Back in the mid-1980s, India's then-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi lamented that out of every rupee spent on welfare schemes, only 15 paise reached the poor. More than a quarter of a century later, the scale and ambition of India’s social sector programs have become far bigger than what even Rajiv’s 21st-century vision could have comprehended. But one thing has remained constant – the system still leaks.
That’s not to say the problem hasn’t received attention. There is increased awareness about pilferage and diversion of assets meant for a target population. Programs now are better designed to detect leakages, estimate what’s being delivered and allow monitoring at various stages.
But these measures have met with varying degrees of success. Clearly some states – and indeed some projects – have been better at drawing benefits and utilizing funds than others.
So how do you get more bang for your buck when it comes to development projects? When the World Bank invited me to visit some of its assisted projects in Tamil Nadu in early May this year, I got a firsthand opportunity to mull this issue.