United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) India has released an independent appraisal report on the Aspirational Districts Programme (ADP) during June 2021. This report captures the progress of the flagship initiative and recommendations for further improvements.
About Aspirational District Programme
The Aspirational Districts Program was launched in 2018, with the objective of expediting the transformation of 112 most backward districts across 28 states through the convergence of government programmes and schemes.
As the programme is a policy priority of the Government of India, it is anchored by the NITI Aayog which works in collaboration with central and state governments for the programme to streamline the effectiveness and provide regular checks and guidelines.
Overview of the Appraisal Report
The Appraisal of the Aspirational Districts Programme is aimed to assess the effectiveness of the flagship Programme of the Government of India and generate evidence-based documentation which can be used to support NITI Aayog and other stakeholders in their efforts to address existing gaps, evidence-based planning and decision making. It is also expected to provide guidance for district administrations, development partners, knowledge partners and any other stakeholders in achieving the vision and targets set out for the ADP.
The report is based on quantitative analysis of publicly available data as well as interviews with various stakeholders, including district magistrates, central prabhari officers, district fellows and other development partners.
Monitoring real-time data, convergence across government programmes and schemes and receiving the benefits of the Aspirational Districts Programme by substantial marginshave been credited as the reasons behind the success of the initiative.
- The report, which includes a comparison of Aspirational Districts (ADs) with non-aspirational districts, indicates that ADs have outperformed non-ADs by substantial margins, given the increased focus through monitoring real-time data, convergence across government programmes and schemes, and receiving the benefits of the Aspirational Districts Programme.
- Faster development in the ADs was all the more creditable given the fact that to start with, most of them were difficult and remotely located backward districts.
- The report also underlines the strengths of state and local governments to bring all partners and stakeholders to collaborate to achieve the goals and targets. It clearly shows evidence of how localizing the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and monitoring them closely have helped the local governments to improve people’s lives.
- The commitment from the highest political leadership in the country since its inception, to bring about rapid progress, especially in the under-developed pockets.
- Various stakeholders including District Magistrates, Central Prabhari Officers, District Fellows and other Development Partners credited “convergence” as the crucial factor for the improved performance of their districts and underlined how this initiative encouraged departments to move away from working in silos towards collaborative planning and governance to achieve the set targets of the programme.
- UNDP’s analysis across the 5 key sectors of the ADP—health and nutrition; education; agriculture and water resources; basic infrastructure; and skill development and financial inclusion—found that the programme has acted as a catalyst for expediting development in these districts. According to the report, while health and nutrition, education, and to a certain extent, agriculture and water resources, have registered massive improvements, the other indicators despite making significant strides offer scope for further strengthening.
- Across the sectors of health and nutrition and financial inclusion, the report found that 9.6% more home deliveries are attended by a skilled birth attendant; 5.8% more pregnant women with severe anemia are treated; 4.8% more children diagnosed with diarrhoea are treated; 4.5% more pregnant women register for antenatal care within their first trimester; 406 and 847 more enrolments, and 1580 more accounts opened per 1 lakh population under the Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana, Pradhan Mantra Suraksha Bima Yojana and Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana, respectively.
- UNDP also recommends the ‘Malaria Mukt Bastar Abhiyaan’ in Bijapur and Dantewada, which has reduced malaria incidences in these districts by 71% and 54%, respectively, as one of the ‘best practices’ found in Aspirational Districts.
- According to the report, the districts have also admitted that the continued focus of the programme on health andnutritionhas helped them in tackling the Covid crisis with greater resilience. For instance, ‘Malkangiri district in Odisha, which is located in close proximity to both neighbouring states of Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh, became an entry point for several migrant workers returning back to the state during the initial phase of lockdown. The district officials claimed to have used their new infrastructure to serve as institutional quarantine centres for migrants.
- The report also recognizes the unique collaborative nature of the programme to bring all stakeholders, including state and local governments, development partners, and citizens, together to achieve goals and targets. It is this key pillar that enabled district commissioners ‘to build a strong Covid-19 response and cope with the challenges of the pandemic by working in close coordination’ with the panchayats, faith and community leaders and development partners in their respective districts.
- The programme has strengthened the technical and administrative capacities of the districts, however, the report said there was a need to focus more on capacity building, ‘including the appointment of dedicated personnel such as Aspirational District Fellows or Technical Support Units across allthe districts or to collaborate with developmentpartners for providing technical expertise, skills training, etc’.
- The report also appreciated the delta rankings provided on the programme’s Champions of Change dashboard. The competitive and dynamic culture fostered by it has successfully pushed several low performing districts (as per baseline rankings) to improve their standing in the past three years. Simdega (Jharkhand), Chandauli (Uttar Pradesh), Sonbhadra (Uttar Pradesh) and Rajgarh (Madhya Pradesh) were found to have progressed the most since the beginning of the programme.
- The report recommends several initiatives undertaken under the programme as best practices. Noteworthy among them is GoalMart, an e-commerce portal launched by Assam’s Goalpara district administration ‘to promote rural, ethnic and agrarian products of the district in the national and global markets’. The initiative has been particularly helpful duringthe Covid-19 lockdown as it released farmers and retailers from the clutches of brick-and-mortar shops. Goalpara’s black rice is a favorite on this portal—and it has also proven to be highly profitable to the farmers.Similarly, Uttar Pradesh’s Chandauli district decided to experiment with the cultivation of black rice, due to its high demand in global markets and good profit margins. The project was a success and high-quality black rice is now being exported to Australia and New Zealand.
- As regards challenges and suggestions, the report said some stakeholders highlighted the need to revise a few indicators that are close to being saturated or met by most districts, such as ‘electrification of households’ as an indicator of basic infrastructure. It was also found that while on average, the districts have seen an increase in resilience and decrease in vulnerabilities, the least-improved districts have witnessed an increase in vulnerabilities, which requires a special focus on the sectors in which these districts have underperformed.
- The report said 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 rapid success of the programme’.
To access the complete report, click here.
Source : UNDP