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[RSTV ARCHIVE] Aspirational Model: Inspiration for the world

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has lauded the Centre’s Aspirational Districts Programme (ADP), saying that it should serve as a “best practice” for other countries where regional disparities in development status persist for many reasons.

UNDP has termed ADP as the most successful model of the Local Area Development.

Aspirational Districts Programme (ADP)

  • Launched in January 2018, the ‘Transformation of Aspirational Districts’ initiative aims to remove this heterogeneity through a mass movement to quickly and effectively transform these districts.
  • The broad contours of the program are Convergence (of Central & State Schemes), Collaboration (of Central, State level ‘Prabhari’ Officers & District Collectors), and Competition among districts driven by a spirit of mass Movement.
  • 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.

Behind the name

  • Hon’ble PM has negated the idea of naming any scheme based on their backwardness.
  • Rather the name ‘Aspirational’ presents a more affirmative action-based execution of the scheme.

Selection of districts

  • A total of 117 Aspirational districts have been identified by NITI Aayog based upon composite indicators.
  • The objective of the program is to monitor the real-time progress of aspirational districts based on 49 indicators (81 data points) from the 5 identified thematic areas.

Weightage has been accorded to these districts as below:

  • Health & Nutrition (30%)
  • Education (30%)
  • Agriculture & Water Resources (20%)
  • Financial Inclusion & Skill Development (10%)
  • Basic Infrastructure (10%)

Strategy of the ADP

The core Strategy of the program may be summarized as follows.

  • Making development a mass movement in these districts
  • Identify low hanging fruits and the strength of each district, to act as a catalyst
  • for development.
  • Measure progress and rank districts to spur a sense of competition.
  • Districts shall aspire to become State’s best to Nation’s best.

Features of the ADP

  • It has transformed into a Jan Andolan.
  • The ADP is different in trying to monitor the improvement of these districts through real-time data tracking.
  • The programme seeks to develop convergence between selected existing central and state government programmes.
  • District performance in the public domain and experience building of the district bureaucracy is another notable feature.
  • The programme is targeted, not towards any single group of beneficiaries, but rather towards the population of the district as a whole.

What makes this program special?

The program reflects what has become of the development project in India under neoliberalism, especially after the end of planning.

  • Long overdue sectors have been given more emphasis.
  • It is not a tailormade program with one-size-fit strategy. More onus has been laid on the districts. It has a district-intervention strategy.
  • It works on the principle of SWOT (strength, weakness, opportunity and threats) model and comparison with national best parameters for effective resource management.
  • It is the most reviewed programme by the Prime Minister.
  • A general idea behind the idea is that a good work never goes un-noticed. It is duly appreciated on social media as well as by the officials.
  • Through ADP, momentum in expediting growth is maintained as well so for the success of the program to be scaled and replicated in other districts which are still ranking low.
  • In principle, the programme does note the importance of quality of life and quality of services available.

COVID and ADP

  • ADP had found elderly citizens as the mist vulnerable in this pandemic.
  • Programs such as Surakshit Dada-Dadi Nana-Nani were held and almost every elderly person was reached.
  • Omnicus Platform with a panel of experienced doctors for COVID and ‘India Fights Covid’ Platform are other such initiatives.

Programmatic Strengths

  • A key strength of the ADP is the collection of baseline data and follow-ups at regular intervals.
  • Sustaining this effort would create a robust compilation of statistics for use by both researchers and policy-makers.
  • In doing this, the government also brings much-needed attention to human development and a willingness to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
  • Incremental progress being made in the chosen districts as reflected in the rankings.
  • The programme also claims to be “non-partisan and unbiased” and geared towards all-India growth.
  • The selection of districts indeed suggests that the programme has not favored any bias either regional, political or any other.
  • The programme seeks convergence of central and state schemes anchored around specific activities.

Issues with the programme

  • The programmatic limitations of the ADP with respect to agricultural development or poverty eradication are clearly visible.
  • Using the case of Bihar, they argue that the programmes selection of districts itself is problematic.
  • In fact, it actually excludes the most backward districts because per capita income, the most basic measure of development, has not been considered.
  • There seems to be some ambiguity around the issue of whether the programme is concerned only with improved access or also with the quality of service provided.
  • The indicators used are not defined relationally, rather they are static human development indicators that do not see people mired in dynamic social relations.
  • Similarly, the programme envisages “development’ in these districts as taking place in isolation from wider development.
  • For instance, under skill development, the programme seeks to encourage industry-relevant training and apprenticeship of youth in an environment of jobless growth.
  • It is also accused that the state is not making any new or focused public investment (except for possible use of Flexi-funds) into these districts, on the other hand, it is moralizing about their inability to improve (through rankings). 
  • The programme is carrying the burden of proving the government’s “developmental” work without addressing any of the fundamental issues around achieving equitable development.
  • Yet, the NITI Aayog justifies the overall approach as capitalizing on “low-hanging fruit.”

Way forward

  • The program has been able to make difference in the lives of citizens of India, in education, health, nutrition, financial inclusion, skill development and this has made a difference to some most backward and most geographically far-flung districts of the nation.
  • ADP is ‘aligned to the principle of “leave no one behind—the vital core of the SDGs. Political commitment at the highest level has resulted in the rapid success of the program the report said.
  • UNDP has recommended revising a few indicators that are slightly close to reaching their saturation or met by most districts like ‘electrification of households’ as an indicator of basic infrastructure.

Conclusion

  • The resounding success of the ADP is a testament to the efforts of the national, state and district level administrations, at the head of which is the empowering vision of our PM.
  • The transformational growth story of these districts would not have been possible without the continuous support of knowledge and development partners as well as civil society organizations.
  • A programme of this scale has redefined the contours of India’s development narrative and will continue to garner many more accolades as it achieves one progressive milestone after another.
  • The challenge of improving the country’s human development is real and pressing, as is the need to refocus on the most marginalized districts.
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