Path for inclusive India lies in decentralisation - Hindustan Times
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Path for inclusive India lies in decentralisation

Apr 24, 2024 10:04 PM IST

Green growth cannot be an afterthought. We need to promote climate-resilient agriculture, regulate construction, and community-led action for lifestyle changes

India has emerged as one of the fastest-growing large economies in the post-Covid period. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) confirms that 415 million persons came out of multi-dimensional poverty in India between 2005-06 and 2019-2021. The Covid disruption, however, compromised some of the gains. Recovery is still on for the bottom quintiles. Monthly per capita consumption expenditure (MPCE) has risen. Per capita incomes, however, remain low. Social indicators have improved post-2005, but there is still a very long way to go.

 A sincere effort to emulate the development of the social capital of women’s collectives is currently taking place in the entire country under the Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana National Rural Livelihood Mission (DAYNRLM). (HT File Photo used for representational purpose only) PREMIUM
A sincere effort to emulate the development of the social capital of women’s collectives is currently taking place in the entire country under the Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana National Rural Livelihood Mission (DAYNRLM). (HT File Photo used for representational purpose only)

Political democracy has thrived with persons belonging to vulnerable social groups reaching high offices. The constitutional provisions for devolution, however, have not seen funds, functions, and functionaries becoming mandatorily accountable to local governments and communities. There is evidence that this compromises the journey towards more shared growth.

Eight challenges to inclusion require a more deliberative and decentralised approach: Income of the bottom quintiles (wages of dignity); semi-skilled and skilled employment with productivity; learning outcomes in schools (education to employability); improved child nutrition; quality health care for all and public health capacity; life of dignity for urban working class; green growth, a healthy Air Quality Index, and climate resilient agriculture; and nano, micro, small and medium enterprises with adequate credit access.

The southern states brought down income poverty and multidimensional poverty through high adolescent girls’ participation in higher secondary/tertiary education, the decline in fertility, improvement in health care services, formation of women self-help groups (SHGs), livelihood diversification through skills and collateral-free bank linkage for SHGs. A sincere effort to emulate the development of the social capital of women’s collectives is currently taking place in the entire country under the Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana National Rural Livelihood Mission (DAYNRLM). When these happen, private investments in manufacturing and services also follow as human capital and skills are key to investment decisions and productivity.

Evidence shows higher devolution leads to higher gains in human development and reduction of multidimensional poverty or an increase in MPCE. It is time to push decentralisation, with professionals and community resource persons (CRPs), in local governments. Responsibilities listed for gram panchayats in the Eleventh Schedule and for urban local bodies in the Twelfth Schedule must devolve to them. The countervailing presence of vibrant social capital of women’s collectives will improve accountability and community connect.

If the same set of 20 indicators of human well-being gets monitored real-time, from the level of the gram panchayat to the Prime Minister, with untied financial resources to meet community needs, India will be a very different nation. The Mission Antyodaya framework for monitoring and planning for panchayats is already in place. It can be further tweaked. Employable education and skills alone will unlock the demographic dividend. While governance reforms are needed, there is also a case for additional financial resources for human development routed through local governments. Crafting credible decentralised public (community-owned and led) systems for human capital holds the key to a faster transformation of lives and livelihoods.

We need to connect households to frontline health workers and institutions with local government-led primary health care governance. Improved systems of quality generic drugs with batch-wise testing and digitised warehouses will improve transparency. Family medicine courses for Health and Wellness Centre doctors will be very useful. Preparedness for pandemics requires higher infrastructure and human-resource spending in health.

India needs to improve learning outcomes as the top priority. Children have reached schools, but learning is a serious challenge. They need blended learning using e-learning materials with teachers trained for this; thrust on life skills, sports, cultural activities, co- and extra-curricular activities; TV screens and sound boxes in classrooms; no teacher shortage school wise; panchayats and women’s collectives, responsible for schools; and equity in access to e-learning. We need better management of the school system and a system of assessing teacher performance.

The decline of 8 points when it comes to stunting in Sikkim, 6.6 points in UP, and 5 points in Bihar between the National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-4 (2015-16) and NFHS-5 (2019-21), is evidence that the nutritional standards are aspirational but achievable. A community-led movement under the local government for early breastfeeding, clean drinking water, diversity of food intake, growth monitoring, basic medicines in time, sanitation, housing, low pollution, and women’s collective-led interventions hold the way to transformation. Daycare centres will be needed in very poor regions.

Skill and education equivalence is needed. Short-, medium- and long-duration interventions that improve the employability of youth are needed in partnership with industry and the services sector. Good teachers and health care providers from India have global demand. General graduate courses must offer employable certificate/diploma/apprenticeship-based opportunities before graduation.

Urban poor need assured public services. The challenge of housing needs a solution. Elected leaders at the basti level will improve direct community-led action along with the mobilisation of women’s collectives. Urban-like infrastructure in emerging rural areas, with town and country planning legislation for rural areas as well, will ensure norm- and standard-based development.

Green growth cannot be an afterthought. We need to go by the evidence to promote climate-resilient agriculture, regulate cars and construction, promote less polluting construction technologies and public transport, low-carbon emissions, community-led action for lifestyle changes, to reduce consumption.

Devolution for an Inclusive India is the pathway to shared growth and human capital.

Amarjeet Sinha is a retired civil servant. The views expressed are personal

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