Union Budget 2024: How do we move forward on PVTGs?
This article is authored by Pooja Gupta and Harshika Tripathi, Policy and Development Advisory Group.
In a bid to promote inclusivity and generate grassroots impact, Union Budget 2023 had allocated ₹15,000 crore for the development of Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs) under the PM Janjati Adivasi Nyay Maha Abhiyaan (PM-JANMAN). Out of over 700 Scheduled Tribes, the PVTGs make up 75 of those communities and are located in 18 states and the Union Territory of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. These communities are often secluded and isolated from the rest of the settlements hence they have larger gaps in infrastructure, education, health, drinking water, power and telecom facilities which impede availing state benefits such as ration shops, aanganwadis, and banking facilities, and more. The Mission launched in November 2023 and announced a total approved outlay of over ₹24,000 crore, to be distributed over a three-year period.
During these three years, the development of PVTG blocks is to be carried out as "aspirational blocks" under the Aspirational Block Development (ABP) Programme.This ambitious project, implemented in partnership with NITI Aayog, focuses on 11 vital interventions across five themes: health & nutrition, education, agriculture & water resources, financial inclusion & skill development, and basic infrastructure. The ABP Programme adopts a base-over-apex approach, prioritising the requirements and implementation of schemes at the block level of governmental administration. This approach prioritises rapid development of rural areas across sectors by extensively planning for a compact area like a development block. As per the government, the motive of the programme is to improve the quality of life of people living in the most backward blocks of the country.
The PM-JANMAN guidelines, published by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA) underlines the principle aim of the Mission to saturate PVTG families and habitations with basic facilities and services. It is a joint endeavour of 9 ministries, with MoTA as the nodal ministry, where each ministry will implement its respective central sector and centrally sponsored scheme, while collectively informing the saturation of the habitations. The guidelines highlight the role of the state-level administration in customising and adapting the programs to specific contexts and requirements. At the block level, the administration focuses on implementing schemes on the ground and ensuring access to benefits reaches all intended recipients. The Programme encourages competitiveness among block administrators, following one of the main principles of ABP known as "Competition Federalism". Monthly progress rankings of all 500 blocks across various development areas are displayed on the Champions for Change' portal, fostering a competitive governance mechanism that incentivises administrators to improve their performance and achieve specific development outcomes.
This raises the question of whether it would be more beneficial to adapt and tailor central and state schemes/projects at the block level. India's geographic diversity presents varying topographies, features, resources, and access, which are accompanied by context-specific issues and challenges. Therefore, customising schemes and policies based on the unique parameters that influence a certain administrative segment could yield higher benefits on the ground, especially considering the competitive incentives for block administrators. For example, PDAG’s ongoing study suggests that constructing heterogeneous pucca houses, tailored to the requirements of specific households rather than following a uniform approach, would better serve the purpose of resource generation. This could involve building barn sheds as part of houses where animal produce plays a significant role in the livelihood and sustenance of the household, rather than constructing identical structures for all.
Furthermore, not all 500 selected blocks are at the same level of progress and development. It is recommended to concentrate efforts on a smaller number of blocks that are in urgent need of government assistance and interventions, and that have the least development and access across multiple socio-economic parameters. Improving these broad categories, which are essential for the advancement of PVTGs requires a detailed action plan spanning several electoral cycles to ensure long-term stability in their progress. PVTG settlements are often isolated from nearby habitations, making long-term planning and having a focused approach necessary to improve access to necessities, alternative livelihood opportunities, market integration, and to address preconceived notions held by surrounding communities. Even if access to facilities is increased, the prejudices of caste and social standing often translate into better employment opportunities, and education and health care access. This means that pointed interventions for social assimilation would become imperative as the projects and policies progress and adapt.
It is important to acknowledge that these recommendations are crucial for formulating comprehensive policies that address the unique challenges posed by individual habitations, terrains, community concerns, social isolation, and other factors. Given the diversities across the 500 Aspirational Blocks, most blocks will not have a similar starting point on any of the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), making it inappropriate to view it as an equitable race. Therefore, identifying structural gaps and predisposing factors in each unique block is essential for the successful implementation of the ABP. Creating a competitive environment may discourage block officers who require more resources and infrastructure, as they may not be on an equal footing with other blocks. This could lead to a focus on quantity rather than quality in implementing long-term policies. The bottom-up approach of the ABP must incorporate a facilitative consultative process at the grassroots level, involving the gram sabha, representatives from Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI), and frontline workers, to draft respective Block Development Strategies for the benefit of all communities involved.
This article is authored by Pooja Gupta, senior consultant and lead, Strategic Communications and Harshika Tripathi, communications assistant, Strategic Communications, Policy and Development Advisory Group.