Renu Pokharna

Archive for the ‘Centre-State Relations’ Category

State returned central aid for key schemes

In Bureaucratic Delays, Centre-State Relations, Education, Gujarat on April 6, 2012 at 5:59 am

While the state government often accuses the Centre of withholding financial assistance for various programmes, it turns out that 67% of the central grants for 2010-11 allocated for Kanya Kelavni, the prestigious annual girl child education campaign by the state government, was returned to Delhi because they could not be used, says the CAG report recently tabled in the state Assembly.

Kanya Kelavni is one of the several schemes that figures in a elaborate list of 86 “substantial surrenders”, where 75% of the total central grants worth 1,500 crore meant for various schemes were surrendered due to their non-implementation or slow implementation.

Kanya Kelavni was launched 2003 and it is inaugurated every year in June by Chief Minister Narendra Modi, after which his team of officers travel to remote villages to encourage parents to enrol girl children in schools.

The government’s official publication claimed that because of the Kanya Kelavni and Shala Praveshotsav, drop-out rate in 1-5 grade came down to 2.09% in 2010-11 compared to 20.93% in 2000-01.

Most of these cases where grants were partially or fully surrendered relate to education projects like Rashtriya Madhyamik Shikshan Abhiyan scheme, computer literacy studies in schools, Gujarat Teachers Education University, Saraswati Yatra, Gujarat Technology University and development of engineering colleges.

These figures have come to light in the audit report of appropriation accounts by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), which notes that there has been 100% surrenders of grants in 22 of the 86 cases of “substantial surrenders” (involving more than 50 per cent of the total provision or more than Rs 1 crore) during the financial year 2010-11.

“Out of the total provision amounting to Rs 1,543 crore, almost Rs 1,168 crore was surrendered, which included 100 per cent surrenders in 22 cases amounting to Rs 138 crore,” says the CAG report.

Apart from education projects, grants for improvement of justice delivery in the state, cyclone mitigation and setting up emergency response centres were also returned.

The entire Rs 20-crore grant for the state government’s disease control programme for foot-and-mouth diseases was returned since the vaccination campaign could not be carried out for want of vaccines.


6 April 2012, Indian Express

Errors of Commission

In Bureaucratic Delays, Centre-State Relations, Civil Services Reforms, Macroeconomic Policy, Poverty Eradication on March 20, 2012 at 9:32 am

The Planning Commission is not an institution. It is a syndrome. It, often unconsciously, operates on assumptions that no longer have much plausibility. It has lost much of its credibility as an interlocutor in India’s debates. During the recent controversy over the poverty line, the commission was often accused of being “out of touch”. Much of the discussion focused on the poverty line, and the uses to which it should or should not be put. But it is also clear that the Planning Commission has ended up in a cul-de-sac because its institutional mission is incompatible with the governance requirements of the 21st century.

The Planning Commission has gifted individuals. There is no reason to doubt their commitment to India’s growth prospects and the well-being of the poor. But we need to ask: why has it lost authority? Part of the answer may require excavating a whole range of illusions it has fallen prey to. The Planning Commission has long been a victim of its own name. It has this illusion that it can neatly order India’s economy. It does so, but often as a kind of conjuring trick, where real credible objectives disappear under a set of entrenched assumptions.

First, the commission exhibits great confusion over ends and means. The Planning Commission’s goal should have been to end poverty. It needed to work backwards from that end to ask the question: what instruments are necessary? Instead it picked on a bizarre intellectual construction, the poverty caps, and defended those with the zeal of a politburo. So you got a strategy where a commission told you how many poor you could have, independently of the means of identifying them. Instead of focusing on the objective, it made holding a line its raison d’etre. The illusion of targeting became more important than the achievement of objectives.

The Planning Commission arrogated to itself the role of a quasi-ombudsman, whose job became “just say no”. It is difficult to find any major innovative social sector scheme — whether it is food, health, employment or education — whose intellectual origins were in the Planning Commission. Instead of taking the lead on how socially desirable objectives could be met, its entire approach was to act as a kind of fiscal police. As a result, it completely ceded the initiative in the social sector space to other actors and now does not have a leg to stand on.

The commission does not plan. It creates the illusion of planning. Planning ought to be future-oriented. The Planning Commission ought to be a space to think at least a decade or so ahead. But in almost every field the commission has touched, it ends up bringing a strangely pinched-up imagination to planning. Ever wonder why our infrastructure always looks like it was based on yesterday’s realities, rather than future needs? Somewhere, in the explanation, the Planning Commission’s penny-wise, pound-foolish conception of its role will figure prominently. But the other issue with planning is this: we often confuse plans with a statement of objectives. A plan not only requires a destination, but all the series of steps that will get you there. These steps have to be embedded in a range of ground realities from finance to administrative capability. The commission’s abilities to internalise these ground realities in the steps it proposes have become even shakier.

The commission’s penchant for standardisation extends to its own proposals. Take, for example, its current obsession with public-private partnerships. These are worthy instruments. But there are huge questions about sectors in which these should be applied, and the terms that define a good PPP. But the Planning Commission now has an unenviable track record of indiscriminately advocating them in areas where there is less compelling justification for them, and on insisting on standard models for these. Again, rather than work backwards from an objective to an instrument, the commission seizes on an instrument as a fad.

