In an independent appraisal report, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) India has lauded the Aspirational Districts Programme (ADP) as ‘a very successful model of local area development’that ‘should serve as a best practice for several other countries where regional disparities in development status persist for many reasons’.
The report said due to concerted efforts made under the ADP, previously neglected districts, including those in remote locations and those affected by Left Wing Extremism, ‘have experienced more growth and development in the last three years than ever before’. Notwithstanding some speedbumps in its journey, the APD ‘has been immensely successful in propelling development among the backward districts’.
The report is based on quantitative analysis of publicly available data as well as interviews with various stakeholders, including district magistrates, central prabhari officers, district fellows and other development partners.
UNDP’s analysis across the 5 key sectors of the ADP—health and nutrition; education; agriculture and water resources; basic infrastructure; and skill development and financial inclusion—found that the programme has acted as a catalyst for expediting development in these districts. According to the report, while health and nutrition, education, and to a certain extent, agriculture and water resources, have registered massive improvements, the other indicators despite making significant strides offer scope for further strengthening.
Aspirational Districts Programme:
- Launched in January 2018, the ‘Transformation of Aspirational Districts’ programme aims to quickly and effectively transform some of the most underdeveloped districts of the country.
- The broad contours of the programme are Convergence (of Central & State Schemes), Collaboration (of Central, State level ‘Prabhari’ Officers & District Collectors), and Competition among districts driven by a Mass Movement or a Jan Andolan.
- With States as the main drivers, this program will focus on the strength of each district, identify low-hanging fruits for immediate improvement, measure progress, and rank districts.
Focus of the programme:
- To enable optimum utilization of their potential, this program focuses closely on improving people’s ability to participate fully in the burgeoning economy.
- Health & Nutrition, Education, Agriculture & Water Resources, Financial Inclusion & Skill Development, and Basic Infrastructure are this programme’s core areas of focus.
Significance of the scheme:
- If these districts are transformed, there would be tremendous improvement in the internal security environment of the country.
- If Prabhari officers can bring convergence in the development efforts of different Ministries and state Governments and the schemes specially launched by Home Ministry in these districts, it would serve as a great opportunity to ensure rapid development in the country.
Significance and role in overall development at grassroots level
- Health outcomes in the mentored districts reveal significant improvements between the first and second third-party household surveys (in June-August 2018 and January-March 2019).
- There were increases in registering pregnant women into the health system (from 73 per cent to 86 per cent), institutional delivery of babies (66 per cent to 74 per cent), and anti-diarrheal treatment via ORS (51 per cent to 67 per cent) and zinc (34 per cent to 53 per cent).
- Decentralization of Development: ADP focuses on outcomes, that enables local experimentation based on a firm appreciation of ground realities.
- Inclusive approach: The delta ranking of the Aspirational Districts combines the innovative use of data with pragmatic administration, keeping the district at the locus of inclusive development.
- Through ADP government seeks to uplift those districts which have shown relatively lesser progress in achieving key social outcomes.
- Districts affected my militancy and left-wing extremism are given focus and resources to uplift them through development which will have direct influence on stability and peace.
- Collaborative approach: To facilitate the convergence of ideas and funds, the ADP operates on a three-tier collaborative model.
- For each ‘aspirational district’, there is a Central Prabhari Officer as well as a State Prabhari Officer.
- These two, along with the district administration, work with a host of development partners on various development parameters.
- Evidence-based policy: Data collection is often delayed or lacking in quality in India, distorting the development policy efforts. With real time data in ADP, those on the ground level can alter strategies after accurate feedback.
In a way, the ADP reorients how government does its business of delivering development.
- ADP is a laboratory of various cutting-edge governance reforms.
- Building each district’s internal capacity to produce reliable and actionable data, and promoting a culture of data use, can be made a priority for the ADP.
- First and foremost, the programme has shifted focus away from inputs and budgets to outcomes, such as learning and malnutrition, at the highest echelons of the government.
- It has also introduced non-financial incentives to encourage government officials to deliver results and actively encourages forging partnerships with philanthropies and civil society to create better impact using the same amount of budgetary spends.
- The programme has also developed a lean data infrastructure that smartly exploits complementary strengths of administrative and survey data.
- Each of these initiatives is a radical shift from the status quo in governance today. Therefore, it is critical to carefully document and learn from the ADP’s experiences.