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Review of BRGF (objectives, deficiencies, monitoring) - Experiences
B.K Sinha, NIRD, Hyderabad

The Ministry of Panchayati Raj has recently set up the National Advisory-cum- Review Committee on Backward Regions Grant Fund (BRGF). The National Institute of Rural Development (NIRD), Hyderabad is the Secretariat for the Committee. We would like the feedback of members of the Decentralization Community on issues referred to in the terms of reference of the committee.
BRGF is designed to redress regional imbalances in development. The Fund provides financial resources to the States for supplementing and converging existing developmental inflows into 250 identified districts, so as to:
(a) Bridge critical gaps in local infrastructure and other development requirements that are not being adequately met the existing inflows;
(b) Strengthen, to this end the Panchayati Raj and Municipality level governance through appropriate capacity building, to facilitate participatory planning, decision making, implementation and monitoring, reflect felt local needs;.
(c) Provide professional support' to local bodies for planning, implementation and monitoring their plans; and
(d) Improve the performance and delivery of critical functions assigned to Panchayats, and counter the possible efficiency and equity losses on account of inadequate local capacities.
Considering the importance of BRGF in addressing the national objective of redressing the regional imbalances, a National Advisory-cum-Review Committee is constituted. Based on the Terms of Reference of the Committee, we invite members to give us feedback from the field on:
· To what extent have the objectives of BRGF been fulfilled?
· What, in your experience, are the frequently occurring deficiencies, gaps in capacity and planning process and role of training institutions coming in way of effective implementation of BRGF provisions?
· To what extent are the monitoring mechanisms adequate under BRGF?
· What are the needed modifications in the objective and design of BRGF, including the Block as unit for funding?
Your inputs would greatly aid the work of the Advisory-cum-Review Committee.

Responses were received, with thanks, from

1. Anindo Banerjee, Praxis – Institute for Participatory Practices, Patna
2. Ramit Basu, UNICEF, New Delhi
3. Kashinath Chatterjee, BGVS, New Delhi
4. Debraj Bhattacharya, ISS, New Delhi
5. Harathi Vageeshan, Centre for World Solidarity, Secunderabad
6. P.P Balan, CRRID, Chandigarh
7. D.C Misra, National Informatics Centre, New Delhi
8. Ramesh Waghmare, DILASA Trust, Ahmednagar
9. Devidas Nimje, Debate, Raipur
10. Bidyut Mohanty, Institute of Social Sciences , New Delhi
11. K.Rajasekharan, Kerala Institute of Local Administration (KILA), Thrissur
12. Kunal Bandyopadhyay, P& RD Department, Government of West Bengal , Rishra
13. S. Rajakutty, National Institute of Rural Development (NIRD), Hyderabad
14. Manoj Rai, PRIA, New Delhi
15. Phani Kumar, APARD, Hyderabad
16. Sanjeev Sinha, MGSIRD, Madhya Pradesh
17. Shashikant Kumar, Green Eminent Research Centre, Vadodara
18. Srinibas Pathi, Mizoram University , Aizwal
19. Amit Anand, UNDP, Bhopal
20. Pradeep Choudhary, Jaipur
21. Rakesh Srivastava, SIRD, Arunachal Pradesh
22. B.P Syam Roy, Kolkata
23. Navneet Kothari, Government of Madhya Pradesh, Balaghat

