By the World Bank’s broad definition of poverty ($2.00 or less a day per person), there are more poor people in the world today than a quarter century ago. Nearly half the world’s population, over three billion people, lives in poverty. In India alone, two-thirds of its one billion-plus population is poor. Yet, the strategy for alleviating poverty across practically every developing nation has remained essentially the same for the past several decades.
The last 15 years have seen a gradual but sharp decline in the health of the public finance at all levels, ie. the Union government, the states and the local bodies both urban and rural. Fiscal deficit has been running high as a percentage of Gross Domestic product. The State is crippled by repayment liability and interest payment liability. So, currently, India is in such a state that it cannot implement social welfare measure without a liability.
Local bodies particularly Pachayat Raj systems are generally are generally incapable of raising adequate resources. On top of it, public funds are generally squandered. The indebtedness of central government is in addition. The mindless overspending for social welfare measures is nothing short of cheating our future generations of their legitimate resources and opportunities, because it will be their liability to repay tomorrow what we are borrowing today.
International Development Assistance Hasn’t Worked
The UN Millennium project argues that it is the poverty trap of poor health, poor education and poor infrastructure reinforcing each other rather than bad planning, corruption, and ineffective execution that is hindering development of poor countries. The idea is that underdeveloped nations can be saved through more outside assistance and by expanding existing programs that are run mostly by governments. Those who support this notion want the World Bank and other international agencies and donors to make increased contributions to supplement domestic government resources. But there is very little evidence that foreign assistance has made much difference in overcoming the poverty trap in any country.
As a consequence of the financial assistance received from international agencies, national governments rely on strategies developed by planners at organizations such as the World Bank and the United Nations. There is no shortage of ideas, enthusiasm, and expectations at the planning level, but what is lacking is good execution.
Planners have no responsibility for ensuring that funded projects meet their goals in the field. Other than requiring periodic written reports and demonstration of individual cases where success has been prearranged, there is little feedback or accountability. Beneficiaries are not in a position to let their views be known, nor do they understand what is expected in the longer run.
Misuse of Funds
The beneficiaries of the social welfare measures are usually corrupt officials who manage and distribute funds, and landlords and power brokers who directly or indirectly extract benefits for themselves. In India, over 90% of the agricultural land is owned and partly cultivated by less than 10% of the rural population who are termed farmers; others are mostly laborers. Governments allocate land to the poor, but they are unable to utilize it because of limited water resources, bad soil conditions, and/or the inability to secure credit. Larger subsidies benefit bigger farmers, but the poor do not gain much directly from any government programs.
The presumption that with more money, corrupt and inefficient governments and bureaucratic institutions will utilize funds efficiently and improve the deplorable conditions of the poor is an illusion. There are too many impediments to poverty reduction: bribery, political influence in the allocation of land and/or credit, diffused focus and priorities, poor execution, a shortage of rural infrastructure, and social inequality, among other factors. Supporters of the “more money” approach should be reminded of what the late Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi once admitted: Less than 15 cents of each dollar in assistance intended for the poor finally gets to them. That is not to say that assistance should not be increased. But the real focus should be on ensuring that the allocated resources reach the poor.
If citizens cannot rely on an impartial judicial system, there is little hope for a just and fair society. Societies that do not protect property and person from predators cannot expect to create sufficient wealth for everyone. It is the erosion of press independence and the weakness of legal system that are most troubling.
Importance of Private Sector Participation
Government-run institutions have, for the most part, failed to offer quality services because they are unable to motivate those who carry out the tasks in the field. Those who can afford to pay for quality services rely on private providers. Even those who work for government go to private clinics for their health care needs, and send their children to private schools. Quality will never improve unless service providers have the incentive to serve the poor. Until then, the “haves” have markets to choose from, while the “have-nots” have bureaucrats to dictate to them.
In India there is no serious effort to involve private companies, though most rural areas are, in fact, ideally suited for industries in herbal products, alternate fuels, cement and tile, lumber and pulp, meat, dairy and poultry. These private industries should function in a free market with sufficient checks and balances to ensure that they operate in a socially and environmentally responsible manner. By offering job opportunities in villages, they would alleviate migration to cities for employment.
Financial incentives like low-interest loans and tax breaks, and physical infrastructure improvements will motivate private companies to build factories in rural areas. Elimination of controls on the sale of agricultural products, and assistance in finding new markets will attract many businesses. These measures will in turn improve the demand for produce and boost commodity prices to levels that can financially sustain rural families. Further, international agencies and donors must consider equity participation in companies instead of simply channeling funds through governments or offering grants. They should provide loans at low interest rates directly to local entrepreneurs who can demonstrate an ability to run successful businesses. In short, some of the available developmental funds must be used to support commercial activities in deprived communities. With more economic activity, the poor labor class can gain employment at better wages.
Government’s role ought to be that of a catalyst. There should be no room for bribes. The focus should be to provide incentives for private (and community) participation. When private individuals and institutions find it worthwhile to take risks and invest in economically depressed areas, there will be sustainable development and poverty reduction. As incomes rise, there will be less need for government involvement in the delivery of many services currently provided.
Sincere participation of poor has not yet achieved
It is essential to involve the poor, the main target , to ensure their welfare. Imparting of skills under the scheme must be done effectively which an be hand picked easily. The poverty alleviation schemes needs to be implemented at the level of the community. The involvement of the whole community, including the poor is essential to make the measures successful. the more the interference of government, the less will be the participation of the people. Administrative support is important but sans red-tapism and bureaucracy. Most of the
the governments welfare measures like IRDP has failed just because it lacked the effective involvement of the poor. It failed to understand the situations.
The Limited Role of NGOs
Despite positive contributions, NGOs have not been involved in major developmental undertakings intended to create large employment and wide income generation through sustainable businesses. This is attributable to their lacking good managerial skills and organizational structure to take up business ventures. Further, donor funds are usually restricted to narrowly defined projects. Consequently, the role that NGOs are best suited to play is in support of projects funded by governments and international agencies, or those limited initiatives approved by private donors.
Unfortunately, those NGOs that actually carry out developmental work in the field are stuck within programs specified by planners in developmental agencies and donor institutions. New ideas that deviate from those already specified by planners seldom qualify for any funding. Thus, project proposals are prepared to reflect the requirements set by these planners in terms of methodology and outcomes. There is little initiative from the ground up, and no real feedback. Demonstrating compliance on paper ends up more important than actually getting the job done effectively. As a result, recipients of developmental funds spend significant time preparing reports for the planners to qualify for continued funding, and less time worrying about what benefits the poor.
Handouts will not solve poverty; neither will it be solved by grand government projects, or by piecemeal interventions of NGOs. Instead, poverty will be solved with vibrant economic activity driven mostly by the private sector. The hundreds of millions of new jobs that are needed each year will come mainly from corporate business ventures in rural areas. The developmental strategy to address poverty must embrace this reality.
So, a market-based approach to poverty reduction will result in income and wealth creation, and lay the groundwork for the next generation to avail of a wider range of opportunities with enhanced resources.