National Consultation on the Development of an Index of Backwardness based on Block as a Unit

It is high time that a composite criteria for identifying backward areas (with the Block as a Unit) based on indicators of human development including poverty, literacy and infant mortality rates, along with indices of social and economic infrastructure, should be discussed and developed by all the stake holders especially the Planning Commission so as to bring in New initiatives for a revamped and strengthened Panchayati Raj system in the country. This expression came from the Union Minister for Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Dr.C.P.Joshi today at a National Consultation for Development of an Index of Backwardness based on Block as a Unit in Vigyan Bhawan New Delhi. He said The Second Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) constituted by the Government of India under the chairmanship of Shri Veerappa Moily had also considered the entire gamut of identification of backward areas in its Seventh Report on Capacity Building for Conflict Resolution.

Dr. Joshi said the Ministry of Panchayati Raj is implementing the Backward Regions Grant Fund (BRGF) which was launched by the Government in January 2007. The programme is designed to redress regional imbalances in development by providing financial resources for supplementing and converging existing developmental inflows into 250 identified districts, so as to bridge critical gaps in local infrastructure and other developmental requirements that are not being adequately met through existing inflows. For the untied portion of funds, the sharing pattern is (i) every district receiving a fixed amount of Rs. 10 crores per year; and (ii) the remaining portion being distributed on ‘50/50 basis’ as per the population and the geographical share of the district in the total population/ geography of all backward districts. The 250 identified backward districts included districts where NREGA programme was being implemented along with 170 districts including 55 Extremist Affected districts which were identified as the Most Backward districts by an Inter Ministry Task Group set up by the Planning Commission in August, 2004. The Task Group ranked districts on the basis of 17 chosen parameters relating to income deprivation, health and educational status and infrastructural inadequacy, summed up their ranks on the different parameters and arranged them on thebasis of their combined ranking to focus on relative deprivation levels. The Districts ranked lowest on the combined ranking list have been considered as the most backward in the country.

He said in accordance with the recommendations of the Second ARC, the Ministry of Panchayati Raj is considering adopting Block as a Unit of identification of backwardness and adopting suitable indicators for bringing in more focused interventions in these blocks.

He stressed the strong need to have wider consultations among other Ministries/organisations as well as independent experts who have written on the issue of inter / intra-State disparities.

Earlier inaugurating the discussion Shri A.N.P. Sinha, Secretary Ministry of Panchayati Raj said Governance needs to be particularly strengthened in more backward areas within a State. The role of ‘special purpose vehicles’ such as backward area development boards and authorities in reducing intra-State disparities needs to be reviewed. It is advisable to strengthen local governments and make them responsible and accountable. He said States have also been requested to compile the latest information in respect of these indicators and upload the same on the website of the Ministry of Panchayati Raj. Out of the approx. 6500 Blocks, data in respect of nearly 40 % has already been entered. States such as Andhra Pradesh have uploaded the updated information in respect of all the Blocks for 2008 and can be used for comparing with the 2001 data.

During the discussions as a preliminary exercise, the following identified indicators were discussed for developing an index of backwardness for CD Blocks:

Percentage of villages having paved approach roads; Percentage of land irrigated;Percentage of villages with safe drinking water; Percentage of villages with electricity; Percentage of Literate people; Percentage of villages with primary education facility;Percentage of villages with any health care facility; and Percentage of main worker to total worker.

The vote of thanks was given by Sh. Sudhir Krishna, Additional Secretary in the Panchayati Raj Ministry.

The one day long Consultation was attended by representatives from several States/UTs, Academics, Union Ministries and Planning Commission.

The Commission had also recommended the block as the Unit for planning and implementation for the purpose of NREGA in its Report on that programme. It stated that: “After the State specific Block level indices are worked out, they need to be applied not for a given set of development schemes but as general guidelines for allocation of resources for all development initiatives and in particular allocations from State and district level plan funds. Backward Blocks thus identified should also receive recognition for the purpose of allocations under the appropriate centrally sponsored schemes. In short, the strategy of reducing and minimizing regional imbalances primarily through targeting attention to Blocks identified as backward within the context of each State needs to be formally accepted by the Planning Commission.”

(Release ID :56908)