The commission, as the late economist Amaresh Bagchi used to remind us, is a big detriment to the development of states. It narrows the space of state governments to set priorities on expenditure. It is pre-empting more resources. It has an in-built bias towards standardisation and homogenisation. India is now a diverse and fast-moving economic space. Planning that does not have flexibility or responsiveness to local conditions is designed to fail. But it is bizarre to think that we can have supple planning without giving more autonomy to states, cities and local governments. Yet, the Planning Commission, in the end, peddles the illusion that without its omniscient choices and conditionalities, anarchy would ensue in the states. Nothing is farther from the truth.

The commission mistakenly believes that inclusive consultation can be a substitute for inclusive governance. It is has to be said, the commission’s consultative reach has become truly impressive. But institutionally this consultation produces odd outcomes. For, on the one hand, it allows the commission to check every box. Most approach papers have all the bases covered. You can never accuse the commission of not discharging its responsibilities. It can point to the right phrase as evidence. But on the other hand, this inclusive approach makes the central goal of planning obscure. Planning is not simply about stating all the good things you want. It is about explaining the hard choices that need to be made. These are often implicit in the financial allocations the commission makes. But these financial allocations often bear little relationship to the overall strategic direction.

Admittedly, the commission has a difficult task. It is now located amidst a thicket of actors. The prime minister has very little authority to throw his strategic weight behind the commission. The task of aggregating diverse views into a plan is not easy. To the commission’s credit, it is engaging in a lot of self-examination and trying to be more experimental. Plans are required. But the commission is still not reconciled to the fact that the very scale at which it plans militates against innovation. And by not giving ministries, state government, local governments enough space or ownership, it dooms proposals to failure.

The commission has taken a dazzling array of talent and sucked them into this illusory world of its own making. Thought leaders who should have been at the cutting edge of thinking about growth, or a new welfare architecture, or new data, have now become the object of easy scorn. They may not be personally out of touch. But the institution they serve is ill-fitted for the times we live in.


The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi


6 Oct 2011, Indian Express

A solid sense of security

In Bizarre Laws, Bureaucratic Delays, Centre-State Relations, Politics on February 22, 2012 at 6:03 am


It’s not just the NCTC — we need to provide a statutory basis and oversight mechanisms for all our intelligence agencies

The protest by eight chief ministers, characterising the Union government’s decision to give powers of search and arrest to the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC ) under Section 43 (a) of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act 1967 as an assault on federalism, comes in the wake of a “sticky bomb” attack that injured an Israeli diplomat in the high-security Lutyens Delhi. The attack, perhaps, is a precursor to the export of a new wave of terror to India. In any other democracy, both the decision and the attack would have triggered a larger debate about the nature and functioning of our law enforcement and intelligence structures.

India’s counter-terrorism structures and operational capacities to pre-empt and prevent terror attacks suffer from both design flaws and capacity constraints. The complete absence of a consensus on national security issues turns debates into slanging matches, replete with political and communal overtones. It is not surprising, then, that the rhetoric of zero tolerance against terror has never turned into an operational reality.

In sharp contrast, a survey of global counter-terrorism efforts reveals that nothing has been allowed to stand in the way of crafting an effective pre-emptive response to terror. After the Munich Olympics outrage, counter-terrorism through the use of military, law enforcement, intelligence and other resources to identify, circumvent and neutralise terrorist groups has been among the principal security concerns of Germany. The counter-terrorism effort in Germany is directed by the federal coordinator for intelligence, who reports directly to the German chancellor.

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, a national counter-terrorism centre was created at the federal level by the US government, with the 2004 intelligence reform legislation, to serve as the primary organisation responsible for the war on terror. Its objective was straightforward — ensure that terrorists do not strike again. The rationale — focus all elements of national power in the fight against terror by clearly delineating national priorities, breaking down inter-agency barriers and overriding federal qua state jurisdictional issues.

Similarly, Spain in the wake of the Madrid train bombings in 2004, and Britain after the London bus bombings in 2005, have substantially beefed up their counter-terrorism structures. Britain has an organisation called National Counter Terrorism Security office, exclusively dedicated to this purpose. In Russia the National Counterterrorism Committee (NAK) is tasked with coordinating all federal-level anti-terrorism policies and operations with the powers to intervene at the federal, regional or even municipal level. Even Sweden has designated its security police as the lead agency in the fight against terrorism. Most of these countries, in addition to being democratic, have strong federalist impulses.

What was required was a national organisation exclusively tasked with confronting every part of the terrorists’ life cycle, from radicalisation to recruitment, financing to training for an attack. The decision, therefore, to establish the NCTC by drawing executive power from Article 72 of the Constitution and empowering it under the UAPA, needs to be understood and located in this security environment.

However, the decision to create such an institution through an executive order and locate it within the Intelligence Bureau (IB) does raise certain valid concerns, given the tenuous legal basis of our intelligence structures, the lack of an independent oversight mechanism and the atmosphere of permanent political distrust in a polarised polity.

