5. Local Level Administrative Arrangements for the Implementation of Anti-Poverty Programmes.
In the last two sections we have discussed at some length, certain aspects of the Integrated Rural Development Programme, the National Rural Employment Programme and the Rural Landless Employment Guarantee Programme as instruments of poverty alleviation in the Sixth Five Year Plan. The implications of these programmes in administrative terms at the cutting edges is enormous. In fact, one programme after another is cascading on a rather weak and shaky development administration left behind from the days of ‘Community Development’. It is, therefore, necessary to discuss the problem of administrative reorganisation particularly at the bottom level.
Under the Community Development Programme, districts were divided into certain blocks, having 80 to 100 villages with a population varying from 60,000 to 100,000. The normal staff pattern of a Block Development Office consisted of one Block Development Officer (BDO), 8 Extension Officers, 10 Gram Sevaks (village level workers) and 2 Gram Sevikas (lady workers). Thus, at the operational level, apart from the BDO, there were 8 subject-matter specialists and 12 village level workers. That apart, there was a complement of ministerial staff to support the BDO in his staff work. The Community Development (CD) went through three stages: Stage I, Stage II, and Post-stage II. After the third phase from the middle of the 1960s, the CD administration got into gradual disuse. In the States where the revenue administration was strong due to prevailing raiyatwari system, the revenue administration reasserted its pre-eminence and gradually the CD pattern was dismantled. In the States where revenue administration at the gross-root was not so strong, the CD pattern continued as a part of the general administration of the district with functions other than development. Thus, by the middle of 1970s, the structure of development administration at the block level either ceased to exist or became very feeble and fragile. More schemes with heavy financial implications and physical workload are being superimposed on this weak structure. An example will illustrate the point. During the entire stage I & II of the CD programme, the total amount of development expenditure in 10 years per block was Rs. 17 lakhs. On an average, it meant yearly expenditure of Rs. 1.7 lakhs. Today, with these programmes on, the minimum level of expenditure per block will be around Rs. 25 lakhs a year. Thus, a set up which was geared for expenditure of Rs. 1.7 lakhs a year and to look after broadly spatial and functional programmes is now required to handle a much more intensive type of activity with expenditure content of Rs. 25 lakhs a year. This is the sad state of development administration that we have today for anti-poverty programme.
There is no point in talking of coordination, linkages, management information systems, and all the management jargons unless the basic root organisation is sufficiently strengthened. In the CD period, the basic activities related to area development and certain extension functions. There was no intensive household oriented activity. Under IRDP, as we have already seen, in every block 600 households in the poorest decile have to be identified and their investment absorptive capabilities have to be judged; thereafter, schemes have to be developed suited to their management ability and inherent skills. This is to be followed by micro projects being sent to the banks for scrutiny and sanction. After the sanctioning of loans alongwith the matching subsidy, income generating assets have to be procured and handed over to the beneficiaries. The matter does not end here. In an ideal situation the beneficiary household has to be nursed till it becomes economically self reliant; their products, if any, have to be sold and inputs bought a reasonable prices. The host of economic activities which a normal business unit gets done through market mechanism has to be done for the poor households by development administration. Who does it? In reality, no one. Because of lack of knowledge and confidence on the part of the beneficiaries and because of absence of any institutional support, “a whole host of ‘development middle men’ have sprung up who cheat the beneficiaries in the name of sharing of illegal gains with the bureaucracy to facilitate sanction or acceptance of household oriented scheme.”1 The situation calls for urgent remedy.
That apart, there is the programme of NREP, which means preparation of a shelf of schemes relevant to the peculiar areas in each block or in each cluster of villages, getting them technically vetted, getting the work started, supervising the work at every level to ensure that the proper payments are made in cash and in kind and that the workers from appropriate categories participate in this programme and ultimately to see that the work is properly executed, and durable community asset is created. In an ideal situation, it has also to be ensured that the assets so created give economic benefits to the poorer sections of the community. In case the assets are created in private lands some recovery has to be done from the private parties who are small, medium, and large farmers. And this is a continuing process with the scope and intensity of each item of work going up. There is no wonder, therefore, that there are complaints that the best of intentions of the planners at the top are not being properly implemented.
