What must be done - steps towards poverty alleviation

First of all, involvement of the local communities is key to the success of poverty alleviation programmes. In the absence of community involvement, the programmes are plagued with bureaucratic muddle and corruption at every level. Wage employment is an example to show how too much of administrative interference has led to underutilization of funds, high administrative cost, corruption and poor employment generation. Contrary to the wage employment programme, self-employment programmes like microcredit is successful because of people’s participation in the form of SHGs. The government has taken a major step in this direction in the form of 73rd and 74th amendment to the constitution to give more powers to PRI.

– While a few States have made use of these constitutional provision better than others, most of the States still lag behind handing over these programmes to PRIs. While PRIs are created in most of the States and elections are held, these institutions are not given the financial resources, administrative powers and the capacity to run programmes.

– State governments still hold the financial powers and the PRI is not in a position to plan and decide based on their needs. The administrative machinery of the PRI is very week to carry out these national level programmes. Also, the PRI does not have the capacity to handle resources and technical capacity to implement programmes. These issues have to be addressed immediately to strengthen PRI to implement poverty alleviation programmes.

– If the PRIs are stronger, then the decentralization of the poverty alleviation programme can take place. Currently, all the poverty alleviation programmes have national guidelines with very little space to maneuver to meet the local needs. For example, in the current PDS, the food grains are supplied every fortnight making it difficult for the poor to buy high quantity of grains at a time. This should be left to the local communities to decide the frequency of selling grains to the BPL.

– Further, targeting the BPL is a major issue in TPDS, where targeting error is high resulting in seepage of benefits to non-poor. Identifying the BPL household is a labourious process. It is time consuming and costly.

– Targeting can be done differently for different settings and places. Geographical targeting in very backward districts of the country may be an easy way of targeting the poor. In another setting like a slum, it may be the female-headed households that can be targeted for the TPDS. Similarly, all the pavement dwellers can be targeted for the TPDS in large cities.

– In the case of wage employment programmes, the local communities through PRI mechanism should be able to identify the beneficiaries and also to identify the type of work to be carried out in villages that can create economic and social asset to the village. Such decentralization can generate more man-days of work to a large number of poor persons as well as meaningful community assets and infrastructure. Thus decentralization and localization are important to make the poverty alleviation programme efficient and relevant for the poor
Apart from decentralization and community involvement, participation of the poor in the programme that affects their welfare, is important. Some of the selfemployment schemes failed to take off because no effort was made to involve the poor in identifying the skills, which they can learn easily. As a result, the skills imparted are not utilized. Some of the skills imbibed may not have job potential in the community.

On the positive side, micro-enterprise under the self employment programme was successful because of the role of SHGs. The SHG members actively participated in the whole process and decided for themselves for the kind of skills they wanted to learn and also the kind of credit they needed from the bank to start the microenterprise. Many well-intentioned programmes fail to take off because of lack of understanding of the ground realities due to lack of participation of the beneficiaries.

At the macro-level, there is a need to co-ordinate a myriad of poverty alleviation programmes of the central government and the State governments. The transfer of central funds to the States for different programmes should be efficient. Currently, such funds and goods like food grains are not fully utilized by the States. There is a need to strengthen the financial management capacity of certain States to use the funds efficiently.

These are the States where the percentage of the BPL is more than the national average. It is unfortunate to note that in an era of rapid economic growth, public funding for the social sector has come down drastically. Central funding as well as the State funding in many major States have decreased in the era of economic reform and rapid economic growth. The fruits of economic growth should be ploughed into the social sector to elevate the quality of life in the country by raising the economic and social status of the population. It makes good economic sense also, because better quality of human resource in terms of better health status, employable skills and better purchasing power will add on to the economic investment of the country.

We have travelled more than six and half decades since independence. The objective of all our policies had been stated as promoting rapid and balanced economic development with equality and social justice. Poverty alleviation has always been accepted as one of India’s main challenges by the policy makers, regardless of which government was in power. The absolute number of poor in the country has gone down and some states have less proportion of poor than even the national average. Yet, critics point out that even though vast resources have been allocated and spent, we are still far from reaching the goal. There is improvement in terms of per capita income and average standard of living; some progress towards meeting the basic needs has been made. But when compared to the progress made by many other countries, our performance has not been impressive. Moreover, the fruits of development have not reached all sections of the population. Some sections of people, some sectors of the economy, some regions of the country can compete even with developed countries in terms of social and economic development, yet, there are many others who have not been able to come out of the vicious circle of poverty.

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