The Bharat Nirman scheme announced by the Prime Minister( PM) openly at least, has the full support of politicians, political parties and generally also the media. But while accepting it as an excellent scheme, even friendly comment asks, `how is the project going to be translated into action?' After all, there have been many such schemes and "Yojanas" announced almost by all the PMs in the past and hardly have any progressed! 
The key to answer that question to my mind, is the Prime Minister's statement: "Boldness in innovation and commitment to decentralization should be the drivers for delivery improvement", and "This can be done only through...the involvement of all stakeholders,"- and that must include the rural communities and their Panchayats; industries - the large industrial houses as well as the smaller enterprises closer to the ground; the civil society - NGOs, Universities, Think Tanks, and above all the educated youth. 
The PM recently launched Bharat Nirman, calling upon the captains of industry to join hands in the massive effort for strengthening the rural infrastructure. He said the four-year development initiative was aimed at building six lakh houses, adding 10 million hectares of irrigation capacity, connecting 66,802 villages with all-weather roads, electrifying the remaining 1,00,000 villages, providing safe drinking water in 55,000 villages and rural telephony in all villages by 2009. While most of the funding will come from the Government's development outlays, a "Specific Financing Window" is proposed through NABARD for funding selected components. The model of delivery will involve the Panchayats and the private sector as partners. 
This seems to be the latest position in the commencement of the massive programme after nearly one year of its four year schedule of 2005-09. It has to be taken as given that the Panchayats by and large, are neither empowered nor equipped to take on even a small part of the programme. No arrangements for assigning responsibilities, supervision of the executing agencies, routing of funds for approved projects, accounting and accountability, etc., have yet been announced. Vague statements are being made in the Press and otherwise that unless the administration is reformed from the political level downwards, a programme of this magnitude cannot be taken up. This of course, is unacceptable. 
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The common man in rural areas particularly, but also in towns and cities has waited for six decades for the basic services that are part of his fundamental rights under the Constitution. Must he wait until government reforms and reorganizes itself to the purist's satisfaction, to take up the task of beginning to provide the services? In my view the action on Bharat Nirman cannot and must not wait. Four years for a massive countrywide, multi-dimentional programme is a very short time indeed. Success may well be partial, or slow. But one cannot lose time in setting up systems to perfection, nor adopt the ploy of providing finances to the State governments and claim that the programme has begun! 
A word about the admittedly corroded politico-administrative systems in several States, whose credibility is rather low: At the same time, one must remember that whenever an emergency situation arises, floods, coastal storms, earthquakes, or recently the Tsunami, the machinery activated by the governments is that of the District Collector and his subordinates. That the machinery does deliver is beyond doubt. There may be and there have been "scams", embezzlement and malfeasance of various kinds, generally discovered well after the event, and then pursued by the investigation agencies not promptly, but as the government of the day may desire. It is this latter aspect that diminishes public confidence in government. More so, when a government changes, or the opposition or dissidents take a hand. Much of this to my mind, because delegation and decentralization are limited and frequently not really meant; emergency action is neither supervised nor transparent, nor is accountability enforced. The short point is, that Bharat Nirman must start at the field level with the machinery already in position. 
What is required is to build an effective structure around the existing field administration that will ensure performance, accountability and sustained monitoring, while still including on the one hand, the stakeholders in the programme approval as well as the allocation of funds to specific projects, and in overseeing implementation through performance audit reports on the other hand. 
In the arrangement I am suggesting, at the central government level there will be a National Council presided over by the Prime Minister and serviced by the Bharat Nirman set up of the administrative ministry. This Council should broadly approve the programme and its content, make financial allocations on the basis of the preparedness of each State, receive monitoring reports and make further allocations strictly on the basis of performance. Neither should the diversion of funds be permitted, nor re­appropriations except within the approved projects. It is most important to ensure that the colour of the political party in power in a State must not come in the way of the allocation of funds and implementation of Bharat Nirman. Only the conformity with the concept and discipline of implementation should determine allocations. 
Similar State, Divisional and District Councils with the functions of programme/project approval, allocation of funds and monitoring implementation, should be set up. In all these Councils the stakeholders should be fully involved. For facilitating performance in the States, there should be an autonomous agency (Director General, Chief Commissioner) under the administrative ministry, answerable to the National Council. Under him in each State, there may be a Bharat Nirman Commissioner of the central government, with a Performance Audit agency to guide the State's field agencies and report on progress of implementation. 
The implementation of the approved projects shall be the responsibility squarely of the District Collector and his team of engineers, SDOs and BDOs under the overall supervision of the Divisional Commissioner. Apart from the performance audit under the Central Commissioner, there shall be minimal interruptions of the programme by "visits" of ministers, MLAs, MPs. Their role will be with other stakeholders in the District, Divisional and State Councils where the projects will be sanctioned and the progress as well as performance audit results presented. The results achieved by each Collector will go to form the State Government's report to the Central Council while asking for a further allocation of funds. 
Should the Administrative Reforms Commission recommend a more effective system within the short span of the first stage of the Bharat Nirman operations, such changes, small or drastic may be introduced without disturbing the tempo of operations.This is an outline. It can be refined but quickly. The implementation of Bharat Nirman cannot wait.
P. K.Dave 
Former Lt. Governor, Delhi

January-March 2006