Archives March 2013

Reality Check: Key findings of primary research studies on MPLADS and RTE

Impact- evaluation study of the Member of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS)

As part of our mandate of strengthening public policy, planning and governance of development issues, PIF commissioned a pilot study to look at the performance of the Scheme in the year 2009-10 and  2010-11 towards achieving its stated goal of grassroots development through the creation of durable community assets based on locally felt needs.  The Foundation outsourced a micro-level study spread across districts in the four States of Uttar Pradesh (Agency: Giri Institute of Development Studies), West Bengal (Agency: Hijli Inspiration), Maharashtra (Agency: Raman Development Consultants Pvt. Ltd) and Tamil Nadu (Agency: Raman Development Consultants Pvt. Ltd).  Total nine districts were selected based on the State-wise highest and lowest expenditure incurred under the Scheme.  A special consideration was made for those districts that have a sizeable SC/ST population in order to provide an insight into the Scheme’s impact on the development of the disadvantaged class.

The Foundation aimed at both qualitative and quantitative research analysis.  It mainly employed participatory evaluative methodology like focus group discussions to get a ground level understanding of the Scheme’s impact as well as budgetary monitoring tools to identify the structural constraints impacting the implementation of the Scheme.

As is known, the corpus of Rs. 4000 crore annually is placed at the discretion of the MPs and District Planning authorities. There are already reports from the Comptroller and Auditor General, NABARD Consultancy Services and the Parliamentary Committee on MPLADS regarding the strength and loopholes in the implementation of the Scheme.  The Scheme has already run for 20 years and it is important to evaluate the gains from the point of view of its continuity.

The discretion given to the Member of Parliament to meet the locally felt community infrastructure and development needs with emphasis on the creation of durable assets is laudable, but it was broadly experienced during study that the projects recommended and carried out were not aligned with the priorities outlined in the District Development Plan. The only exception being that of rural connectivity through roads, but the field experiences pointed to the fact that allocation of fund was broadly distributed to maximize the number of projects.  Thus, compromising on the durability of the roads constructed. MPLADS guidelines do not have any specific process of selection of particular work, synchronizing it with the locally felt needs or a platform where the expression of local community can be heard towards the final selection process.  It was also observed that the requirement of benefiting SC/ST population in quantitative terms was not clear in the guidelines and, therefore, there was a tendency to work out a proportionate advantage on the basis of their percentage population representation.  The selection of implementing agencies was heavily influenced by preferences of Members of Parliament.  In Maharashtra, the most preferred implementing agency of Labour Societies largely reflected specific segments of the community largely constituted by party workers thereby very close to the Member of Parliament.   The cost estimates and financial vetting of the proposals left much to be desired and attempts were generally made to accommodate more number of projects inadequately funded with no emphasis on maintenance.  The completion and utilization certificates were also not in accordance with the guidelines.  The information regarding completed and ongoing works were mostly not placed on the website.  Moreover, pro-active disclosure at many places was found missing, as the works executed were not displayed on a plague carrying the inscription of MPLAD Scheme details.  The inspection by the Nodal District Authorities was tardy at the senior level and the major casualty to this has been the identification of agency entrusted with the maintenance of the assets created.  There is an urgent necessity to identify agencies responsible for maintenance and earmark an annual allocation of 10% of MPLADS fund for maintenance and repairs of these assets created.

Overall, there is a need for re-visiting and revamping of MPLADS guidelines after taking into consideration the various reports both by the governmental agency and NGOs.  As the dovetailing of the projects implemented under the Scheme with the District Development Plan has not been possible, it is felt that the Government should re-look the details of the Scheme, particularly the selection process.  At present, the projects selected are mostly based on restricted local aspirations, influenced heavily by political overtones and are mostly suffering on account of inadequate maintenance provisioning.

Assessment of the implementation of the Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009 in selected districts of Uttar Pradesh

The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (RTE Act), a milestone in the history of elementary education in India reflects a paradigm shift to a rights-based approach towards education. The RTE Act prescribes basic norms and standards for all schools to comply and cater to the educational and overall needs of all children in schools, irrespective of their social and economic backgrounds, gender, abilities or competencies. To gauge the level of involvement of all stakeholders and the status of implementation of the Act in schools, PIF undertook a study in three districts of Uttar Pradesh (UP), namely, Bareilly, Bahraich and Mau, on the basis of the total number of Out-of-School-Children (OoSC) falling in the eligibility age group, from the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2010. The study was outsourced to Planman Consulting (I) Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi.

The categories of participants in the study include teachers, head masters, parental community, students/children, school management committee (SMC) members, and representatives at the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI) from all three districts. Six schools from five blocks in each district were proportionately drawn from both rural and urban areas. The data was collected through interviews of students, teachers, SMC members and other stakeholders, observations drawn from school visits and focused group discussions held with parents of enrolled students.

