THE CMP AND THE COMMON MAN
The common minimum programme of the United Progressive Alliance at the centre makes several promises requiring not only very large investment of funds but also massive organizational effort. The promises made to the farmers, the rural population and the common man generally, form the core responsibility of the administration at the centre and even more so in the States. Particularly in this year, when extensive flood damage, loss of crops and destruction of rural habitations have occurred, and despite the promises of a no-drought situation by the government, there is likely to be drought and distress in certain areas and particularly, in the endemic scarcity areas of Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan. It will have to be the first concern of the central government, the Planning Commission, state governments and their field administrations to ensure that benefits in the form of rehabilitation for flood damage, finance for agriculture and other inputs like fertilisers and timely availability of seeds for sowing and resowing are made available. The other areas where promises have been made are for a completely reoriented public distribution system where the highest priority will be given to the below poverty line population and remote tribal areas. Public health and education are major areas of attention and to see that they reach the target groups is a task that has to be performed and fully financed by the central government with the assistance of the state governments. In other words, the first step to be taken is an exercise in fire fighting. In our history of over 50 years, there have been several crises. They have been dealt with by the Indian administration before and it can do so again.
It is obvious that while the Centre through the Planning Commission, may provide the funds, the implementation has to be done by the field agencies of the States. These field agencies cannot be said to be in very good fettle at all. In a fire fighting exercise, there is no room for what is called administrative improvement, professionalisation of the bureaucracy or restructuring of the administration. It is the existing agencies, the planning commission and its advisers, the central ministries’ field officers, state governments starting from the Chief Secretary, Development Commissioner, Divisional Commissioners, Collectors, Sub Divisional Officers and down to the field force of tehsildars, block development officers and others that will have to be put in charge. Wherever panchayats are functional, they should be made the agencies of implementation under strict monitoring. This entire field force is required for the implementation of the common minimum programme as far as the services to the common man are concerned.
To keep this article brief and focused, I propose a few steps. I have already described the machinery that must be set in motion. Several parallel steps are needed to be taken: First, the inputs in the form of foodgrains, fertilizers, seeds and finance should be positioned and duly distributed or patterns of delegation set up so that there is no need to go beyond the Collector for any action that may have to be taken. Secondly, educational and health programmes should similarly be handled by the departments concerned and their agencies in consultation with the panchayats where they are active and with full knowledge and support of the District Collector. Thirdly, the drinking water problem is likely to be serious even if there is no drought, because potable water does not reach a very large section of our rural population. Here again, the fire fighting action has to be well thought of and expertly administered. There is no reason why half tonne trucks with water tanks should not be placed at the disposal of sub-divisional officers so that drinking water can be supplied to villages that are, say, more than one kilometer from the source – up to one kilometer a pipeline could be laid easily and entrusted for operation to the panchayat. Fourthly, and very importantly, all above needs supervision by the Chief Secretaries, Divisional Commissioners, Collectors, as well as strong supervisory support from the Planning Commission and central ministries, who should designate teams of two or three senior officers to the states to inspect and certify the performance as well as assist in removing bottlenecks.
A very important aspect of such a programme is the continuity of officers in the field agencies in their present positions. It may be accepted as a rule that no one would be shifted unless the Commissioner makes written report to the Chief Secretary about non-performance. This particular aspect requires very strong commitment on the part of the Chief Ministers.
Starvation deaths or any large-scale deaths of cattle must not be accepted by government at any level. No cover-up should be permitted, nor the media encouraged to go and look for a few dying children and attributing it to starvation. Full inquiry must be made of each incident, responsibility fixed and necessary action, to remove deficiencies and punish the delinquent and see that such incidents do not recur, must be taken.
In the above prescription, there is sharp focus on the delivery mechanism and monitoring which must lead ultimately to accountability of officers as well as of the state governments who are in charge of the delivery mechanisms. This accountability must be transparent and must be discussed in the state assemblies and the parliament without inhibition.
Finally, I must point to the strong role that the civil society can and must play in ensuring that this programme is carried through without any hindrance, and failures are brought to the notice of the authorities immediately. Wherever there are NGOs having a good past record, programme in limited areas can be handed over to them and supervised as if they were being done by a government agency. There again, once a programme is handed over, it is monitoring and accountability that matter and not interventions and ad hoc orders.
Given such an arrangement, it seems possible to implement the services promised under the Common Minimum Programme with smoothness, efficiency and effectively.
Customer : “What do you have for greying hair ?”
Druggist : “Nothing but the highest respect sir”.
A young female job applicant was filling out an employment form in one of New York’s larger public relations agencies. She had no trouble with the application until she came across a heading entitled : “Sex”, she hesitated. Finally, she answered: “Twice a week”.
If you tell a man anything, it goes in one ear and out of the other. And if you tell a woman anything, it goes in both ears and out of her mouth.