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Delhi Knows Everything, But Most Is Not Right

Governments must go beyond vote banks and optimise resources distribution to the most deserving components of the deprived.

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Delhi Metro - shutterstock_136471589

India lives in her states.

Centrally designed welfare programs are on the rise. The states are not cheering. Responsible for implementing and coerced into co-funding, the state governments see through these ‘schemes’, which infringe on their autonomy.

Delhi’s ‘we know best’ attitude is making the federalism chorus grow louder and shriller.

Need reform, not restructuring  

The Center has been ‘force fitting homogeneous, often straight-jacketed schemes that are neither innovative nor customized to the needs of the beneficiaries. Neither the indicators are defined nor is the ownership established. 

Design determines the impact, but to the Delhi mandarins, Bihar and Kerala seem the same. 

Neither is happy. 

The clamor to announce and launch welfare schemes is intense. Every government launches welfare schemes to improve the lives of the ‘deprived’. They include housing, education, food, employment, health, livelihood and almost everything the ‘marginalized’ need. Every scheme has been launched; and should have solved India’s problem. But we know better.

Let’s seek accountability                                                                               

The Government’s implementation track record is dismal and is India’s frailty. The nutrition for the infants finds its way to the market; fertilizer for the farmer is traded for alcohol. 

Problems are real and the efforts, just sort of half steps. 

A recent government study confirms the 12 hugely funded pro-poor schemes haven’t created the desired impact. Why do welfare schemes fail in India? Corruption and poor implementation are the key reasons. 

However, a deeper study reveals more.

One size doesn’t fit all 

Every ‘powerful’ leader has the grandiose ‘vision’ to centralize. So does every shallow policy maker. The government has good advisors and better copy writers. They sell well.

Welfare Schemes (even badly designed) catch votes.

The schemes are envisioned in Delhi without a broader understanding of local need. Poor planning, under-designing, lethargic monitoring, lackadaisical project management and lack of political will make a recipe for disaster.

Most of the allotted budget goes to ‘big government’.Often progress is monitored but not measured. The Center blames the states for sloppy implementation and is blamed in turn for poor visioning. This diminishes the outcome and erodes the impact.

We fail the targeted ‘beneficiaries’ and fool the rest. 

Bold reforms need more than intent

This Government and the others before, have only tinkered, chiseled and restructured the welfare schemes, when structural reforms were needed.

This brings us to the formidable question.

Why do our policy makers fail in effective program design? The reason may be less ‘understanding’, more psychological i.e. ‘anchoring’ (continuity bias) and status quo (stability).

The Prime Minister’s goal to inclusive growth is laudable, and the vehicle he has chosen is redistribution (welfare schemes). However, he may be driving on the ‘wrong’ side. 

Governments must go beyond vote banks and optimise resources distribution to the most deserving components of the deprived. Essential features must include ownership, accountability, and optimal coverage, leading to wider & earnest impact.

The Center should ‘disarm’ itself 

Get more for the buck.

This mindset change alone will remove uncertainty and enhance impact. Delhi should identify priorities, fund appropriate schemes, monitor outcomes and measure impact. It should disarm; leave the design and implementation to experts who are closer to the heat and understand the ground realities. 

Prime Minister’s stated intent and focus to harness innovation and harvest outcome gives us hope.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Dr. Vikas Singh

The author is a senior economist, columnist, author and a votary of inclusive development

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