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A State Of Permanence

Social development is best served by existing government machinery

A State Of Permanence
In the last few years, we have noticed tremendous improvement in the implementation of PPP or BOT (build-operate-transfer) schemes in power generation, particularly captive power projects. Again, for roads—the first sector where PPP really took off—the performance has turned out to be good. Now, we are experimenting with other projects. Considering that best practices of the private sector as well as the administrative strength of the public sector will be brought into play, I am pretty sure that infrastructure projects of a PPP variety will do well.

There are certain types of schemes that lend themselves to better implementation through partnerships, whereas some are best done through the departmental mechanism. That's because, by their very character, the departments are best tailored to implement them. For example, schemes for health, midday meals, mother-and-child development go through better if implemented by the departments. Many NGOs have come forward to partner in some of these schemes, but on a limited scale. So, while infrastructure partnerships with the private sector are doing very well, most of the social sector schemes through the government departments are doing better.

But NGOs do well only in the dissemination of information, not in direct implementation. By and large, NGOs have done well. At the same time, you cannot say they are the panacea for everything—just as privatisation is not the panacea to attain efficiency. Much depends on the people who run the NGOs. For example, NGOs working in the field of micro-finance and environment have done extremely well. A lot also depends on the determination and conviction of the people who are running the NGO. It is the same as the people who are heading government departments or PSUs.

Certainly, the government needs to upgrade its administrative machinery. It has to be more proactive and ensure that funds reach their object, and its own managers reach out to people rather than sit in their offices and hope they will approach them. Quite often, inhibitions prevent people from coming forward. It is in schemes for education, particularly higher education, where the private sector partnership is doing better. I have not seen too many partnerships in the social development sector. But I know there are agencies that are working as watchdogs or exercising vigilance on the schemes being implemented, and those are certainly doing very well.

I am not sure about the extent of leakages, but am certain the sum reaching the public is not in the realm of 5-15 per cent—it is much, much more. I am not putting a figure to it; I don't think anybody can accurately do so. Different schemes have different amounts that reach the beneficiaries. What is leakage? It does not imply amount being siphoned off; it means the administrative cost of implementing a scheme. Leakage should be acceptable, definitely less than 20 per cent.

That's because a lot of schemes are implemented through existing machinery. Which means at the state level you have the rural development department; at the field level there is a collector; at the block level there is a BDO and at the village level there is a gram panchayat officer. So an existing hierarchy and administrative machinery is there, and the money has to pass through that. There may be schemes like NREGA, where the amounts involved are so large that you just about have to create a parallel hierarchy. Therefore, the amount involved for implementation of the scheme will be more. You can't have a ballpark figure. In the case of rural and inaccessible areas, the administrative cost is always higher and understandably so.

Internationally, the CAG's role is a constitutional one. It is based on straitjacketed outputting procedures—we go by both the records and on-the-ground study of projects. The departments always take the CAG reports seriously, as there is an element of accountability involved. But how much of value these reports give on the table depends entirely on the department's initiative. If they decide to get defensive, they will stonewall the report. The CAG has no powers of ensuring implementation. But if the department has an open and positive mind, they can incorporate the recommendations—to that extent, it will be helping itself in upgrading the standard of governance.

As told to Lola Nayar
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