The Problem with 'Targeting'

Vol. 51, Issue No. 38, 17 Sep, 2016

In its zeal to achieve numerical goals, the government is jeopardising
the efficacy of welfare schemes.

When targets for social welfare schemes become more important than
actual outcomes, warm human beings become cold statistics. During the
Emergency, Sanjay Gandhi, the younger son of former Prime Minister
Indira Gandhi, was instrumental in implementing a forced sterilisation
programme. This one programme contributed to the unpopularity of the
Indira regime and her eventual electoral defeat in March 1977. More
importantly, the overall healthcare programme of the government was
wrongly equated with nasbandi, thereby damaging it considerably. In
1994, the government abandoned the concept of setting targets in
family welfare initiatives after it made an international commitment
at the United Nations Conference on Population and Development. Has
the Narendra Modi government failed to learn lessons from the
experience of previous governments in its zeal to meet targets for
various welfare schemes, including the ones aimed at achieving
financial inclusion (Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana), improved
sanitation (Swachh Bharat) and providing electricity to all villages
(Deen Dayal Upadhyay Gram Jyoti Yojana)?

A detailed investigation by the Indian Express, based on information
obtained under the Right to Information Act together with interviews
conducted with 52 individuals living in 25 villages and four cities
across six states, has arrived at conclusions that should make the
authorities sit up and think twice about the way targets are being
met. After the financial inclusion scheme—essentially a repackaging of
existing programmes—was announced by the Prime Minister on 15 August
2014 with much fanfare, nationalised banks went on an overdrive to
open new accounts. Thereafter, when it was pointed out that the mere
opening of “zero balance” accounts would achieve little, bank
officials decided to pursue a devious strategy to meet targets. They
started illegally seeding a single rupee into a zero balance account
to change its nomenclature. Until two years ago, at least two out of
five Indian families did not have a member with a bank account. This
proportion has since improved. However, opening a bank account is just
the first step towards financial inclusion and bringing the poor
within the ambit of the organised financial sector. If there is such
gross mani­pulation of data at this very first stage, claims about
“empowering” the poor by ensuring direct cash transfers to the
accounts of beneficiaries of welfare programmes have to be questioned.

Much has been written about the target-oriented approach in the Swachh
Bharat programme but there is little to indicate that the mindset of
ruling party politicians and bureaucrats has changed significantly.
Having imposed a cess from November 2015, construction of toilets has
been accelerated. Government data indicates that nearly 1.6 crore
toilets were built in rural areas in two years and that 9.5 crore more
need to be constructed in three years if the target to make the
country open-defecation free is to be achieved by 2019. Four out of
the five states that have built the maximum number of toilets are
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) governments, namely, Gujarat, Madhya
Pradesh, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh. There are enough indications
that mere construction of toilets is hardly successful in achieving
the bigger social goals of ensuring better sanitation and human waste
disposal. A report of the National Sample Survey Office found that
over 57% of the rural households and 22% of the urban households
surveyed in May–June 2015 did not have access to water in their
toilets. In Chhattisgarh, which has been ruled by the BJP for nearly
13 years, there are reports of sarpanches wanting to commit suicide
because they are unable to repay loans that were taken to meet targets
of toilet construction.

In the same state in November 2014, 15 women died because of botched
sterilisation operations; 70 more were hospitalised. A doctor and his
assistant had performed tubectomy operations on over 130 women in two
days. He was then lauded by the Chhattisgarh government for his
“achievement.” After he was arrested and suspended by Chief Minister
Raman Singh, he alleged that he had been under pressure to meet

The story repeats itself with rural electrification. In his
Independence Day speech in 2015, Modi claimed that though Nagla Fatela
village in Hathras district, Uttar Pradesh, was just three hours away
from Delhi it had taken almost seven decades for electricity to reach
its residents. Journalists later found the claim to be false.
Government data contends that nearly all villages in India—98.7%, to
be precise—have been electrified. Yet independent reports suggest that
electricity was not being consumed by more than one-third of the
households in Indian villages. The rural electrification policy
formulated a decade ago states that a village is considered
“electrified” if a transformer and distribution lines have been
provided in an inhabited locality, including a Dalit basti, and a
tenth of the households in the village has “access” to electricity.
There is no mention as to whether these households are actually
consuming power.

This government, like the previous one, persists with the subterfuge
of using questionable statistics to boast about its achievements. By
emphasising fulfilment of targets, the government is not only damaging
its own credibility but also undermining the processes through which
otherwise laudable welfare schemes are executed.

Peace Is Doable

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