Focus on six key areas of development

NEW DELHI, AUG. 14. In a bid to bring the fruits of development down to the grassroots level, the Government is likely to focus on six key areas of development over the next one year. These are: education, nutritional mid-day meal scheme, food-for-work programme, drinking water schemes, rural connectivity and sanitation.

These areas, informed sources say, are to be given the highest priority by the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, who highlighted the importance of these sectors in his first address to the nation. Even the noted economist, Amartya Sen, has repeatedly pointed to the need for focus on the social sector, especially in these critical areas.

Rural development

The thinking in the Government is therefore veering round to the view that instead of trying to achieve success in a wide range of areas, efforts should focus on a few select sectors.In addition, the sources say, there is concern over the need to improve the delivery systems for rural development funding. A proposal has already been mooted by the Panchayati Raj Minister, Mani Shankar Aiyar, to transfer funds directly to the panchayats for utilisation. This had been tried initially by the Rajiv Gandhi Government and sources say the experiment was successful as panchayats utilised these funds productively for developmental schemes.

Though State Governments have already reacted in concern over this move, the Planning Commission is apparently trying to work out modalities to achieve the objective of sending funds directly to the grassroots levels. It has been estimated by the Government itself that a very small fraction of rural development and poverty alleviation funds actually reach the beneficiaries. The Planning Commission, therefore, with the support of the Prime Minister's Office and the Panchayati Raj Ministry, is trying to evolve an acceptable scheme to ensure that these funds do not remain mere allocations in the budget but actually achieve the aim of removing poverty. As for the Food-for-Work programme, the sources say, the need is to ensure that the right type of assets are created under this major poverty alleviation programme. Instead of trying to construct buildings, the work programmes could instead be peripheral to major projects especially roads development. In the area of public health, it is felt that providing potable drinking water and improved sanitation facilities would itself mean tremendous progress in terms of preventive health measures. Another aspect of the social sector, the sources say, is that certain States have achieved excellent results in specific areas. Kerala is a role model for literacy and public health and Karnataka for drinking water. These should be replicated all over the country and discussions are on to find ways in which this could be possible.

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