In response to a Parliament question in July 2009 pertaining to the legislative act from which the Intelligence Bureau draws its right to function, the government came up with this: “The Intelligence Bureau figures in Schedule 7 of the Constitution under the Union list”. When pressed that this may not be an appropriate answer, the government emphatically reiterated: “The Intelligence Bureau finds mention at S.No.8 in the Union list under the 7th Schedule of the Constitution of India”.

Entry 8 in the Union list enunciated in the government’s response merely gives it the legislative power to enact a statute to bring a Central Bureau of Intelligence to be called by whatever name (IB or BI) into existence. A mere mention of a subject in the laundry list of legislative powers neither gives an organisation life nor legitimacy. Unfortunately, no such law has ever been enacted by successive governments since the commencement of the Constitution.

Similar is the case of India’s external intelligence service, the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW). Responding to a Parliament question about the law/statute which enables the R&AW, the government admitted that there is no specific statute governing its functions or mandate. However, a formal charter listing the scope and mandate of the R&AW governs its functioning

Contrast this with the position in other countries. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was created by the National Security Act of 1947 and is empowered by the Central Intelligence Agency Act of 1949. MI5, the domestic intelligence service of the United Kingdom, draws its legal authority from the Security Services Act 1989, and its sister organisation MI6, or the SIS, from the 1994 Intelligence Services Act, thereby subjecting its activities to the scrutiny of the British Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee. The Foreign Intelligence Service of Russia draws its legal basis from the Law on Foreign Intelligence Organs 1996. The German Federal Intelligence Service Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) draws its legal sustenance from the Federal Intelligence Service Law 1990. Its activities are supervised by the Parliamentary Control Commission (PKK) for intelligence services, which in turn is empowered by the law over the Parliamentary Control of Intelligence Activities 1978.

The current challenge should be turned into an opportunity, both by the government and by Parliament, to provide a statutory basis and an oversight mechanism for our intelligence agencies. A template in the form of a private member’s bill introduced by me in the Lok Sabha entitled “The Intelligence Services (Powers and Regulations) Bill 2011” already exists. The NCTC can be incorporated in omnibus treasury legislation with statutory safeguards that clearly delineate the role of state governments in this existential struggle. This should be in addition to the operational standing council NCTC order 2012 seeks to create. This would prevent the bogey of federalism from derailing the fight against terror.


21 Feb 2012, Indian Express



Karthik Muralidharan: India’s states can be laboratories for policy innovation and reform

In Centre-State Relations, Macroeconomic Policy on December 12, 2011 at 10:00 am

While there is a lively ongoing debate on the merits of the Centre’s attempt to increase the FDI limit in multi-brand retail, the most important innovation of the proposed policy may not be about retail at all, but rather the provision that it will be up to the states to decide if they want to allow it. In other words, the Centre is not imposing a policy as much as getting out of the way and allowing states that want to experiment with FDI in retail to do so, while states happy with the status quo are not forced to make any changes.

This is an important landmark in policymaking in India. It points the way forward on many contentious policy issues where there is lack of consensus at the national level. Inevitably, any major policy reform will have reasonable arguments both for and against (regardless of whether it is reform of labour laws, cash transfers, or public-private partnerships to improve service delivery). Reforms also create winners and losers, and it is not surprising that the losers will oppose these reforms, even if they improve aggregate welfare. The combination of plausible public-spirited reasons for opposing reforms, the interests of prospective losers in opposing them, and a governance system with multiple veto points creates a strong bias in favour of the status quo.

The question of whether a specific reform is welfare-enhancing is typically an empirical one. But how do we generate data on the impact of reforms if it’s politically risky to try them in the first place? One option is to reduce the risk of making a mistake, by reducing the size of the jurisdiction where innovations are tried out. If debates in Delhi are going to decide policy for over a billion people, the stakes are very high: opposition is more entrenched, and the high level of risk-aversion to mistakes magnifies the status quo bias.

Using the states as laboratories for policy innovation makes sense for several reasons. The first is simply that this provides 28 settings for experimentation as opposed to just one, allowing a greater diversity of ideas to be tried out at lower risk. Second, Indian states are large (the 10 most populous would be among the 25 most populous countries in the world) and have enough scale to be autonomous policy-making entities on many issues.

Third, there is great diversity among states’ political leaders, and corresponding variation in their priorities and their abilities to build coalitions for specific reforms. Thus, while most reforms might not take place in all states, each state will likely attempt at least some reforms — and each major sector will see some reforms somewhere. Finally, the locus of political accountability is increasingly shifting to the states, which provides an incentive for states to copy good ideas and compete for investments and jobs.

The central role of competition among political jurisdictions and the imitation of successful ideas in long-term growth is illustrated by a powerful historical example.

Consider the case of China and Europe in the 15th century and the question of where we should have expected greater technological progress. Surely China had the advantage: not only was it already more advanced then, but it also was a unified political entity. Resources weren’t being wasted on internal wars — unlike in highly fractured Europe. Yet research by economic historian Joel Mokyr suggests Europe had a key advantage — the possibility for experimentation across political jurisdictions, with rapid imitation of successful ideas, whereas the uniformity across China limited the scope for experimentation, making mistakes much more costly.