A key observation of the study states that majority of parents and SMC members view the RTE Act as a catalyst which facilitates the availability of schools in proximity to children belonging to weaker sections and disadvantaged groups. Even so, this viewpoint accelerates the want of desire in emphasising on the quality of education in these common schools. SMCs have been formed in all schools. They are aware of their roles and responsibilities towards the school. Yet, sensitization towards the creation of School Development Plans (SDPs) is still deficient.

There is a need to allocate additional funds to ensure implementation of multifarious aspects of the Act. The field study noted that 25 per cent reservation norm in private schools for weaker sections and disadvantaged groups residing in respective districts has been seemingly ignored from being enforced. Although, all three districts have neighbourhood schools (both primary and upper primary schools (UPS)) there is discrepancy in terms of prescribed distance. The concept of ‘neighbourhood schools’ is non-existent in few panchayats as primary schools are not located within a distance of 1km from the community as observed in Mau and Bareilly.

There is a swelling demand to thrust attention on infrastructure expansion in all the districts under consideration. Even as all weather-pucca building, boundary wall, provision for a kitchen to cook and serve Mid-Day-Meal (MDM), HM’s office room, library, playground and the  like are available in most schools, the number of classrooms in proportion to number of students has been found to be less. Crucial in this regard is the lack of access to sanitation facilities and regular potable drinking water in schools. This deficiency could adversely implicate the success of the RTE Act. Currently, multiple classes are being held together in one room, which may have major quality implications affecting the learning environment of a classroom.

Local authorities have been undertaking activities such as maintaining records of all children (who had dropped-out or never enrolled, children who belonged to the weaker sections, and children with special needs (CwSN)), participating in meetings of school management committee (SMC). Even so, these authorities are not absolutely active in their participation in school-mapping, child-mapping, holding awareness activities for sensitizing the parental community and collaboration with school and SMCs is less, in Mau district.

The admission procedures in most schools have been found to be transparent and in adherence to the State norms. There has not been any publication of records, admission registers or enrolments on any public portals by any of the stakeholders. Adequate funds have been provided by State Government under Sarva Shiksha Abhigyan (SSA) to most of the schools as per their needs and requirements. Provisions of Teacher Learning Material (TLM), free textbooks, uniform, scholarships, equipment and supplies for children with special needs (CwSN) etc. were available in all schools. Noticeably in most schools of the three districts over-aged children, those admitted late, drop outs or never enrolled children and CwSN have not been integrated into the common classroom. Special trainings for mainstreaming of OoSC and age-appropriate admission require specific attention. Adequate number of teachers is a concern in almost all schools at both primary and UP levels, especially for specific subjects. All teachers have been observed to have minimum eligibility qualification, attend trainings organized by District Institute for Education and Training (DIET), and are recruited as per rule.

Our study highlights that issues pertaining to enrolment, access, school infrastructure and other services such as quality teachers, management and monitoring system exist in the state educational system. In addition, it is relevant to bridge the gap between the rural and urban areas particularly in maintenance of records, appointment of teaching staff, infrastructural development and challenges to enrolling of children and reducing dropout rates.

Alleged criminals contribute to political stability !

At least a dozen prominent NGOs have filed Public Interest Litigation (PIL)  before the Hon’ble Supreme Court seeking intervention to shut the entry of politicians with criminal background.  These PILs are at various stages of hearing in the assigned Benches of Hon’ble Supreme Court.  The gist of  the prayer before the Hon’ble Supreme Court is as follows:-

(a) That article 326 vis-à-vis article 84/173 contains a bar both express and implicit against crime tainted persons becoming candidates or members.  Consequentially, sections 8, 9 and 11A of the Representation of People Act, 1951 (RPA)   be declared unconstitutional.

(b) Criminalisation affects the basic structure of democracy and there is a constitutional obligation to uphold free and fair elections envisaged under article 326 of the Constitution and thus ensure that the opportunity of one man one vote is neither breached directly or indirectly.

(c) That direction be issued to the Union Government for bringing legislation to disqualify persons with criminal background who have been charged with serious offences punishable for not less than five  years provided the appropriate court has taken cognizance of the offences.  Provided further that the offence was registered not within one year of the election notification.

(d) Further, the direction should require the Legislature to consider making appropriate law on the basis of recommendations by various expert commissions including the Law Commission on this subject.

(e) To fast track the cases of criminals who have entered the legislature with time bound disposal preferably in six months.