Summary of Responses


The query inviting review of the Backward Regions Grant Fund (BRGF), its objectives, deficiencies and monitoring mechanisms drew responses from a variety of states. Members touched upon the critical gaps and deficiencies in capacity building and planning processes, commented on the monitoring mechanisms and suggested modifications in the programme towards better achievement of its goals.
Reflections on to what extent the objectives of BRGF have been fulfilled
Most respondents agreed that while the programme is well intentioned, it has not done very well on the ground (see Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan experiences). They observed that the concept and scope of BRGF has been narrowly conceived by different actors. As a result importance is given to immediate tangible outcomes. In the name of filling the critical gaps in development most of the activities are relating to infrastructure development. Planning has left much to be desired. Wherever there have been some plans developed, how much of these are a reflection of the Panchayat plans is an issue. Even where districts have done planning on their own as well as places where Technical Support Institutions (TSIs) have been involved, what has come out is a BRGF plan without taking stock of existing sectoral plans. In states like Andhra Pradesh, line departments have not been very enthusiastic about disclosing the annual allocations to the District Planning Committees (DPCs).
Institutional capacity for planning is limited. Identification of gaps has been a problem faced by many Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs). Members recounted that by all accounts, capacity building training has been of token nature. Capacity building has been confined to a few in-house trainings. There have been limited attempts by state governments to create awareness on the importance of participatory planning. It is almost as if efforts have been made only for plan preparation (mostly by TSIs), while no emphasis has been given to its sustainability and usefulness to local people.
Deficiencies/gaps in planning process, role of TSIs and capacity building
The planning exercise, as envisaged under BRGF is fraught with deficiencies. Respondents explained that the problem stems from the fact of there being a lack of understanding of the participatory planning process. In many states there are parallel planning exercises happening. Members opined that once an integrated, comprehensive plan is prepared and approved by Gram Sabhas, it should leave no need for any parallel planning exercise to be undertaken for any scheme or purpose, by any line department or agency. Thereafter, only those interventions ought to be supported under BRGF that cannot be taken up under any of the regular schemes. However, in many districts, BRGF-based planning processes have been reduced to a parallel planning exercise, often with little or no involvement of Gram Sabhas.
There are other problems in the planning process. Members outlined the frequent transfers of involved officials, data deficiency for planning, insufficiency of technical and human resources and insufficient support of line departments in the consolidation of plans. Also, where TSIs are involved, they have had to face several hurdles. Many times they are seen as ‘contractors’ by district authorities who are meant to prepare the District plans and hand them over to the authorities. It has been seen that there is a lack of coordination between TSIs and government departments. Additionally, it has been very difficult for TSIs to collect data for planning. Line departments do not furnish data easily and even where data has been collected from state and district levels, the block level data is often unavailable. On the planning technology front, Plan Plus software has not become popular even among the officials dealing with BRGF. More training needs to be carried out for its wider applicability and usage.
Respondents observed that even though capacity building is the main component of the BRGF, awareness about the programme is very low. In many cases, the nodal agency entrusted for capacity building does not have the required expertise to organize training programmes on a large scale. A major concern is that the philosophy of the BRGF is unclear to the institutions assigned with the task of capacity building. Many still view it as an activity oriented fund, rather than a programme for filling major developmental gaps. Accordingly, the capacity building initiatives are of inadequate quality and duration. Moreover, members felt that capacity development has been heavily supply driven- with focus being on training Panchayat representatives/ functionaries on Acts and Rules. Attention of implementing agencies has not gone into exploring the demand driven market for ‘skills’.
Among other deficiencies, contributors drew attention to the fact that in most states the scheme is located within Department of Panchayat and Rural Development. This has led to the attention shifting away from Urban Local Bodies (ULBs). Spatially, urban areas within the backward districts have been virtually left out of the development processes catalyzed by BRGF.
Monitoring mechanisms
Respondents expressed mixed views on the monitoring mechanisms. While most felt that these are adequate for the programme, many felt that monitoring is at low ebb. A community based monitoring system has not been developed so far. Members suggested that monitoring indicators could be spelt out at the stage of planning itself and could include clear delineation of roles and accountabilities. At the district level, Monitoring Cells need to be set up within DPCs to track the progress of district planning processes and extend facilitation support to diffuse emerging problems, if any.
Needed modifications in the objective and design of BRGF
Members gave varied suggestions on the required modifications in BRGF. They suggested that the fund could be earmarked as untied fund to facilitate planning at the Gram Panchayat (GP), Block, ULB level. Issue of broad guidelines stating the criteria for the distribution of funds would be helpful in avoiding discrimination. Some control mechanism may also be put in place to avoid large spending on infrastructure. In order that local needs get properly reflected, there could be rounds of discussions through special Gram Sabhas to prioritize and plan.
There could be 'accountable' inter-departmental coordination committees at state and district levels to provide support to participatory planning processes in the district. A single plan from each Panchayat and Municipality is desirable. A draft district development plan could be implemented by convergence of resources. Panchayats and Municipalities need handholding support for planning. Simultaneously genuine devolution of funds, functions and functionaries is needed and DPCs strengthened to anchor the process of integrated district planning on its own over time.
Regarding capacity building contributors suggested that the National Capability Building Framework (NCBF) could be removed from the BRGF and developed into a separate scheme covering the entire country.
Further suggestions included:
· Spelling out clearly the normative formula for inter se allocation of funds.
· Ensuring a mechanism by which ULBs and RLBs get equal attention and proportionate funds
· Revisiting the criteria of backwardness and making it more focused by paying attention to ‘pockets of poverty’ rather than districts
· Taking the Block as the unit for BRGF planning
· Provision for third party monitoring and evaluation
Respondents concluded that BRGF has made the idea popular that a plan is a mandatory requirement for getting resources. It requires political will, mass awareness generation and focused capacity building to be implemented in letter and in spirit.