A striking example of this is the history of seafaring. The Ming dynasty decided to ban ocean-going ships to limit smuggling. Of course, this had several unintended consequences, including limiting China’s exposure to the rest of the world and its ideas. Columbus, meanwhile, looking for patrons to fund a westward sea journey to the east was turned down by Portugal (where he went first), but found favour in Spain, enabling the discovery of the New World by Europeans. Of course, all leading European powers (including Portugal) then quickly embarked on their own westward sea voyages. China on the other hand, stayed isolated from the world for centuries after the decision to ban oceangoing ships.

The lesson is that well-intentioned policy mistakes are inevitable, but making these mistakes in one big country is much more costly. Not only do you make a mistake for a larger jurisdiction, but the lack of a self-correcting mechanism means that it takes much longer to figure out that you may have made a mistake. The Portuguese mistake was less costly than China’s because the Spanish got it right — and it was easy to learn and adapt from a neighbouring country.

The implications for India are obvious. Not allowing FDI in retail may be correct, or may be a big mistake — but deciding to not allow FDI at the all-India level means that we will never really find out if this is an error. A more promising approach is to reduce the structural risks of reform, and for the Centre to support experimentation by states to better understand the impacts of specific reforms, and to then facilitate knowledge transfers across states that enable scaling up successful reforms. Proceeding with second-generation reforms in this manner is both economically and politically prudent.

The Government of India’s approach to FDI in retail should set a precedent for providing an enabling environment for states to drive the next generation of reforms. The NDA, which has a stronger tradition than the Congress of supporting greater autonomy for states, as well as state leaders, should take this opportunity and work with the Government of India, in the national interest, to evolve a structure that lets states lead on reforms.


11 Dec 2011, Business Standard

Central schemes likely to be trimmed

In Centre-State Relations, Poverty Eradication on September 25, 2011 at 3:19 am

After extensive consultations with various central ministries, Planning Commission has decided to recommend a reduction in the number of Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS) by almost two-thirds to 51 from the existing 147. Although the Plan panel is against winding up any of flagship programmes, yet agriculture and human resource development ministries are likely to see their schemes either trimmed down or merged in the 12th Plan period.

In its present form, the Centre funds 75-90 per cent of the schemes, while the state government bears the remaining expenditure. However, the CSSs have been a cause of friction between the Centre and the states. Most states have made their displeasure clear by asking the Centre to restrict its role to providing funds while allowing them to implement state-specific programmes.

On the demand of certain chief ministers, the Planning Commission had constituted a high-level committee under its member BK Chaturvedi, which had recently submitted its report.

The report is understood to have been approved by the commission in its internal meeting Saturday evening. The commission will seek the endorsement of the National Development Council on the proposed CSS setup in its meeting on October 15, sources in the commission said.

The Chaturvedi committee has recommended that the number of schemes in the farm sector should be reduced to nine from the existing 30, while key programmes like National Food Security Mission and National Horticulture Mission be retained.

It has recommended the number of schemes in the animal husbandry and dairy department be reduced to three from 15.

It proposed the number of CSSs in school education and literacy be reduced to four from the existing 17 programmes. Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and Mid-Day Meal Scheme could be retained as per the Plan panel.

In a recent consultations with chief ministers, the commission was told that CSSs are increasing the burden on the states as every state has different geographies and separate needs. Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and his Gujarat counterpart Narendra Modi are reportedly in favour of ending the CSSs.

The commission, in its Draft Approach paper, has also pitched for earmarking flexi-funds within the flagship programmes to allow central ministries to experiment in different areas.

The paper, drafted after consultations with states, suggests improving the overall level of governance for better implementation of the CSSs and flagship schemes.

Commission member Mihir Shah, who oversees the social sector, said, “There is a need to overcome the universalisation without quality syndrome. The quality on outcome has not been attained as the implementation of different schemes have remained business-as-usual.”


19 Sep 2011, Indian Express


Plan panel looks to bypass states hijacking centre’s schemes

In Centre-State Relations on June 3, 2011 at 7:52 am

Concerned over the increasing cases of states taking credit for centrally funded schemes, the Planning Commission has outlined the need for reaching out to targeted beneficiaries through a direct interface with them.

The Plan panel has highlighted the need for overhauling the “systems for informing the people of their rights and entitlements” through a calibrated information strategy. With general elections barely three years away, the concern is all the more discernible.

None of the Five Year Plans, so far, had any such message of a direct interface with the people across the country on their entitlements. In a note prepared for the chief ministers ahead of the commencement of regional discussions with them, the Panel has suggested that major efforts should be launched to enlighten the masses, especially the under-privileged, about welfare measures by the Centre.

“In course of our interactions with the civil society organisations, we have been told that there is very little ground level awareness about the Commission or the Centre’s role in implementing various schemes. This is primarily because the systems of informing the people of their rights and entitlements are very poor and often exclusionary,” a top Plan panel official told The Indian Express.

The planning body has been reported about attempts by state governments hijacking the credit for many centrally-funded schemes in their favour.

