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Editorial: Missing the mark, again

Business Standard  |  New Delhi 

With a few months remaining for the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government's five-year tenure to end, it is now clear that the goals set by it under its flagship socio-economic development programme Bharat Nirman are likely to be missed by wide margins in at least four of its six components. A review by the Planning Commission is reported to have found that barring rural telephony and housing, all other sectors chosen for focused attention under the Rs 1.76 lakh crore five-year (2005-09) rural infrastructure programme are lagging behind the set targets. Notably, the situation is particularly dismal in key areas of irrigation, rural roads and rural electrification, though it is below par also in the provision of safe drinking water. Sadly, in the first four years, only one-third of the target for rural connectivity and electrification, vital for inclusive growth, could be attained. Worse still, the progress was an abysmal 10 per cent in the case of electric supply to the below-poverty-line households. The achievement in critical areas of irrigation and potable water supply, too, was far from satisfactory, being 50 per cent and 60 per cent, respectively. There is, obviously, no way that such huge backlogs in these sectors can be made up in the last year, especially considering that the funding for many of these programmes has shrunk this year in real terms.

Indeed, the saga of failures does not end here. The track record of many a critical programme under the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG) is equally dismaying. Provision of sanitation facilities to curb open defecation, deemed a national scourge, is a case in point. It is estimated that as many as 1,12,300 toilets need to be built every day if the MDG aim is to be attained by the set deadline of 2012. What really needs to be appreciated here is that the country is paying a heavy economic price for poor sanitation that causes diseases and consequent manday losses. Such losses are estimated at around Rs 1,200 crore, including 180 million mandays, a year. Little wonder that the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), in its recent report on South Asia, has ranked India far below its neighbours like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in terms of sanitation. Notably, between 1990 and 2006, only around 20 per cent of additional people gained access to sanitation facilities in India, against 40 per cent in Pakistan, the UNICEF reported to the discredit of India.

Such a woeful profile of the fundamental facilities for the people is disgraceful. What makes the situation all the more disconcerting is that all these programmes, even if executed by the ministries concerned, are supposed to be monitored regularly by the Planning Commission and, more importantly, the Prime Minister's Office. Of course, the drags on their progress, such as shortage of competent engineers, contractors, equipment and other wherewithal, as also the dearth of adequate motivation among the state governments, are understandable. But the underlying official apathy towards surmounting these problems is unpardonable, especially when the monitoring is being done at a high level. True, the removal of such glitches at this stage may not make much of a difference to the final outcome of Bharat Nirman and the related programmes by the end of this fiscal, nor may it offer fresh political gains for the ruling dispensation. But this can surely pave the way for better implementation and results in future for the larger good.

First Published: Wed, November 19 2008. 00:00 IST