Comparative Experiences

Bihar
Integrated District Planning, Vaishali (from Anindo Banerjee, Praxis-Institute for ParticipatoryPractices, Patna )
In many districts BRGF based planning has been reduced to parallel planning exercise. In the integrated district planning exercise districts like Vaishali, it is more useful to identify gaps in the integrated planning and then focus on filling the gaps through BRGF planning. This would help in keeping the sanctity of the integrated district plan. This also requires capacity building of Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) for planning. Read more
Andhra Pradesh
BRGF viewed as ‘untied grant’, lack of capacity is hindrance (from Harathi Vageeshan, Centre for World Solidarity, Secunderabad)
In Andhra, the BRGF amount has been viewed as untied, non-lapsable central government grant due to lack of proper gap identification by PRIs. This is mostly due to lack of capacity of PRIs and apathy of line departments. The fund is therefore used to take up specific tasks which have been identified by the state government and accepted by the local government. Participatory planning has thus been negated in the case of BRGF implementation in the state.
Rajasthan
BRGF is implemented poorly (from Pradeep Choudhary, Jaipur)
In Rajsthan, BRGF has been implemented poorly. There is a lack of awareness about the programme among PRIs and government departments. The state of planning is poor and the institutional mechanism for the capacity building component is inadequate. This requires a strengthening of human resources for effective planning under BRGF.

Related Resources
Recommended Documentation
Backward Regions Grant Fund Programme Guidelines (from B.K Sinha, NIRD, Hyderabad )
Guidelines; Ministry of Panchayati Raj, Government of India ; New Delhi ; 15 January 2007
Available at http://www.solutionexchange-un.net.in/decn/cr/res03060809.pdf (PDF; Size: 536 KB)
Outlines the planning process for BRGF and guidelines for its operationalization; the details are a useful approach to integrated planning
G.O.Ms.No.450 (from Harathi Vageeshan, Centre for World Solidarity, Secunderabad)
Government Order; Panchayat Raj And Rural Development (Elections & Rules) Department, Government of Andhra Pradesh; Hyderabad ; 2007
Available at http://www.solutionexchange-un.net.in/decn/cr/res24090901.doc (Doc; Size: 49.5 KB)
Order for collection and maintenance of data base on socio economic and gender statistics and development of indicators at the Gram Panchayat level
From Tina Mathur, Research Associate
Backward Regions Grant Fund District Plans
Plans; Various State Governments
Available at http://www.brgf.gov.in
Practical demonstration of the integrated planning approach followed by BRGF districts in line with the guidelines issued by the Planning Commission
Handbook on monitoring of the Backward Regions Grant Fund (BRGF)
Handbook; Ministry of Panchayati Raj, Government of India ; New Delhi ; August 2008
Available at http://panchayat.gov.in/data/1245911332592~BRGF%20Monitoring%20Handbook.pdf (PDF; Size: 94 KB)
Description of the approach toward monitoring of BRGF; contains the formats and procedures to be followed for monitoring and evaluation of the programme
A Note on the Backward Regions Grant Fund Programme
Note; Ministry of Panchayati Raj, Government of India ; New Delhi ; 8 September 2009
Available at http://www.solutionexchange-un.net.in/decn/cr/res24090902.doc (Doc; Size: 206 KB)
Outlines the unique features, modalities of implementing the BRGF, progress of the programme and efforts of the Ministry of Panchayati Raj in its effective implementation
Recommended Portals and Information Bases
PlanPlus Decentralized Planning System, Ministry of Panchayati Raj, New Delhi (from D.C Misra, National Informatics Centre, New Delhi )
http://www.planningonline.gov.in/MainPage.jsp;
Provides details of PlanPlus software as also district plans and individual rural and urban planning units in the public domain
BRGF, Ministry of Panchayati Raj, New Delhi (from Tina Mathur, Research Associate)
www.brgf.gov.in
Contains guidelines, reports on State-wise and district-wise releases, formats for use of implementation authorities and major activities and events concerning the programme
Recommended Tools and Technologies
NREGAsoft (from D.C Misra, National Informatics Centre, New Delhi)
Software; Owned by Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India , New Delhi
Available at http://www.nrega.nic.in/
Software database for NREGA related details. Data is made available across the country through Block headquarters
Related Consolidated Replies
National Capability Building Framework for PR Functionaries, from T.R Raghunandan, Ministry of Panchayati Raj, New Delhi (For Comments). Decentralization Community
Issued 10 October 2006. Available at http://www.solutionexchange-un.net.in/decn/cr/cr-se-decn-14090601.pdf (PDF; Size: 227 KB)
Feedback, suggestions on iss ues addressed in the Framework to help enrich it before finalizing it into a policy document
Responses in Full