In Karnataka, for example, the Congress registered a similar complaint with their high command recently. They said while the city received Rs 7,000 crore under various heads of the flagship Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, the signboards of the projects carry the JNNURM logo very small while highlighting the state government’s role.

In October, last year Prime Minister Manmohan Singh vented his displeasure with the Nitish Kumar government in Bihar for doing the same.


Indian Express, 30 May 2011

Similarly, the Shivraj Singh Chouhan regime in Madhya Pradesh had once ordered that representatives from the Centre should take permission for any functions relating to the state.

The Planning Commission has even recommended roping in civil society organisations to design the programmes through wide consultations.

“The information dissemination machinery needs to be entirely recast. We need a direct interface with the people to ascertain their feedback better on these schemes meant for them,” the official said.

In case of the Integrated Action Plan, the Commission had recently deputed its advisors to the states to have a real time feedback.

The Commission has also held that those responsible for implementing the schemes on the ground were inadequately informed about their responsibilities compounding the problem.

Accordingly, the Plan Panel has suggested setting up complaint recording and redressal systems at arm’s length from the delivery systems. “Government departments engaged in related areas tend to work in silos. We perhaps need much better mechanism for converging the activity of these departments,” the official added.

After the win, the agenda

In Centre-State Relations, Corruption, Politics on November 30, 2010 at 6:12 am

The last Nitish Kumar government presented annual report cards to the people of Bihar. This time round, the chief minister has indicated that the government’s work may be up for internal review in six months. The six-month review may or may not take place but in Patna’s secretariat, it has already unleashed a frisson. As preparations were afoot for the grand swearing-in at the historic Gandhi Maidan on November 26, secretaries in key departments were urgently overseeing the preparation of the agenda for the next five years. There was no time to be lost, especially in areas that Nitish had prioritised in his poll campaign. In his second term, Nitish will have the political room to set his own pace. This, after all, is an election in which Bihar’s voters have elected a government, but no opposition. The fact that no party has notched the number of seats required to be anointed the main opposition party in the new House—Lalu Yadav’s RJD has won only 22 against the required number of 25—does not fully capture the story of the terrible decimation, not just of the RJD, but also of the Left forces, now huddled into one seat, and the Congress’s spectacular failure to relaunch.

But realistically speaking, Nitish will have two to three years before the clock starts ticking louder for Lok Sabha polls 2014. Two to three years in which to move towards “sampann Bihar” without any distractions, and to give a meaning to “sushasan” that is larger than the assurance of personal security and road connectivity. The gains made on these two fronts are on their way to being normalised. In his second term, Nitish must match his stride with the vaulting popular aspirations he himself awakened in his first.

If in the first five years, the work of setting up of a system where none existed was accompanied by a certain flourish and spectacle, the hard labour of the second term is likely to be of consolidation more than creation. It will be conducted in a quieter place, less invested with publicity and drama. In many areas, what is now required is the honing of delivery of an already existing basket of schemes.

There is another crucial difference this time. In the past five years, Nitish’s attempts to bring back the state into the business of building public goods in Bihar had to be feverishly tempered by his compulsion to craft a political constituency of his own through specially targeted schemes, transfers and reservations for the sections he courted—the extremely backward castes, Mahadalits, Pasmanda Muslims and women. This time, however, Nitish will have more room for manoeuvre in this respect as well.

As a senior cabinet minister in Bihar puts it, “Ab bacha kaun?” In other words, between Lalu and Nitish, all the political mobilisations that were possible on the basis of identity in a state of raging caste inequalities, have arguably been exhausted. Nitish showed great political ingenuity in his first term in identifying and addressing each and every group and sub-group left unattended after the Mandal revolution of the 1990s.

But there is a second reason why Nitish will have more freedom, should he look for it, to blur the lines and work more overtly towards a caste-neutral framework of development: the nature of his mandate spans virtually every social group. Nitish’s big win suggests that even his opponents voted for him, while Lalu’s abject loneliness today is borne of the fact that even his supporters didn’t vote for him.

Deputy chief minister Sushil Modi says that the new government’s priorities will be power and irrigation. These two sectors figure in all the lists being drawn up of the new government’s priorities. Other areas that Nitish Kumar has also conspicuously flagged in his election speeches, and that are, therefore, likely to draw special attention: reform of the public distribution system, and corruption, especially at lower levels of bureaucracy.

The challenge in the power sector is the most urgent but results here take a longer time to show. Nitish has promised to make Bihar a power surplus state by 2015.

With a thermal power installed capacity of only 440 megawatt, while the peak load is 2,500 megawatt and growing daily, Bihar is dependent on a central allocation of 1,750 megawatt. Of this, according to Ravikant, principal secretary, energy, Bihar gets 900 to 1,000 MW—1,400 MW at best—leaving a huge gap.

The problem also is, Nitish has repeatedly stressed, the Centre has not provided coal linkages for investments in the power sector in Bihar. “We will put greater pressure on the Centre in this regard, after this mandate,” says BJP minister Nand Kishore Yadav, who has now been given the roads portfolio.

