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HomeOPINIONWhy do some government schemes work; others don’t?

Why do some government schemes work; others don’t?

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Why do some government schemes work; others don’t?

Why do some schemes work and others don’t? In answer to this question lies one of the secrets of making things happen in the Government. We can learn both from what is happening and what is not happening. Someone should first have the courage to accept the ground reality and then indulge in course correction.

I had the occasion to visit certain interior areas of the state during my brief stint in the state of Jharkhand after my superannuation in 2018. While visiting the  Bansjor and Kersai  Blocks in a remote District (Simdega) in the State, I discovered that these Blocks did not have a single bank branch. It was extremely difficult to explain this except that perhaps it was because of the disconnect between Delhi and the field. We revel in coming up with ideas and schemes without even caring to understand the ground realities.

How do we expect a recipient of an old age pension to go down to a branch far distant from his residence to collect a small amount that he gets as a pension from the government? Earlier, the postman did this job for him. However, someone in Delhi developed this brilliant idea of Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) and made bank accounts mandatory.

The idea of DBT is extremely laudable but without a bank branch close by, it makes no sense. The officers either did not have the courage to inform the decision maker about the limitation of such a drive or perhaps were not aware of the ground reality. More often than not the ideas are almost always pretty great but unless they are done there is little chance of their effective implementation.

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Grandiose announcements regarding schemes are made perhaps because it is considered to be a political necessity. This is irrespective of the nature of the government. Let us try and understand why and how some schemes succeed and most of them do not so as to derive some lessons on how to make such ideas/schemes work.

For any idea to fructify and sustain in the government, it has to be politically acceptable, socially desirable, technologically feasible, financially viable, administratively doable, judicially tenable and emotionally relatable. It is said that comparisons are odious but in order to illustrate or drive home a point sometime it becomes necessary.  Let us now compare Smart City Scheme and Swachh Bharat. The two schemes were dissimilar in content and objectives but the comparison is in the context of the approach adopted to implement these schemes and the distance the two schemes have travelled in terms of benefits accruing to the masses.

Both Swachh Bharat and Smart City schemes were big announcements. However, there was a key difference between them. Right from the beginning, there was the clarity of thought regarding Swachh Bharat, while not many knew how Smart Cities were to be defined. It was just a thought with no concrete action plan with defined targets except perhaps the number of cities that were to be made “smart”.

From a purely technological point of view, both were totally dissimilar. However, technology was to play a critical role in both schemes. Ironically, despite being technologically driven, in the evolution of smart cities, the nature and extent were neither known nor defined. The disconnect between what was being designed in Delhi and the ground reality was clearly in evidence and became one of the foremost causes of the scheme not happening on the ground.  In sheer contrast, Swachh Bharat used rudimentary innovations to improve the technology for toilets and pits.

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In the context of ownership by the stakeholders, the states jumped on to the idea of Smart Cities with a number of them vying to corner as many as they could. It was more in the hope of getting something out of this nebulous concept. How much they actually got was a different matter altogether.  Swachh Bharat faced serious problems initially with regard to social acceptability but it recognized this and launched a massive communication campaign to bring about a change in the attitude. In fact, reaching out to the masses effectively was one of the main pillars on which Swachh Bharat rode. For those that were implementing Swachh Bharat, this connection was considered critical.

Also Read: Dilemmas of a young civil servant

There was no problem with the availability of funds for either of the schemes. Swachh Bharat did face some initial hiccups, unlike the Smart City Mission which was flush with funds. However, as the schemes rolled out, Swachh Bharat was also provided with requisite funds. Fund availability was not a problem. Utilization was.

Another difference between the schemes was the extent to which the ideas were “practicable” and the manner in which these schemes were actually implemented. In the absence of clear articulation of the concept of “smart“ cities, there was a lack of clarity in role definition as well. For any scheme to be successfully implemented and sustained there needs to be clarity about what needs to be done, how it will be done, who will do it and by when it will be done. The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan had clarity on all these fronts. Not only were the national targets clearly defined, the action plan clearly outlined the tasks and roles at each level of operation. The State Governments were taken into confidence. The Central team travelled the length and breadth of the country. They were on a mission to engage with the stakeholders and convey a value proposition to them. Going down to the villages enabled them to assess ground realities that constituted very useful input in formulating policies. This was a game-changer. The intensity of engagement and the passion that went with it helped “buy-in” from various stakeholders. A “connect” was established with each stakeholder.

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The outcomes of the two schemes speak for themselves. Until 2014, approximately 60% of the world’s open defecators (600 million people) were practising open defecation across India. This changed significantly. Within a few years of the scheme, the open-defecation number came down significantly and now rural India has actually become open-defecation-free. As against this, the stated progress under the smart city scheme is less than 10% of the target to be achieved by 2020-21. The 25th Report of the Standing Committee on Urban Development (17-18) mentions that only 2% of the funds released since 2015. The disconnect between the ground realities and the stakeholders is responsible for this dismal performance.

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Anil Swarup IAS (Retd)
Anil Swarup IAS (Retd)
Anil Swarup is a former 1981 batch, Uttar Pradesh cadre  IAS officer, and was awarded Director's gold medal for "best officer trainee" at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA). He served the Government of India in various capacities for 38 years and went on to become Secretary, Department of School Education and Literacy and the Coal Secretary of India. He also served as Additional Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, Additional Secretary, Labour & Empowerment, Export Commissioner in the Ministry of Commerce & Industry of India and as the District Magistrate of Lakhimpur Kheri. He couldn’t make it to the “elite” Indian Administrative Service (IAS) on his first attempt but qualified for the Indian Police Service where he worked for one year before clearing IAS in his next attempt. He is today an author of several looks like 'No More a Civil Servant,' ‘Ethical dilemmas of a civil servant’ and ‘Not just a civilservant’. The views expressed are his own.


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