Scaling Up Services in Rural India
Earth Institute adviser delivers recommendations to India's Prime Minister
The Earth Institute’s Nirupam Bajpai, Senior Development Adviser and Director of the South Asia Program at the Center on Globalization & Sustainable Development, delivered four project reports on scaling up services in rural India to the Indian political and civil service leadership, including India’s President, Prime Minister and Chief Ministers of two Indian states among several other policy makers.
The reports follow a year of intensive needs, costs, and delivery assessment by Earth Institute experts on drinking water, electricity, primary health, and primary education focusing on two Indian states Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.
The Earth Institute: Why were the states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh chosen as the focus states of this two year project?
Nirupam Bajpai: Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Madhya Pradesh (MP) were selected because they perform poorly in terms of economic and social development and because collectively, they account for roughly one-third of the total national population, of which over 75 percent reside in rural areas. In Year II, we’re working on Rajasthan. Rajasthan, MP and UP are three of the largest states in India, located almost in a continuum from the west to the center and then to the north. MP, Rajasthan and UP constitute 13 percent, 10 percent and 9 percent respectively of the country’s total geographical area.
The Earth Institute: What are some of the essential recommendations of the health and education sector reports?
Nirupam Bajpai: In broad terms, the project reports address two key questions. One: what will it cost in terms of finances and human resources to scale-up state-wide access (in UP and MP) to rural services of safe drinking water, availability of power, primary health, and primary education? Two: what policy, institutional and governance reforms may be necessary so as to ensure proper service delivery?
The reports identify and analyze a comprehensive set of issues in all the four sectors and lay out specific recommendations for the consideration of India’s federal government and the two state governments.
The Earth Institute: Are these recommendations within the means of India’s government to address?
Nirupam Bajpai: Yes, they certainly are within the means of the Government. To the extent feasible, we’ve recommended mobilization of additional funds by cutting unproductive government expenditures relative to GDP rather than by raising revenues relative to GDP. In order for effective delivery of social services, much higher levels of public resources must be invested in the social sectors, especially in the primary health sector by the federal and state governments and there needs to be closer coordination between the federal and the state governments.
For example, relative to the health sector, the education sector has not suffered as much for lack of public spending, though there is certainly room to do much more. In part, this is explained by the role played by the federal government in the primary education sector, especially since 1994. With the initiation of schemes, such as DPEP in 1994 and SSA in 2001, the federal government has helped make available fairly large sums of money to the state governments.
The lack of federal government’s involvement in the health sector relative to the education sector may also be due to the fact that health (public health and sanitation; hospitals and dispensaries) is in the State list per the Indian Constitution, whereas education is in the Concurrent list. Items in the State list are exclusively under the purview of the State Governments. However, the subjects under the Concurrent list are under both the federal and state governments.
The Earth Institute: Is there a plan to implement these recommendations?
Nirupam Bajpai: Well, from what I’ve learned after a presentation of these reports and subsequent discussions with the state governments of UP and MP, they're working on some of our key recommendations and plan to utilize them for policy-making purposes. The state governments also plan to use them for discussions with the Planning Commission of India for seeking higher levels of federal support for raising public investment in the health and education sectors.
The federal government, led by Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India, on the other hand is committed to raising social sector investments and so I’m confident that during the next few years and during India’s XI Five-Year-Plan (2007-12), the states will receive substantially higher federal funds in the health and education sectors.
The Earth Institute: You have just completed year one of the two year project “Scaling Up of Services in Rural India.” What happens in year two?
Nirupam Bajpai: As I said earlier, in Year II, we’ve recently begun working on the state of Rajasthan. Additionally, the Indian government has requested the Earth Institute to undertake similar work in two of India’s southern states Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, which we plan to incorporate into this project.
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The Earth Institute at Columbia University is the world's leading academic center for the integrated study of Earth, its environment and society. The Earth Institute builds upon excellence in the core disciplines earth sciences, biological sciences, engineering sciences, social sciences and health sciences and stresses cross-disciplinary approaches to complex problems. Through research, training and global partnerships, it mobilizes science and technology to advance sustainable development, while placing special emphasis on the needs of the world's poor. For more information, visit www.earth.columbia.edu.