Another figure will indicate how fragile is the structure. During the last stage of CD, the total number of blocks was 5,238. The Sixth Plan started with 5,001 blocks. The number today is to 5,092. Thus, the total number of blocks today is less than what is was during the CD programme. With about 20 times workload given to them at the block level, today, the average block has one BDO, three to four Extension Officers, 4 to 5 VLWs. This has happened mainly because most of the States have opted for “T & V” system in agriculture, and half of the VLWs have gone to the agricultural side. That apart, the line departments have, by and large, asserted through supremacy resulting in snapping of horizontal linkages at the block levels. With the workload going up at an exponential rate at the Block level every state is coming up for strengthening of the block structure each according to its own idea. Some States are coming forward for Extension Officers (IRDP). Some have given proposals for Extension Officer (Credit), some want joint BDO, others additional BDO and so on. As a result a chaotic administrative pattern is emerging so far as the block is concerned. It is, therefore, high time that the block structure is reorganised keeping in view not only the present work load but also the scope and intensity of activities it would be required to handle in the corning 10 or 15 years. By and large, IRDP and some form of rural employment programme have come to stay in the Plan on a continuing basis. As it is, the Sixth Plan Document says that the incidence of poverty has to be brought down to 10 per cent by 1994/95. Thus, a perspective of two Plans is already envisaged in the Sixth Plan. In this background, the whole programme of rural development set up at the lowest level (that is, block level), has to be thought of afresh, giving up ad hocism to the extent possible.
The structure that requires to be built up should be such that it can take sufficient load with very little additional staff except on project basis. Today, NREP provides for 5 per cent of the expenditure for staff. The RLEGP provides for another 5 per cent for staff. The IRDP provides 10 per cent of the expenditure for staff at district level, that is to say, for District Rural Development Agency. For a typical year, say 1984/85, it would mean 20 crores for RLEGP, Rs. 23 crores for NREP, and roughly Rs. 40 crores for IRDP. That means that a total of Rs. 83 crores is being earmarked for staff component of the programmes on a yearly basis without any schematic pattern. So, no one knows what is exactly happening at the gross-root level. Obviously, for a systematic functioning, a sound structure which can take the load of work, as and when it comes, has become essential.
The first issue to be reemphasised in the revamping of the block structure is the restoration of the pivotal role of the BDO as it was in the CD days. It is necessary for establishing operational horizontal linkages with the line departments whose activities should converge on the poor households as well as the poverty groups. Obviously, the BDO cannot any longer be a junior officer. He should be a member of the senior State Civil Service which is not the case in many States. The hard core of Extension Officers should represent various component activities of anti-poverty package of programme. There should be specialists for dryland farming, forestry, minor irrigation and water-shed management, roads and building construction, adult education, animal husbandry and the like. Strong linkage has to be established with the banking system. Therefore, either a man from the bank or a State Civil Service Officer, who has some training in Cooperative and Banking system has to become Extension Officer (Credit). Monitoring has become very important, and there is a large data gap. Hence, there is a need for an Extension Officer with statistical training to be exclusively in charge of monitoring of activities at the block level. Today, some blocks have Progress Assistants; some do not. Preliminary data regarding all these activities are being generated at the block level. If data are not correctly classified or collated at this level, no amount of sophistication at the top can hide or fill-up the gap. Hence, it is essential that a strong Statistical Wing is developed at this level to throw up the necessary information and data on the basis of which policy corrections can be made at the District, State, and the Central levels.
The aim of the programme is poverty alleviation. If the programme succeeds there is bound to be certain degree of conflict of interest with those who have been enjoying the fruits of development so long. A reorientation of attitude is essential for the development workers and officers about the genesis, philosophy, concept and mechanics of this programme. Without this, because of the possible linkage with the rural vested interests, many of the programmes may wither away at the implementation stage. So, a training programme has to be developed very systematically to fill the need of the new types of programmes. This applies more importantly to the VLWs who should be assigned, apart from territory, certain households. A pattern has developed with regard to attaching households to a VLW in “T & V” system. But since in the case of IRDP, intensive supervision and nursing of households is required rather than mere disseminating knowledge and technology as in the case of T & V, the number of households has to be much less. Ideally, not more than 100 households should be attached to a VLW. This would, of course, mean a fairly large increase in the cadre of VLWs. But, because of the type of activities that are envisaged, if excellence of quality is to be ensured, there is hardly any shortcut.
