The Prime Minister launched the Aspirational Block Programme.

The Prime Minister has announced the launch of the government’s Aspirational Block Programme (ABP), which aims to improve the performance of blocks that are lagging on various development parameters.

Aspirational Block Programme (ABP)

  • The Aspirational Blocks Programme is modeled after the Aspirational Districts Programme, which was launched in 2018 and covers 112 districts throughout the country.
  • In the Union Budget 2022-23, the Centre announced its intention to launch this initiative.
  • Initially, the program will cover 500 districts across 31 states and union territories.
  • More than half of these blocks are located in six states: Uttar Pradesh (68 blocks), Bihar (61 blocks), Madhya Pradesh (42 blocks), Jharkhand (34 blocks), Odisha (29), and West Bengal (29).
  • States, on the other hand, can add more blocks to the program later.

About Aspirational Districts Programme (ADP)

  • The ‘Transformation of Aspirational Districts’ initiative, which was launched in January 2018, aims to eliminate this heterogeneity through a mass movement to quickly and effectively transform these districts.
  • Convergence (of Central & State Schemes), Collaboration (of Central, State level ‘Prabhari’ Officers & District Collectors), and Competition among districts are the broad contours of the program.
  • This program will focus on the strengths of each district, identify low-hanging fruits for immediate improvement, measure progress, and rank districts, with states serving as the primary drivers.
  • Behind the name PM, the idea of naming any scheme based on its backwardness was then rejected.
  • The name ‘Aspirational’, on the other hand, suggests a more affirmative action-based implementation of the scheme.

Selection of districts

  • A total of 117 Aspirational districts have been identified by NITI Aayog based on 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%)

The strategy of the ADP

  • The program’s core strategy can be summarised as follows.
  • Making development a widespread movement in these areas
  • Determine the low-hanging fruits and the strengths of each district in order to serve as a catalyst for development.
  • To instill a sense of competition, track progress, and rank districts.
  • Districts must strive to be the best in the state and the nation.

The ADP’s characteristics

  • It has evolved into a Jan Andolan.
  • The ADP is unique in its attempt to track the progress of these districts through real-time data tracking.
  • The program aims to increase convergence between existing central and state government programs.
  • Another notable feature is the district’s performance in the public domain and the experience building of the district bureaucracy.
  • The program is aimed at the entire population of the district, rather than a specific group of beneficiaries.

What distinguishes this program?

  • The program reflects what has happened to India’s development project under neoliberalism, particularly after the end of planning.
  • Long-overdue sectors have received increased attention.
  • It is not a customized program with a one-size-fits-all strategy. The districts have been given more responsibility. It has a district intervention strategy in place.
  • It operates on the SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) model and compares national best parameters for effective resource management.
  • It is the Prime Minister’s most-reviewed program.
  • A general idea behind the concept is that good work is never overlooked. It has been widely praised on social media and by government officials.

Programmatic Strengths

  • The collection of baseline data and follow-ups at regular intervals is a key strength of the ADP.
  • Maintaining this effort would result in a robust collection of statistics for use by researchers and policymakers alike.
  • In doing so, the government also brings much-needed attention to human development and a willingness to meet the SDGs (SDGs).
  • The rankings show that incremental progress is being made in the selected districts.
  • The program also claims to be “non-partisan and unbiased,” with an emphasis on all-India growth.
  • The selection of districts suggests that the program did not favor any regional, political, or other bias.
  • The program aims to bring together central and state schemes centered on specific activities.

Problems with the program

  • Using Bihar as an example, they argue that the selection of districts for programs is problematic.
  • In fact, it excludes the poorest districts because per capita income, the most basic measure of development, is not considered.
  • There appears to be some ambiguity regarding whether the program is only concerned with improved access or also with the quality of service provided.
  • The indicators used are not defined relationally; rather, they are static indicators of human development that do not see people mired in dynamic social relations.
  • It is also accused of not making any new or targeted public investments (except for the possible use of Flexi-funds) in these districts while moralizing about its inability to improve (through rankings).
  • The program bears the burden of demonstrating the government’s “developmental” work while failing to address any of the fundamental issues surrounding equitable development.
  • Nonetheless, the NITI Aayog defends the overall strategy as capitalizing on “low-hanging fruit.”

Way ahead

  • The program has made a difference in the lives of Indian citizens by improving education, health, nutrition, financial inclusion, and skill development in some of the country’s most backward and geographically remote districts.
  • ADP adheres to the principle of “leave no one behind,” which is at the heart of the SDGs. According to the report, the program’s rapid success is due to high-level political commitment.
  • UNDP has suggested revising a few indicators that are close to saturation or are met by the majority of districts, such as ‘electrification of households’ as an indicator of basic infrastructure.
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