The rationale behind the Union government’s decision to extend for four more years the Integrated Action Plan for naxal-affected districts in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, is clear enough. So is its timing, coming as it does days after the Maoist rampage in Chhattisgarh. Out of an annual allocation of Rs. 1,000 crore, each of the 82 districts identified — up from the 60 that were previously covered — will get Rs. 5 crore annually. The remaining Rs. 590 crore will be distributed among the tribal and backward districts on the basis of population and area. Yet, a few basic problems with the IAP remain to be addressed. One is the decision to let the district administration solely handle implementation. Funds are placed at the disposal of a committee led by the district collector and consisting of the superintendent of police and the district forest officer. The disagreement between the ministries of Rural Development and Home Affairs on this issue is bound to affect performance and efficacy. Rural Development wants the funds to be channelled through local bodies and elected panchayat/gram sabha representatives, while Home believes the civil administration should hold the purse-strings as it would increase the government’s credibility in the districts.
It is obvious that local representation is essential to ensure popular participation and confidence, and for better accountability. There is also a need to streamline spending priorities. While currently most of the funds are diverted for the creation of physical infrastructure such as school buildings, anganwadi centres, rural roads, panchayat buildings, community halls and irrigation works, by all accounts matters that have an immediate resonance for the common person in the daily grind, such as healthcare, sanitation and water supply, seem to have been largely relegated. The Home Ministry’s stand seems to be that since the Maoists primarily target infrastructure facilities, the development of infrastructure could project a counterpoint. But this sounds less than convincing compared to the argument for spending that touches lives in a more tangible manner. Besides, the tendency to utilise funds in relatively stable areas and stay clear of sensitive spots does not help — notwithstanding claims of the ‘demonstration effect’ of such spending in peripheral areas. This intra-governmental divergence is not a healthy sign. It should be addressed at the earliest to ensure that the well-meaning scheme helps accelerate development to counter a deadly menace.