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Public-private partnerships have taken a new turn. Instead of seeking private contractual partners for its development projects, the Govt is now adopting programmes launched by companies, writes Meera Mitra.
None | By Meera Mitra
UPDATED ON OCT 24, 2007 11:29 PM IST

Post-independence, the adoption of a socialist model muzzled the private sector’s role in the economy. Private sector forays into social development also came under suspicion as trusts became subjects of inquiry. Today the private sector is not only driving the economy, but there are indications that the need for improved social and physical infrastructure has led the government, the private sector and civil society into a creative tizzy for new solutions.

It began with a self-appraisal by the government. The government’s mid-term report card of the 10th Plan outlines huge gaps in governance in states and hints at the unfeasibility of meeting development targets. The approach paper to the 11th Plan calls for faster and inclusive growth and is gung-ho about public-private partnerships (PPP).

While infrastructure dominates the Rs 350 billion PPP plans, the 2006 Asian Development Bank report says that state governments have marked water, waste management and health as focus areas. However, there are hurdles in PPP. Civil society is wary of privatisation and inefficient deal-making through such partnerships. Another genre of PPP, however, is proving to be much more effective. These are not government initiatives seeking private contracting partners; on the contrary, they are private initiatives, which are adopted by the government. Innovators of this model have bridged time and distance of India’s rural hinterland to take health, education and social sector services to remote villages.

Foundations of Byrraju, Satyam and the Emergency Management Research Institute (EMRI) exemplify this intervention and approach. A call to the EMRI centre triggers the levers of communication that gets doctors and professionals to reach patients to a hospital in 38 minutes. Within seconds, the location of the village from where the call is made is identified on GIS maps. Public and private hospitals located in the vicinity appear on the screen with a drop-down menu showing the hospital’s specialty, availability of beds, doctors and preparedness to handle the emergency. The closest team of stand-by ambulances with a ‘pilot’ driver and an emergency management technician reach the destination. Expectedly citizens are open to these services. The EMRI has a presence across Andhra Pradesh and handles 23,000 calls per day.

Another demand-driven area gets a design solution at Satyam. The Health Management Research Institute (HMRI) handles 2,000 calls a day related to headaches, diarrhoea, maternity-related depression, delivery and childcare. The HMRI Director is enthusiastic: “We can track disease and epidemics before they happen.”

Wipro’s Learning Guarantee Program (LGP) led to changes in north-east Karnataka, which had a high dropout rate. A 100 per cent enrolment and pushing 90 per cent students to achieve high learning competencies were the targets. Software solutions, active engagement with stakeholders (parents, students teachers, local panchayats) and encouraging inter-school competition is integral to the programme.

Livelihood initiatives also transform PPP agendas. A multi-corporate strategy binds Dr Reddy’s Foundation (DRF), Naandi Foundation and Mahindras and Tatas together. Naandi has not only revamped abandoned government irrigation and water schemes but also brought livelihood solutions to 3,000 tribal farmers holding 5,000 acres of land through collective improvement. National aspiration for improving capacities and employment of SC/STs has got a boost with the joint efforts of the Mahindra Group and Naandi. Their roadshows attract SC/ST candidates for new economy skills training followed by placement. The success of first batch placement was 98 per cent.

These are some of the private initiatives that have caught the eye of the government. The Rs 160 crore-initiative of EMRI and HMRI are now integrated into government service delivery with a difference. Scaling up these initiatives with government support is possible. Wipro’s LGP was expanded in Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Gujarat and Uttaranchal; DRF is initiating livelihood models in 13 states and three countries, and Naandi in Andaman and Nicobar and Nagaland. EMRI covers Andhra and has invitations from other states. It is prepared for national coverage by 2009. The speed and flexibility of the government’s response towards such initiatives will facilitate India’s journey to the top.

Meera Mitra is a development specialist and the author of It’s Only Business: India’s Corporate Social Responsiveness in a Globalised World.

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