A battalion of Central government officers has been drafted to ensure on the ground implementation as the Centre races to saturate 117 “aspirational districts” with seven flagship social welfare schemes by Independence Day.
Prime Minister Modi is scheduled to meet 2.5 lakh beneficiaries of these schemes in Jaipur on Saturday and has pointed to this campaign as a model for future implementation of welfare delivery.
At least 800 Deputy Secretaries, Under-Secretaries, and Director-level officers, drawn from Ministries as diverse as Defence and Urban Affairs, have been assigned about 75 villages to visit, as part of the Extended Gram Swaraj Abhiyan (EGSA) from June 1 to August 15. In total, 49,178 villages — most with a majority SC/ST population — are being targeted.
Over the two-and-a-half month period, these Central officials are being absorbed into EGSA duty for at least 15 working days.
In each village, the Central team convenes a meeting of villagers and beneficiaries along with a State government or district official, a lead bank representative and local officials from the agencies responsible for enrolling people into the schemes.
Central officers could direct the local representatives to give immediate sanction for gas cylinders, bank accounts or electricity connections. The teams can also directly input the day’s progress into a data system.
Senior Ministry officials also make direct daily calls to a section of District Collectors to monitor progress, while third-party observers for each district —mostly from NGOs or academia — have been drafted in to do random checks of villages and report back to the Ministry.
The large-scale involvement of Central officers raises questions about the viability of such drives, and about roles in a federal democracy. Questions are being raised about Centre-State relations under this model, in an election year.
Direct connections to the district administration tend to bypass State administrations while sending out large Central teams to do the work of local officials fails to empower local human resources.
The campaign, undertaken under the name of “Sabka Sath, Sabka Gaon, Sabka Vikas”, is to promote social harmony, spread awareness about pro-poor initiatives of the government, reach out to poor households to enroll them as also to obtain their feedback on various welfare programmes.
As a special endeavor during the Gram Swaraj Abhiyan, saturation of eligible households/persons would be made under seven flagship pro-poor programmes in 21,058 identified villages.
The programmes covered are Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, Saubhagya, Ujala scheme, Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana and Mission Indradhanush.