The situation is expected to ease a bit after expansion work at the two plants at Barauni and Kanti is completed and there is talk of a joint venture with NTPC in Nabinagar, but that will take about three to four years to deliver. In the short run, says Ravikant, Bihar has asked for more allocation from the NTPC unit at Barh, and is actively encouraging biomass projects.

Lack of electricity has also meant that Bihar has not been able to fully utilise its large groundwater resources for agriculture. Agricultural productivity is further held back by the fact that the entire state boasts of only two large irrigation projects, on the Kosi and Gandak. “In this term, we need to develop an irrigation system. We need to make barrages, harness technological knowledge from all over the world. North Bihar has the most fertile land in the Gangetic plain. It used to be said that the second green revolution will unfold in Bihar,” says Vijendra Prasad Yadav, a senior minister in Nitish’s cabinet, who has now been given the portfolio of energy, excise and parliamentary affairs.

But while on both power and irrigation the results are likely to be slow and somewhat unspectacular, the new Nitish government has eye-catching moves up its sleeve on two other fronts—in the drive against corruption and in reform of the public distribution system.

Having sensed a building clamour against corruption in the lower bureaucracy, in all his poll campaign speeches Nitish mentioned a law with the provision that if a chargesheet has been filed against someone accused of corruption, permission can be sought for the confiscation of his property. He would open schools in those buildings, said Nitish, or use that space to create other socially useful assets like old age homes.

The Bihar Special Courts Act 2010 was sent for presidential approval where it was pending for almost 10 months. Presidential assent came in March. Since then, High Court benches have been constituted and in June, nine cases were filed against senior officials, including an ex-DGP. The law and its effects will fully unfold in Nitish’s second term.

A big idea is in the works for PDS reform. Bihar is planning a separate, independent body to create a new BPL list for the state. At present, according to government of India estimates, Bihar has 65 lakh BPL families while the state’s own surveys point to a figure of up to a crore and a half. In his election campaign, Nitish promised, to loud applause from his audiences across the state, that the state government would make up for the shortfall of foodgrain.

“The chief minister has been personally involved in PDS reform in the state,” says Tripurari Sharan, principal secretary, food and civil supplies. “Bihar PDS was in a shambles in 2005,” he says. “Now Bihar is on the procurement map. There’s been a silent revolution.” Four years ago, he says, Bihar used to lift 1,30,000 metric tonnes of foodgrain per month for PDS; it lifts more than 3,25,000 metric tonnes per month today.

There are plans to decentralise procurement. But if availability of foodgrain still remains a problem, the government proposes to give cash to the needy. This will be a step ahead of the food coupon system introduced by the Nitish government in 2007.

The Nitish government has widely experimented with direct cash transfers in its first term—for instance, the Mukhya Mantri Cycle Yojana, the scheme that gives Rs 500 for uniforms for girls and boys in classes 3,4 and 5, or the one that promises every child in the aanganwadi Rs 250. Nand Kishore Yadav claims, “We reached cash to every household, in some form or the other.” Cash transfers, he says, cut down corruption. “The Planning Commission is debating the cash subsidy, we have implemented it,” he says.

This debate could catch up with the Nitish government in its second term. “Even cash transfers can be fiddled with,” says PP Ghosh, at the Asian Development and Research Institute at Patna. “The government should focus its energies on reforming the PDS by learning from states like Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Kerala. There is no substitute for enforcing greater accountability of the bureaucracy. Cash transfers are a short cut”.

For Saibal Gupta, also at ADRI, Nitish’s big challenge will be this: “So far, he could get a dividend from the strategy of direct transfer. Now he must address the fundamentals. For instance, land records must be updated, the bataidar (tiller) must be given legal status and benefits.”

In June 2006, the Nitish government set up the Bihar Land Reforms Commission under the chairmanship of D Bandyopadhyay; it submitted its report in 2008. One of its recommendations urges legal recognition to bataidars, because “…the Bihar Tenancy Act did not recognize the vast mass of cultivators commonly known as bataidars through whom 30 to 40 per cent of arable land in Bihar is getting cultivated.”

That report was put on the backburner after it stoked a political controversy, and threatened a backlash from the landowning upper castes against Nitish. Now that fears of that backlash have proved to be exaggerated, it remains to be seen whether the second Nitish government will make its way back to that report.

A report card

What was done: Roads

In 2004-5, with the RJD government in power, the state spent Rs 133.85 crore on roads and built a measly 384.60 km. After the Nitish Kumar-led government came to power for the first time in 2005, both the money spent on roads and the length of roads increased steadily. In 2005-6, the government spent Rs 263.23 crore on roads and built 415 km. A year later, the numbers went up to 1662.93 and 984.04 respectively. In 2008-9, 2,417.14 km of roads were built
What’s left: Power

As a result of bifurcation, power generation capacity in present Bihar reduced. Only 29.6 per cent of total generation capacity remained with Bihar; the remaining 70.4 per cent went to Jharkhand. According to latest government figures, per capita power consumption in Bihar stands at 100 units against the all-India figure of 700.
Indian Express, 28 Nov 2010