Anindo Banerjee, Praxis – Institute for Participatory Practices, Patna
While the Backward Regions Grant Fund provides an extremely significant window of opportunity to Panchayati Raj Institutions to undertake decentralized planning across a wide range of local needs, there’s a need for comprehensive reforms in the entire gamut of district level planning processes for its core objectives to be meaningfully realized. Let me share a few thoughts, drawing from our experiences in supporting an Integrated District Planning Exercise (subsuming all sectors and schemes and not limited to BRGF funds alone) in Vaishali district of Bihar.
1. Ideally, micro-plans prepared with support from BRGF should emerge as a singular point of reference for all schemes and interventions meant for local development. Once an integrated, comprehensive plan is prepared and approved by Gram Sabhas, it should leave no need for any parallel planning exercise to be undertaken for any scheme or purpose, by any line department or agency. Thereafter, only those interventions ought to be supported under BRGF that cannot be taken up under any of the regular schemes. However, in many districts, BRGF-based planning processes have been reduced to a parallel planning exercise, often with little or no involvement of Gram Sabhas, and BRGF has become sort of a ‘compensation’ for Panchayati Raj Institutions after being denied their due opportunity of influencing the interventions stemming from various line departments! 2. Alternatively, in districts where ‘Integrated District Planning Exercises’ are being undertaken in line with the guidelines of Planning Commission, any BRGF-based planning process, even if commissioned to an agency at an earlier date, should wait till the completion of the integrated planning processes and thereafter focus only on addressing the gaps in the integrated plans, so as not to undermine the sanctity of an integrated plan output. 3. Any integrated district planning exercise, whether undertaken under BRGF or otherwise, must ensure prior concurrence amongst various stakeholders, regarding the need to preempt any parallel planning processes. This would necessarily demand formal workshops or interactions with functionaries of various line departments, officers at block and sub-division levels, and all heads of various planning-support functions at the district level (e.g. the DM, DDC, DPRO or DPO) to preempt such possibilities. Key planning bodies at the state and national levels must also play an active role in facilitating such concurrence, and ensure steps towards integrated planning processes. 4. Timely preparation of ‘resource envelops’, disaggregated for various levels, sectors and schemes, should be an essential prerequisite for initiating integrated decentralized planning processes, to preempt situations where plan-sizes are required to be revised in an undemocratic fashion. Also, it should be coupled with strong advocacy efforts in states like Bihar, that haven’t devolved any assured financial resources to PRIs, even almost sixteen years after the 73rd and 74th amendments came into effect! 5. Agencies facilitating integrated district plans must necessarily have a capacity building perspective for strengthening Panchayati Raj Institutions, and must invest more efforts in bolstering democratic processes rather than in dealing with relatively less significant technicalities of plan outputs. Design of training modules for PRI leaders must include inputs around issues of equity, accountability and democratic governance, and should not be limited merely to technicalities of planning processes. The choice of technical support agencies and assessment of their perspectives and strategies hold crucial significance to this effect. 6. Every effort needs to be made to respect the sanctity of integrated plans emerging from the PRIs, by ensuring timely release of funds for implementation, and setting up of monitoring mechanisms at the level of standing committees of PRIs and vigilance committees at the level of Gram Sabhas. Monitoring indicators should be spelt out at the stage of planning itself and must include clear delineation of roles and accountabilities. At the district level, Monitoring Cells need to be set up within District Planning Committees to track the progress of district planning processes and extend facilitation support to diffuse emerging problems, if any. For example, establishment of a District Planning and Monitoring Cell in Vaishali district, aimed at providing secretariat support to the District Planning Committee, has helped significantly in preparation of an integrated district plan for the year 2010-11 in the district. 7. Convergence-facilitation units need to be set up within the structures of District Planning Committees, including representatives of various line departments, to extend help in finalization of interventions on the basis of integrated plans. Such units need to be set up also at the state level, for guiding convergence across various line departments. These are some random observations drawn from experiences in supporting an integrated district planning exercise in Vaishali (jointly supported by Unicef, PRAXIS and CENCORED) and I look forward to reading more views and experiences on this.

