A bewildering and endless variety of programmes with fancy names populate the annals of governance today. While the special focus that Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS) thus bring to sectors that need extra attention has often proved to be an advantage, poor design and implementation with little other than fancy nomenclature and grand announcements to prop them up, have often proved to be a disadvantage. The ‘branding’ exercise has not always served the cause. Some of the schemes have been plagued by overlaps, duplication and bureaucratic mismanagement and negligence that impinge on efficiencies and lead to wastage. A Group of Ministers has now approved the restructuring of CSSs, merging some 170 of them into 79, in order to ensure better implementation and monitoring. At the end of the 11th Plan, in March 2012, there were 173 CSSs and Additional Central Assistance (ACA) schemes. Hopefully, as the matter comes up before the Cabinet again, competing, even conflicting, interests among different ministries would not come in the way of making the final push on this key issue — although the pruning will still not meet the 2011 recommendations of the B.K. Chaturvedi Committee to bring the number down to 59.
While the share of CSSs in gross budgetary allocations has gone up significantly over the last three Plans, the number of such schemes has come down. Yet, CSSs tend to pre-empt resources available to States, given that fund packages often get channelled directly for the programmes, sometimes without the tailored flexibility that is needed to optimise utilisation. In some instances, funds are transferred to district-level bodies, bypassing State governments. Understandably, several States have complained about the rationale and implementation of CSSs. The system of flexi-funds that has now been proposed, under which State governments can use 20 per cent (10 per cent in case of flagship schemes) of the budget allocated for CSSs, within the broader framework of given programmes, should address part of that problem. The GoM has favoured a system of transferring funds from the Centre to State consolidated funds, rather than directly to implementing agencies. It has also approved the setting up of State-specific guidelines for each CSS. Hopefully, the new and improved package will prove to be a more effective, flexible and efficient instrument to translate Plan objectives into actions. Meanwhile, there is a case to tighten monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, with each CSS being reviewed at least once in two years, with an eye on better outcomes and impact.