Choosing sides

Justice and security sector reforms are perhaps the best way to ensure delivery of programmes for the poor

Anju Gupta Aligarh

India has been pursuing explicit policies and programmes for the economic development of the poor in the country for many decades. While development experts hold divergent views on the success of these initiatives, the lowest common denominator has been the welfare of the poor. In India, planning and development have long been synonymous with budgeting, and outcome with expenditure. Economic growth has been largely measured in terms of GDP and other such economic indices. Additionally, the non-monetary interventions have not been the focus of planning and development.

The poor, who solely depend on the state, experience the delivery of essential services such as health, education, transport, getting worse! The local repressive socio-political structure introduces distortions in the delivery. Corruption is a symptom of distortion in the delivery and not the cause. These cause conflicts in the society, which surface through countless law and order situations— visible on the streets everyday!

Consider a mundane example of distribution of kerosene at subsidised rates. The poor get only a fraction of the quota and accept it without questioning the local syndicate: the real beneficiaries. The local syndicate represents the local power structure, built and sustained on the 'strengths' of socio-economic disparities. The economic gains accrued at the cost of the poor enable this syndicate to find itself many friends in politics and administration. The face of the government in rural areas or in small towns, darogas and patwaris, chose to align themselves with the syndicate and benefit. The syndicate also builds mutually rewarding networks with the key public representatives, the block pramukh, the zilla panchayat adhyaksh, the cooperative chairman, the MLA, the MP, ministers and so on. The syndicate supplies resources and votes in lieu of protection. The nexus is so formidable that government functionaries cannot challenge them for long as ultimately they will be thrown out of the delivery chain. So the majority of these functionaries either align and benefit or turn a blind eye. The syndicate also dominates livelihood options, gram panchayats and money-lending in their local area of influence; which only tighten the grip over the poor. 

One could argue that the state, as represented by these functionaries collectively, is solely responsible. This is too simplistic a diagnosis based on the paradigm of functions of a welfare state. What is required is a paradigm shift: empowerment not welfare is the key to creating an egalitarian society and this empowerment is of the citizen as well of the 'state' to fulfil their respective roles. Thus, what is required is widening the goals of economic planning and development in tandem with hard reforms of justice and security sector (JSS). The JSS includes the legislative, the executive, civilian bodies and civil society. Each component will have to be reformed and developed in tandem with other components to bring about this empowerment.

Reduction of inequities, social justice, good governance, people's participation and other such goals have to become integral part of the economic planning and development. The biggest challenge before the planners is to integrate poor and marginalised sections into mainstream economic activities. The human development indices, inequities indices and others would have to be designed and chosen suitably in quantifiable or some measurable terms and the programmes and policies will have to be assessed on two key issues: (a) to what extent do these indices reflect economic development of the poor and marginalised sections? And (b) to what extent do these indices reflect a measure of socio-economic transformation?

It is clear that some concrete measures are required to break the local power structures that adversely impact the delivery of programmes for poor and marginalised sections of the society. It would require detailed research and in-depth analysis of the linkages of the JSS with the delivery of the development programmes to come up with a comprehensive plan of action.