Rural development, in the context of today's India in which 70 per cent of its population lives in villages, has to lie in the critical core of the socio-economic transformation of the country. Most rural clusters still smart under basic services and resource deficits such as healthcare, education, safe drinking water, sanitation, housing and infrastructure in contrast with semi-urban and urban areas.
The flush of at least 100 centrally-sponsored schemes, with a mammoth allocation of Rs 137,000 crore (2010-11) for anti-poverty and rural welfare programmes epitomises the initiatives towards aggressive and accelerated growth and prosperity of the rural segments. The instrumentality of flagship programmes such as the Bharat Nirman Yojana, the National Rural Drinking Water Programme and the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan has the potential to unlock the capacities of the rural economy.
The National Rural Employment Guarantee (NREG) scheme is the world's largest public works and rural employment generation programme. The macro- and micro-planning of rural development must now be fitted into planning from below and connect with popular participation at the tip of the decision- making process.
Participation of the stakeholders and a sense of ownership in the planning are a must of development strategy. Planning should not be imported from above but built on differential area-specific criteria that recognises local capacities, potential catalysts, resource endowment and the needs of the people.
The truth is that even with the myriad of development programmes with massive outlays in place, the benefits have not 'trickled down' fast and wide enough to produce commensurate dividends. What has inhibited the reach of services is widely recurrent complaints about corruption, siphoning off of funds, procedural hassles and political discrimination. Also, a large part of the targeted beneficiaries remain unaware of the programmes.
Keeping this in mind, it was necessary to disseminate information about development programmes extensively, along with the need for a mechanism for receiving feedback from citizens and gauging their responses to the quality and level of delivery of services coupled with robust monitoring, evaluating and corrective systems involving the Centre and the states.
A shift from bureaucratic and centralised planning to decentralised planning needs to be launched. Bureaucratic flavoured centralised planning makes popular participation cosmetic. Democracy pre-supposes a creative induction of the people and their representatives into a participating mode. The Centre and states should also widen the network of existing social audits and furnish information about allotments and utilisation of funds at all levels from the gram panchayats to the zila parishads and the impact of the schemes.
Poor book-keeping, nominal audit certifications must be corrected. This calls for a regular and rigid audit of accounts by auditors and chartered accountants.
However resolute and well-crafted the controlling and monitoring strategies may be, systemic simplifications, zero tolerance to corruption and, above all, ensuring the integrity and commitment of the executing agencies will be integral and determinate to this goal.
D N Sahaya is former Governor of Tripura and Chhattisgarh. The views expressed by the author are personal.