(GIST OF YOJANA) Governance Challenges in the North East [APRIL-2018]

(GIST OF YOJANA) Governance Challenges in the North East


Governance Challenges in the North East

The North-East Region (NER) is one of the backward regions of lndia characterized by low per-capita income, lack of private investment, low capital formation, inadequate infrastructure facilities. geographical isolation, and inadequate exploitation of natural resources like minerals, hydro power potential, and forests. lts own tax collection and internal resources are quite meagre rendering the region totally dependent on central devolution. The local moneyed people prefer to invest in landed property and shy from setting up enterprises which are perceived as risky ventures. The peripheral locations of the states, the terrain and inadequate infrastructure have impeded the growth of industry. Except for Sikkim and Tripura, and to some extent Mizoram, other states have not done well in improving their economic growth as shown in Table 1. Upto the beginning of 19703 Assam was one of the better-off states in India. However, the state did not do very well in the next four decades and started slipping on all indicators. Since Assam accounts for almost 70 percent of NER population, and has been a , laggard state on almost all development indicators, it has pulled down the overall performance of the region.

Fund Utilisation - As is well known, all non-exempt Union Ministries are required to mandatorily earmark 10 per cent of their Gross Budgetary Allocation (GBA) annually for the North Eastern Region. The unspent balances are transferred as Non-Lapsable Central Pool of Resources (NLCPR). While some projects are implemented on time, the other projects get delayed because funds are not transferred to them on time, the utilization capacity of these states is poor, and the works are hampered due to the short working season.

The website of Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER) shows that cumulative accrual in NLCPR since 2000 to 2010 was Rs 17,213 crores, but releases upto 2011 were only Rs 8,796 crores, that is just 50 percent. It could be because the states are not able to send good proposals to the administrative Ministry. In NREGA the expenditure during 2016-17 in Assam and Manipur (the two most poor states in NE) was only Rs 1630 and Rs. 4953 per rural poor, as against Rs 15657 in Kerala and Rs. 1 1942 in Andhra Pradesh (including Telangana).
According to a CAG report (1 of 2015) on sanitation programme in Manipur the process of planning was devoid of comprehensive assessment of the needs/requirement of rural beneficiaries. Reliable baseline data was not available. There was no community participation in the preparation of PIPs (Project Implementation Plan). Financial management was inefficient which resulted in delays in release of funds, short release of State’s matching contribution, retention of huge balances and leakage of funds through inadmissible payments and avoidable expenditure. There were neither norms for assessment/ identification of beneficiaries nor for upkeep of the toilets by them.

Improve M&E Systems - At present, officials at all levels spend a great deal of time in collecting and submitting information, but these are not used for taking corrective and remedial action or for analysis, but only for forwarding to a higher level, or for answering Assembly Questions. The data collected are not normally subjected to any regular checks. There is a failure of the departments in verification of their correctness and almost total absence accountability procedures.

For instance, according to the state governments the percentage of severely malnourished children in the northeastern states is much less than 1 per cent, whereas independent verification by UNICEF in 2014 has reported a much higher figure varying from 3.5 per cent in Manipur to almost 16 per cent in Meghalaya and Tripura.

There is urgent need to reconcile the two sets of figures. Process reforms are needed so that field data is authentic, reliable and tallies with the evaluated data. It appears that state governments actively encourage reporting of inflated figures from the districts, which renders monitoring ineffective and accountability meaningless.

Promote e-Governance – ‘e-Governance’ is the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to transform government by making it more accessible, effective and accountable. e-Governance utilizes technology to accomplish reform by fostering transparency, eliminating distance and other divides, and empowering people to participate in the political processes that affect their lives. While e-Governance has great potential to bring benefits to all citizens, knowledge about e-Governance is mostly restricted to educated and professional groups. Most citizens are still unaware of the potential benefits.

A World Bank report on Assam observed in 2014 that there was absence of a comprehensive ICT Plan, and there was no common framework for service delivery, including a strong and supporting ICT infrastructure. A common ICT Plan could be developed addressing legacy issues, infrastructure bottlenecks, horizontal connectivity, wide area networks and data centers, ICT strengthening, standards and interoperability; and future growth and scalability model in terms of technologies and usage. Each Department should be required to make an ICT Plan covering the services, back-end requirements, requirements of horizontal connectivity, capacities and could be encouraged to adopt f a m a central bouquet of application that would help in improved efficiencies and better accountability.

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Whereas many states in India have benefited from end-to-end computerisation in the distribution of foodgrains through Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS), a comparative study of TPDS in six states, viz., Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal sponsored by the Ministry (Evaluation Study of Targeted Public Distribution System in Selected States, NCAER September, 2015) revealed the following:

Chhattisgarh had the lowest exclusion error at 2 percent of all households eligible for beneiits, while Assam had the highest at 71 percent.

Leakage is found to be the lowest in Chhattisgarh, followed by Bihar. It is comparatively high in Assam, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

Vigilance and monitoring is extremely low in Assam.

In Assam, people have paid as much as Rs 3,000 to get a BPL card. This cost is negligible in Chhattisgarh.

In Cachar and Bongaigaon cardholders never get their full quota of grain because FPS dealers deduct 3--4 kg per card. The dealers admitted this was true; they justified this deduction as the cost of transport was never reimbursed by government.

Redundant Bureaucracy- Whereas some of the governance deficits discussed above are common to many states, there are two specific constraints in the NER. One, the non plan expenditure of NE states is quite high due to huge presence of group C and D staff, such as clerks, peons, etc who are not needed now. Because of this the NE states end up with having insufficient funds for plan expenditure, despite liberal central devolution. For instance, Assam’s per capita plan outlay for 2014-15 was Rs 5,775, whereas with similar poor population Chhattisgarh’s plan outlay was RS 12,807, primarily because of heavy salary burden in Assam. The two states are compared below.

Thus, public administration in NE States is marked by a number of dysfunctional staff that contribute to inefficiencies in public administration epitomised by endemic overstaffing of support staff, resulting from poor staffing norms, and accompanied by unsustainable wage bills.

To significantly reduce, let alone eliminate within the next decade or so, the growing gap between growth rates in the country as a whole and much of the North Eastern Region calls for a massive improvement in delivery and governance, and not only increase in the flow of financial resources to the Region. It is no longer the availability of financial resources but the capacity of institutions and individuals in the North East to make effective use of available resources that is proving the critical constraint to growth. To combat this, every effort needs to be made to induct technical support from all over the country, as well as from within the North Eastern Region, into all levels of governance. Institution-building calls for strengthening State departments and agencies, as well as promoting fruitful partnerships between civil society and State Governments. Strengthening of institutions of local self-government is particularly important. It is in these areas that government of India may like to concentrate in future.

With tightly set targets, clear outcomes, strategies, and coordinated planning for the region as a whole, the North East can be revitalized to become increasingly self-sufficient and a net positive contributor to the national exchequer and the country’s economy. Initiating the process is the imperative requirement. Good governance calls for probity, transparency and accountability. This is a matter of both ethics and governance systems. Effective devolution, reinforced by social audit, will considerably strengthen monitoring and vigilance at the grassroots level and, hopefully, gradually impact higher echelons of governance. Equally, the importance of capacity building and institution-building cannot be over-emphasized.

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