After The Circus

In Centre-State Relations, Corruption, Urban Management on November 26, 2010 at 10:31 am

Off With Their Rights…

  • As many as 3 lakh slum dwellers in Delhi were evicted before the Commonwealth Games
  • When a family is evicted, each member loses many rights—the rights to livelihood, shelter, health, education etc
  • Of some 60,000 beggars on Delhi streets, more than 50,000 were removed for the Games


Forget the razzle-dazzle and the hype over the recently concluded Commonwealth Games (CWG) in Delhi. The human cost—paid, as always, by the poor—has been mind-boggling, the extent and force of its effects far greater than the corruption which has been in the media’s focus. According to the Delhi Shramik Sangathan, quoted in the exhaustive report prepared by the internationally reputed Housing & Land Rights Network (HLRN), in the five years from 2003, when India won the bid to be the host for the Games, close to 350 slum clusters housing three lakh people were demolished in Delhi. Most of these slum-dwellers had been living there for over a decade. Only a third of them have been resettled.

In fact, the homeless have had a bitter struggle ever since India won the CWG bid. Without voter IDs and ration cards, most of them were forced to rebuild their lives from the debris left by demolition drives. Their only shelter from the elements are plastic sheets and other flimsy material; the police won’t allow them to use anything more permanent. Miloon Kothari, former special rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Council and executive director of the HLRN, says,  “There is overwhelming evidence to suggest slums were demolished for reasons connected to the Games. The government lives in complete denial.”

With the Commonwealth Games declared a success, the slum-dwellers’ voice is something that Delhi doesn’t want to hear. They remain ignored and go unlamented in the din surrounding the corruption stage-managed by a public-private partnership of politicians, officials and business.
As autumn lends a nip to Delhi, residents of Shaheed Arjan Das camp, having braved the summer heat and relentless rain, wonder and wait for winter in their shelters, made of tarpaulin or plastic sheets propped with rope, lumber, loose bricks, material retrieved from the screens used to keep slums hidden from road view during the Games.

At the cluster of some 300 jhuggis along the open drain behind the swanky Thiagaraja stadium, built at a cost of Rs 300 crore for the netball events, the residents—mostly migrants from West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh—are waiting for Delhi chief minister Sheila Dixit or her son Sandeep, an MP. “We voted them to power,” says Raj Kumar, a resident of the cluster and father to five children, “and this is how they repay us!” His children had to discontinue their studies, as they had lost their home. Most residents of this jhuggi cluster have voter IDs and ration cards. Some even have passports. But they weren’t allowed to stay. There are some whose parents couldn’t survive the shock of demolition. Manoj Kumar, whose father died of shock after seeing their home razed, says, “Is there something wrong with simple dreams and hopes that clash with the hopes of India Shining?”

For those living in Shaheed Arjan Das camp, who were told in January 2009 that their homes were being demolished for a parking space, there was surprise in store: no parking lot came up. In fact, a year later, but for the open drain there’s little to prove that their slum was in the way of Games projects. “We were not informed till the last day that our homes were being removed,” says a slum-dweller.

Kothari says gross violation of the UN’s basic principles and guidelines on development-based evictions and displacement took place in not informing the affected parties and denying them a chance to seek reprieve. The guidelines aim to minimise displacement and call for alternative solutions. The guidelines are rather stringent as far as eviction goes: only in exceptional circumstance, with full justification and procedural guarantees, can people be displaced. Besides, the government must enumerate the steps to be taken by the state to protect people’s rights prior to, during, and after eviction. Comprehensive “eviction-impact assessments” are to be carried out beforehand. And compensation and rehabilitation packages must be consistent with human rights standards. According to Kothari, it’s specifically prohibited to disrupt the education of children, specially during festivals or exam time. Some of the Delhi demolitions happened during Lori, the harvest festival.

The Delhi High Court intervened when it clubbed four petitions that sought relief, rehabilitation and relocation of slum-dwellers. Former chief justice of the Delhi High Court, A.P. Shah, who was instrumental in passing a judgement that stood by the poor, says, “The manner in which the evictions have been carried out, in direct violation of the law with no prior notice, no consultation with communities, and with use of force and intimidations, and without any compensation and rehabilitation, amounts to gross violation of the right to shelter, right to livelihood and a host of other human rights.”

The judgement, passed with Justice S. Murlidhar on February 11, says: “…it is not uncommon that in the garb of evicting slums and beautifying the city, the state agencies in fact end up creating more slums.” Shah says Article 19, which guarantees that citizens can move freely around the country, is being trampled upon when the state pushes people out of specific regions or cities. In particular, the judges observed: “It cannot be expected that human beings in a jhuggi cluster will simply vanish if their homes are uprooted and their names effaced from government records. They are the citizens who help rest of the city to live a decent life; they deserve protection and respect of the rights to life and dignity, which the Constitution guarantees them.”

Ironically, the judgement has been referred to a larger bench by the present chief justice and relief to the slum-dwellers, which was to come in four months’ time from the date of the judgement, will get more delayed. How long it will take, no one knows. The slum-dwellers haven’t a clue.


