects such as Ralegaon Siddhi, revival of johad in Alwar, Sadguru Water and Development Foundations activities in Gujarat, Watershed Development in Jhabua and Sagar districts of Madhya Pradesh are: the emphasis on social issues, social mobilisation, clear direction to Government machinery to accept principles of participatory management, visible project monitoring and strong sense of ownership by the local community.


Decentralisation – Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs)

Under the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992 Panchayats have been constituted after elections in all the States except Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Bihar, and UT of Pondicherry. In the States of Haryana, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, second round of elections for PRIs have been held recently.

Many State Governments are yet to transfer the three Fs i.e. Funds, Functions and Functionaries to PRIs as mandated by the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act.

The recommendations of the State Finance Commission (SFC), by and large, pertain to share of taxes which are less buoyant. No linkage between devolution of funds to panchayats and their responsibilities. It would be better if the panchayats are given the responsibility to collect certain taxes, and devolution from above is linked to their own tax effort.

In many States, PRIs have not been empowered by devolving developmental functions on them. In Andhra Pradesh and Haryana government departments continue to deal with the subjects earmarked for PRIs. Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh have transferred Subjects to PRIs recently. In addition, the staff of the Line Departments handling these subjects has also been transferred to the Panchayats. However, little is known about the effectiveness of panchayat control over the staff.

District Planning Committees (DPCs) constituted only in Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Sikkim,Tamil Nadu,Tripura and West Bengal. Haryana and Karnataka have set up DPCs only in a few districts.

Many States have not yet spelt the powers of Gram Sabha. Qualifications and exceptions in exercise of powers of Gram Sabha have undermined their authority in many States. Meetings of the Gram Sabha are held rarely. However, in some States, at least two meetings of Gram Sabha in a year are mandatory. Recommendations of the Gram Sabha are binding on Gram Panchayat only in Kerala and Madhya Pradesh.

The Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 (PESA) extend Panchayats to the tribal areas of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Rajasthan to enable the tribal society to preserve and conserve their traditional customs and rights. Bihar has not enacted a State law to extend provisions of PESA to Scheduled Areas.

As per the Act, the Gram Sabha/Panchayat are given mandatory powers, powers to be consulted, powers to recommend and powers to enforce prohibition, ownership of minor forest produce, prevent alienation of land in the Scheduled Areas and control of local resources for State Plans including Tribal Sub Plans.

Implementation of PESA is hampered by most State Governments and there is reluctance to enact State laws that conform to the letter and spirit of PESA. Review of the State Acts shows that most State Acts have assigned a less prominent role to Gram Sabha/Panchayat in Scheduled Areas than was intended by PESA. In Orissa, Gram Sabha/Panchayats have been given very few powers. In many States, powers earmarked for Gram Sabha/Panchayats have been entrusted to Taluka and Zilla Parishads.

Forest products such as cane, bamboo, mahua seeds have been excluded in almost all states from definition of minor forest produce which renders the gram sabha powerless to exercise any control over MFPs. This is against the Central law.

Evaluation Findings

There are instances of harassment by Block level officials. Systems which require Gram Panchayat Pradhan / Sarpanch to approach Block office for funds and/or technical approval need to be drastically changed. Village bodies should be able to spend funds on their own without having to take technical approval from government officials. However, in many States, Village Panchayats have been authorized to take up projects up to Rs.50,000/- and in Kerala, up to Rs. 3 lakhs without Government approval.

In spite of various drawbacks and lacunae in constitution of PRIs, and the fact that political leaders even at the PRI levels tend to imbibe the political culture of that state, there are many instances where village Sarpanches have done commendable work in improving the social and economic life of the common people.

Reservation of constituencies by rotation for different groups has led to a very short term view being taken by the elected representatives as they have no prospect of re-election.

On the whole, the ordinary village people feel optimistic about the potential of panchayats, but they think that it has not brought the fruits of development to them. Corruption is singled out as the most important cause for the ineffective functioning of these institutions. Control which is exercised by the sarpanch and Block Level officials over the village panchayats and gram sabhas has not only buttressed corruption, but it has also led to pessimism that villagers at their own level cannot change and improve performance because of heavy dependence on elected functionaries or Block officials. However, many success stories have been reported where enlightened Gram Pradhans have made significant contribution to the development of the villages. Devolution of powers and functions to Panchayati Raj Institutions is a step in the right direction and overtime these Institutions are expected to emerge at strong Centres of local governance responsive to the needs of the village community.