Rethinking RSVY

N.D. George

MORE THAN half a century of planned development has not removed inter-state and intra-state disparities in development. The Rashtriya Sam Vikas Yojana (RSVY) is a special programme launched by the Planning Commission last year with the objectives of removing the barriers to growth and improving the quality of life of the people in the 147 selected backward districts, of which 32 are naxalite affected.

The programme is at present being implemented by the DRDAs on the basis of guidelines issued by the Planning Commission. The annual allocation per district is Rs. 15 crores and the programme will run for three years.

Incremental approach

The RSVY model, in its present form, is based on a bureaucratic framework and is dependent on the `line' departments at the district level and the DRDAs for its conceptualisation and implementation. The role of NGOs has been negligible. The operative machinery of the scheme is bureaucratic. The predominant role played by the `line' departments in the districts in formulating the schemes has resulted in plans that are merely additive to the existing programmes. Such incremental approach will not address the myriad problems of backwardness.

In the absence of a project approach, there is a danger of grants being spent inefficiently as expenditure is incurred before building up the required institutional and organisational edifice. Though the guidelines provide for a variety of interventions, in reality the DRDAs tend to prepare a construction-oriented list of schemes without an overall view of the development needs of the district and without detailed analysis of the causes of backwardness. Somehow, construction is the darling of all concerned!

Effective strategies

Based on the successful models of rural development from different parts of the country, an attempt is made in the following paragraphs to outline effective strategies for re-orienting the RSVY.

A project approach will make the programme more effective. This will facilitate clearly outlining the goals, strategies, milestones, etc., make evaluations meaningful and allow mid-course corrections. This would also allow selection of suitable project staff.

Group formation has been found to be an effective strategy to improve the conditions of the poor as it empowers them, trains them in leadership, improves skill levels and facilitates linkages with PRIs and credit institutions. SHGs should form a basic building block of the RSVY.

The RSVY strategy for agriculture should be to reduce the dependence of farmers on subsistence agriculture. They should be encouraged to produce high value items such as fruits and vegetables, cash crops, medicinal plants, etc. As there is only very little use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in most of the RSVY districts, it would be prudent to make such districts `organic enclaves' and secure the necessary certification of their products. These certified products could be collected through the network of SHGs/NGOs and marketed in big cities at a premium. An effective public distribution system to ensure availability of staple foodgrains at fair prices should form an essential component of this strategy.

A major deficiency of public health care at the district level is the inadequate use of the health infrastructure due to absenteeism of the medical staff, lack of medicines and some necessary equipment. It is possible to improve the delivery of health services in the RSVY districts with the participation of the private sector. Highly discounted health care packages could be worked out and implemented in consultation with the private sector.

The recently launched `Edusat' would be of great help in providing quality education in rural areas if the necessary technical linkages to tap this service could be established.

There should be adequate focus on eco-tourism. RSVY districts are un-spoilt areas with stunning natural beauty and rich fauna and flora. These can be developed as destinations for controlled eco-tourism.

The RSVY should be redesigned as a public private partnership model rather than a purely grant based bureaucratic model. It should not entirely depend on public investment in rural physical infrastructure but follow a holistic approach to development. All the schemes of the project should have at least some degree of public participation. Social and economic mobilisation and empowerment of the poor by means of skill formation/skill upgradation should be an essential process of the RSVY. Reputed NGOs may be entrusted with this task.

(The author is an Indian Economic Service Officer. The views expressed are personal)

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