Outlook, 15 Nov 2010

Centre’s gaffe forces BPL families to buy grains at higher prices

In Centre-State Relations, Corruption, Gujarat, Malnutrition, PDS on November 26, 2010 at 10:28 am

The 35 lakh-or-so BPL families in the state have been forced to buy about half of foodgrains from the Public Distribution System at higher prices than they are entitled to. This was due to some goof-up that arose because of a miscalculation in the number of BPL families in state and Centre’s figures, court documents revealed.

In an ongoing case in the Gujarat High Court on implementation of various food security schemes, the HC has asked the state government to explain why 55 per cent of foodgrains allotted to BPL families are sold to them at prices for Above Poverty Line (APL) families.

The state government replied that the amount of foodgrains they receive from the Centre is insufficient for all BPL families in the state, and so it had to divert foodgrains sanctioned for the APL families to meet the deficit.

The state, however, had not reduced the prices since the Centre had also not laid down the rates.

As far as the BPL families are concerned, the state government said the Centre is allotting foodgrains for BPL families as per Planning Commission 1993-1994 estimates. According to Centre’s estimates, the number of BPL families in Gujarat is 21.20 lakh, while the state claims it has 35.51 lakh BPL families.

The state government has also said it has requested the Centre to consider its estimates as the Tendulkar Committee had also reported 34 lakh BPL families in the state. Following this, the high court had asked the Centre to respond on the issue.

However, the state issued a resolution on October 1 and revised the prices at which BPL families were sold foodgrains. From Rs 165.25 for 35 kg of foodgrains per month, the price has now dropped to Rs 156.65.

Between the lines
While the state told the High Court that the Centre did not allocate enough foodgrains to cover all the BPL families, the amount of foodgrains the state government contributes to the Food Corporation of India warehouses is also negligible.

In 2008, Gujarat contributed 700 tonnes to the total stock of 19 lakh Metric Tonnes (MT) available to the Food Corporation of India. This means Gujarat contributed about 0.03 per cent to the total stock meant largely for the PDS.

Incidentally, Gujarat produced 38.19 lakh MT of rice and wheat in 2008; so the 700 tonnes contribution comes to 0.018 per cent of the total rice and wheat produced.


Indian Express, 21 Nov 2010

In Small Bites

In Bureaucratic Delays, Centre-State Relations, Corruption, Malnutrition, Mid Day Meal, Poverty Eradication on November 10, 2010 at 12:35 pm

Only a couple of years back, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had called persisting high levels of malnutrition amongst young Indians a “national shame”. Alas, despite that admission from the summit of governance, ground-level inaction and an ill-coordinated approach dog every step of this challenge. That the PM’s council on nutrition is slated to hold its first meeting in November—two years after it was set up—is a telling indicator.

The rush to meet is perhaps driven by two recent reports—by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and Save the Children—that reiterate India’s abysmal 22 per cent malnutrition levels. The numbers are alarming, considering that 70 per cent of children below five and over 55 per cent women under 49 are anaemic. As Rajiv Tandon of Save the Children underlines, “The relationship between malnutrition and below-five-years’ death is very strong.” Every year, of 1.83 million children who die below age five, around 6,00,000 deaths are due to malnutrition-related causes.

Whatever the reasons—there are many—it’s strange that the government remains obsessed with GDP growth and less about the improvement of child nutrition, which lags behind less developed countries like Ghana, Vietnam or Bangladesh. “Globally, 10 per cent growth in income sees 5 per cent improvement in nutrition. But in India, when income goes up 10 per cent, that improvement is just 1-2 per cent. The reason: the ICDS (Integrated Child Development Services) programme is inadequate as it misses out on the crucial 0-2 age group,” says Lawrence Haddad, nutrition expert on South Asia and director of the UK-based Institute of Development Studies.

Development experts like N.C. Saxena feel the main culprit is the lack of any radical updation in the ICDS programme launched in 1975. The main thrust on food security and mid-day meals has been on quantity, not quality. Also, social infrastructure has not kept pace with the growth in population and rural migration. This is the reason why, according to officials from the ministries of health and women and child development (WCD), there has been no real improvement despite the innovative schemes for adolescent girls, young mothers and children across the country.

Differences in approach also hamper coordination. While health secretary Sujata Rao says unless “malnutrition is tackled no medicine or vaccination will have impact”, Planning Commission member Syeda S. Hameed feels nutrition intervention will bear fruit only if health, sanitation and drinking water issues are tackled simultaneously.

To get a fuller picture, the WCD ministry has asked the Nutrition Foundation of India and the National Institute of Health and Family Welfare to include nutrition parameters in the annual health survey in 300 districts. This will be later extended to all the districts and “help us take a more broad-based and prompt action,” say officials. Simultaneously, a pilot scheme for empowering girls in the 16-18 age group will be launched next month in 200 districts, while an incentive pilot scheme in 52 districts for pregnant women and young mothers in the unorganised sector has been finalised by the Planning Commission.

Experts are pinning hopes on the PM’s council for more resources and direction. Governance and accountability are also needed on the ground. Or else, the next surveys will reflect the same, scandalous “national shame”.


Outlook, 25 Oct 2010