As mentioned,  Hon’ble Supreme Court is seized of this very important matter in different Benches.  It would be better to consolidate all such PILs for hearing by a common Bench so that important constitutional and legal issues raised as well as the relief sought are adjudicated and a stamp of  finality is given.

As per the existing provision in the RPA, 1951, anyone  found guilty of a criminal offence and has been convicted for a prison term of two years or more is disqualified to contest election for a period of six years.  The disqualification remains valid unless the operation of the conviction has been stayed   or suspended.  However, the RPA, 1951 provides a relief under section 8(4) to a sitting Member of Parliament or the Legislature of a State, who if convicted will not be automatically disqualified if within three months of the conviction, the elected representative prefers an appeal or revision against conviction.  Thus, the disqualification is suspended till the outcome of the appeal/revision by  a  competent court.

In a recent affidavit filed by the Ministry of Law & Justice, it has been stated that the convicted MPs/MLAs get disqualified only after exhausting all legal remedies and it is based on a legislative policy to “ensure existence and continuity” of an elected House.  The same affidavit also asserts “thus the plea about criminalization of politics based on the factual statement that a large number of sitting MPs are convicts is unsubstantiated”.

It is unfortunate that the criminalization in politics has been dealt in such a manner.  Is it not a fact that 1158 candidates contested  Lok Sabha election in 2009 who have criminal antecedents in terms of charge sheet framed?  Is it not a fact that 150 MPs have criminal record and 72 MPs are facing serious criminal charges.

Significant number of elected representatives  retain their position by maneuvering  the system in such a way that the hearing on their cases get deliberately delayed at the trial court itself.   It is evident  that such privileges are not available to any other category of citizens enjoying public office or otherwise.

One expected that the Union Ministry of Law & Justice should have recognized the menace of criminalization in Indian polity and assured the Hon’ble Supreme Court regarding measures to check the rot.  Deposing before the Committee on Law & Justice, Secretary, Legislative Department, on 25th January, 2007, had proposed a new section 8(b) to keep away from elections those persons alleged to have been having criminal background.  As per the suggestion, persons charged with heinous crimes at least six months prior to the date of nomination for election shall be disqualified unless acquitted.  It was also clarified  by the Secretary, Legislative Department that heinous offences have been identified for this purpose.  The Ethics Committee of the Parliament also in 1999 had suggested to the Government that electoral reforms should be expedited to keep criminals out of the political arena.  Both the Law Commission in its 170th Report and the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (2002), had proposed a bar for entry of persons charged with any offence punishable with imprisonment  of  five years or more.  The Law Ministry, perhaps, avoided any commitment to Hon’ble Supreme Court in order to escape  any likely embarrassment in future.

The first step could have been to enact a law for the political parties which could ban the parties from giving ticket to contest elections to candidates having serious criminal antecedents.   Such heinous crimes could be listed for the purpose.   The Election Commission could be empowered to frame rules which would disqualify the candidates charged  for serious offences to contest elections.  The minimalistic agenda could be that after the election results are announced, the Election Commission may be asked to finalise a list of winning candidates who have serious criminal cases pending against them where charges have been framed by the court of law and these should be forwarded to a fast track court.    Any appeal filed by such candidates against the framing of charges or against later conviction by trial courts, should also be referred to a fast track court set up by the High Court/Supreme Court.  All such matters could be decided within six months.  The membership of the Lok Sabha  or State Assembly of such candidates should remain suspended till the pendency of the case.

The above arrangement would not disturb the stability of the Government. The suggested constitution of fast track court could be immediately implemented without waiting for an exhaustive electoral reform, which has been  evading political consensus.  This would create a level playing field for all parties and would discourage the political parties from giving ticket to criminals.  The criminals would also feel discouraged as they  may be subjected to a fast track decision which does not serve their self-interest.

By Nripendra Misra, Director, PIF

Proposal by Public Interest Foundation on Electoral Reforms in India

The electoral process was set in tune in the independent India with the institution of Election Commission of India (ECI) and the office of Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) preceding the enactment of the Representation of the People Act (RPA), 1951. The elections of 1951 captured the euphoria of India’s constitutional democracy. To Sukumar Sen, the first CEC, the elections in India were, unquestionably, ‘the biggest experiment in democracy in human history’ (Guha 2007, 147)1.

The widely contested debate on ensuring democracy to be safe for a 21st century world order evokes a critical thinking within the institutional structure of ‘the great Indian democracy’. The grandeur of the sub-continent’s electoral process is being marred by the escalation of criminals in politics, often,making laws on offences they are associated with. This, indubitably, affects the process of democratisation in the country. As the evidence of substantive democracy finds its presence in the public discourse on issues of governance deficit, there is an exigency to sustain the idea of Indian State constructed on the framework of liberal democracy.

You can read the rest of the article here.