At the district level, we have a chaotic mosaic of committees, agencies, boards, and all that for coordination resulting mostly in utter confusion. In any district, there are at present at least a dozen of such committees functioning with overlapping membership as well as with overlapping functions. Perhaps, to cut it all short, the DRDA concept was brought in with Collector as a chairman and all line departmental heads in the district as members with a Secretariat of its own under a Project Officer. But, in addition to this, we have the Zila Parishad, the District Development and Planning Council, the District Industry Centre, the District Manpower Council, the District Level Credit Coordination Committee and many others. In fact, with every department or activity, there will be a counterpart District Council or Board existing somewhere.
For the core rural development activity, it is necessary that only the District Rural Development Agency (DRDA) should be the authority to execute the schemes through the block agency. A very high degree of planning is required to identify the type of development that is possible and necessary for each area. Disaggregation of activities of various authorities at district and block levels is necessary to find out the employment potential of the normal activities of the line departments so that there is no scarcity of labour in one area due to a conglomeration of various developmental activities there and lack of employment elsewhere because of absence of such activities. RLEGP and NREP instruments have to be used to restore a balance of employment generation in all blocks in every State. Thus, planning has to be done in two parts: one for the anticipated activities of the normal development agencies with a calculation of the duration and the extent of employment that will be generated, and another for the creation of durable assets through RLEGP and NREP and generation of adequate level of employment so that the basic concept of 100 days of employment to at least one member of each landless household is realised either through the special programmes or through the normal programmes. This is easier said than done. But unless this is worked out in great detail the thrust of the programme will be lost or dissipated in having the old famine code type of test work.
Districts would require a high degree of competence in planning, directing and technical supervision. A Planning Cell should be associated with the DRDA so that it could function as an effective plan formulating project implementing and monitoring agency. It should have a very strong Statistical Wing with an inter-disciplinary Inspection Team attached to it to evaluate certain types of activities that are being carried out in the blocks. Apart from collating the data from the blocks, critical analysis of the quality of activities has to be done in concurrent manner by this organisation.
Where Panchayati Raj institutions exist and where regular election to such institutions take place, it will be desirable and necessary to fully involve these institutions at block levels as well as at the district level for formulating the basic plans as well as in ensuring that the implementation is being done on the correct lines. A popular check on implementation through popularly elected representatives is a great corrective to any bureaucratic aberration. No set pattern can be suggested as to how these linkages have to be established. It will very largely depend on the political set up of any particular State to enmesh the functioning of development bureaucracy with Panchayati Raj institutions. What requires to be highlighted is that institutions which are elected through adult suffrage and where elections take place regularly, they should have a strong voice, both in plan formulation and plan implementation.
A comprehensive poverty alleviation programme cannot have any fragmented approach. The special poverty alleviation programmes should be viewed as tools additional and supplementary to the normal programmes that are going on in the State and the District. It would be futile to expect that with 5 to 10 per cent of plan allocations, anti-poverty programmes would wash away the sins of other activities which might induce greater disparities or differentiation of income distribution. Attempt should, therefore, be made to ensure that the benefits accruing through these programmes also reach the poverty groups. The most important items required apart from income employment generation is education, health, water supply, and housing for these groups. These are covered under the minimum needs programme and are administered by the line agency often totally separated both at the district level and at the State levels with the programmes of poverty alleviation. Agriculture itself provides possibilities of spin-off effects on the poverty groups, even though they may be landless. The segregation of agriculture through T & V from the main rural development set up has created hiatus at the lowest level which is very difficult to bridge. At the State level, it is desirable to have a department with a very senior officer as it was in the time of CD to coordinate the activities at the policy level of the various line department which should converge on the poverty groups to ensure adequacy of income and enrichment of ‘quality of life.’
At the national level what is required is a clear delineation of focus. What exactly is the intention and objective of programme should be sharply laid down; and after allocation of funds are done, it should be left to the States to carry out the programme. From the Central level there should be continuous dialogue with the States to ensure that the national objectives are fulfilled through the implementation both at the district and block levels. Joint inspection with the Central and the State officers of various schemes would ensure the quality of performance and the necessary degree of uniformity all over the country. Beyond laying down policy and supervising the activities, there should be, as far as possible, no further interference to the functioning of the district and block level development set up.
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