Ramit Basu, UNICEF, New Delhi

It is quite a pertinent query probably at the right time when I find people still grappling with understanding BRGF. I get all the more disturbed when people compare it with RSVY and label it as an improved version whereas, as Anindo has rightly stated, it is an innovative step to foster bottom up participatory planning and providing some leverage to PRIs in meeting their desired goals. I have heard that the World Bank and UNDP have also done an evaluation of the BRGF programme but I do not have access to the report yet. However, as against Anindo who has tried to lay down the ground rules in terms of what should happen and we all seem to agree with it, I would reflect on some hard facts that I had experienced based on my limited visits to Panchayats, blocks and districts and interaction with people from other districts / states in the last one year. I guess this will serve your purpose as you too are looking for feedback from the field. Here I go:
· Hardly any of the districts I have been to and even gathered information from others have gone ahead with preparing the resource envelope. Hence no communication to the Gram Panchayats on the indicative resources available for planning and as a result of which it becomes very easy for District Administration to bypass the plans prepared by the Gram Panchayats in the guise of 'demand much exceeding the allocation'. This leads to much room for pushing in works which do not reflect the sentiments of the Gram Panchayat or may be important from the larger political point of view. This is also in sharp contrast to even what the Plan Plus software demands - 'resource envelope for the Gram Panchayats for them to plan.'
· I am yet to see a full fledged district plan or at least something which closely resembles a comprehensive plan as a very basic pre-requisite for making use of the BRGF provisions. Where there have been some plans developed, how much of it resembles the Panchayat plans is an issue. Even where districts have done planning on their own as well as places where Technical Support Institutions (TSIs) have been involved, what has come out is a BRGF plan without taking stock of existing sectoral plans. Having said this, I should also admit that TSIs did work in a regime of time and resource constraints in the first 1-2 years of the programme but things should have been ironed out in the successive years.
· There were hardly any consultations between local NGOs (involved in micro planning / village planning processes under various other development programmes already under implementation in the district) and TSIs who were entrusted the responsibility of assisting the DPCs in preparing the district plans. In such districts, one would have expected more informed discussions and debates based on experiences and better community mobilization and hence a better plan.
· Under the Capability Building Fund which is a whopping 1 crore rupees per district, I have not come across any state / district which has gone beyond token training of PRIs, if at all that has happened. I mean nowhere could I see Block Resource Centres (let alone Panchayat resource centres) been set up with the necessary staffing for support to planning etc. as was provisioned under capacity building. (I will be happy to see some instances if other members of the community can bring it to light).
· In other flagship programmes, an element of awareness generation was inbuilt which had spread the word across and made the grassroots level functionaries somewhat aware about what need and need not to be done. Under BRGF, I was surprised to find no appreciable steps taken by the state governments to create public awareness on the importance of participatory planning at the time when the programme was being rolled out. Let alone public awareness (till a few months back) even a few district head of departments not having any idea of such a programme and what need to be done to avail of the provisions. Block level officials in particular have lacked basic understanding of the programme whereas the block should have been the primary unit of gap analysis and building up of the plan.
· The Plan Plus software emphasizes online feeding of data and planning at every planning level and one cannot do it offline. In villages / Gram Panchayats where availability of power and connectivity is still an issue, how can one expect online data feeding? Even where you ensure the availability of such infrastructure, have we provided sufficient /necessary technical manpower to guide the gram Panchayats / block Panchayats on feeding of data and preparing plans at those levels? Hence the software needs rework on certain aspects to make it more user friendly and practical.
· Another question is why a district needs to seek the consent of the State High Power Committee or the concerned department in revising works in a plan once it has already been approved. I was surprised to see this in one state (and this may be the condition in other states too) where the district has been waiting for almost 1.5 years to seek the consent of the state department in disallowing some works already taken up under a particular scheme and adding some which have not been addressed so far under any scheme. Are we promoting centralization in the guise of decentralization?
· States were supposed to undertake activity mapping in order to lay down clear cut responsibilities for local bodies with respect to funds, functions and functionaries. That is yet to take place in letter and spirit. And why should we only comment upon state governments. I believe even central ministries have not done their part seriously although some revised guidelines now do mention about the involvement of PRIs. Even detailed directives and letters like a recent one from MoPR to Secretaries of concerned Ministries and Chief Secretaries of States suggesting various measures that need to be taken to ensure centrality of Panchayats is yet to see an impact in real terms.
· I would refer to an order passed by the Planning and Development Department of the Government of Assam in August last year making the DPC the nodal agency responsible for planning and that it will be headed by the Chairperson of ZP with the CEO being the member secretary and other elected representatives and officials being a part of the process. The State PR Act further specifies that the ZP in order to plan should have a fully dedicated planning officer, statistical officer and accounts officer which till date, despite of orders, are under the authority of the district collector. This greatly disables the DPC to even think about initiating consultation at the block and district level for planning without any dedicated manpower support. How long will it take to shed off the centralized patterns of working inherent in our system if the system is to promote decentralization in the real spirit?
· The above are my observations and comments based on limited exposure. However, there may have been instances where stakeholders (State government, District Administration, TSIs, other agencies) might have done excellent piece of work despite of odds and hence I am not generalizing my views. But in the majority of the cases the situation is not very encouraging and we need to work a lot and most importantly think out of the box.

Comparative Experiences

Let me share a few thoughts, drawing from our experiences (Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti – BGVS - Bihar team) in supporting BRGF District Planning exercise in Sasaram, Kamour, Madhepura, Saharsa and Begusarai of Bihar.
In BRGF, preparation of District vision is to be supported by a Technical Support Institution (TSI). BGVS was appointed as a Technical Support Institution in Bihar . In the beginning, the Planning Commission allotted two districts, Sasaram and Gaya . Later on, Panchayati Raj Department, Govt. of Bihar allotted five districts in Bihar to BGVS.
B.G.V.S had some experience in preparing District level vision.
State Level
When state level Panchayati Raj Secretary has BRGF on his/her agenda, everything works smoothly. In Bihar , at the time of Dr. Deepak Prasad as Secretary Panchayati Raj Department, schedule of the Road Map was framed and programmes were according to the schedule. Regular meetings were held with his initiative. However, he was soon transferred and Shri. Pancham Lal came as Secretary. He also held two meetings with TSI and D.D.C. and then he was also transferred. For sometime, there was no direction and support. Now, Dr Deepak Prasad again posted as the Secretary Panchayati Raj. Thus, one of the issues is of frequent transfer of senior officials.
District Level
At the District level, Chairman Zila Parisha

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