In the seventh Plan the Integrated Rural Development Programme (IRDP) acts as the kingpin for poverty alleviation.
Cost effectiveness of the programmes and minimisation of leakages should be the two guiding principles in the implementation of poverty alleviation programmes. Economic viability should be understood primarily in terms of cost effectiveness, i.e., maximum income generation per unit of total expenditure incurred. The ability of a poorer household to cross the poverty line depends on its overall income.
To achieve the objectives of cost-effectiveness and minimisation of leakages by imparting the necessary flexibility in the choice of activities and by achieving integration in the programmes, a three-pronged strategy is envisaged in the seventh Plan.
First, poverty alleviation programmes would be formulated and implemented in a decentralised manner with the participation of people at the grass root level through village Panchayats, Panchayat Samities, Zila Parishads etc.
Such an approach will contribute to the selection of projects suited to local conditions and to the integration of poverty alleviation programmes with area development.
This framework will also help in the timely provision of services in their appropriate sequence and in ensuring that the benefits of such programmes actually reach those for whom they are intended.
The Working Group on District Planning constituted by the Planning Commission had recommended a gradual approach towards decentralisation for achieving the objectives of effective implementation of poverty alleviation programmes and balanced regional development.
During the seventh Plan, decentralisation of the planning process and full public participation in development will be pursued on the lines suggested by the Working Group.
Secondly, the launching of a large number of programmes has resulted in a multiplicity of organisations, leading to duplication of management efforts.
The effective implementation of poverty alleviation programmes would call for better planning at the district level involving various disciplines, tighter organisational set up to ensure optimal use of resource and closer monitoring.
A high level committee has been set up by the Planning Commission to review the existing administrative arrangements for rural development and poverty alleviation programmes and to recommend an appropriate structural mechanism to ensure that they are planned in an integrated manner and effectively implemented.
Thirdly, keeping in view the limited absorptive capacity of the poorest household, the approach to the seventh Plan has also emphasised the need for taking up group-oriented activities for beneficiaries through the promotion of cooperatives, registered societies, informal groups etc. so that the economies of scale, inherent in some of these activities, are fully realised while at the same time, group initiative and effort of the poor are promoted.
This is necessary to protect the beneficiaries from the adverse operation of market forces whether on supply of inputs or on the sale of their produce.
For the purpose of bringing about a greater degree of awareness among, and participation of beneficiaries, a central scheme is proposed to be launched for the organisation of beneficiaries both in terms of group-oriented economic activities and increased consciousness.
The Planning Commission’s Programme Evaluation Organisation and the NABARD have both noted the shortcomings of the IRDP. Many of the shortcomings of the IRDP stem from the fact that a programme of massive dimensions was launched with very little preparation.
The sixth Plan period thus proved to be a period of trial in which the programme has gradually come to be known, understood and even stabilised.
The gaps that have been revealed and the weaknesses that have been experienced in the process will be remedied in the seventh Plan so as to make the IRDP an effective instrument for poverty alleviation.
The IRDP will continue to aim at the poorest of the poor who will be identified by an annual household income of Rs. 4,800, which is substantially lower than the cut-off income of around Rs. 6,400 at the poverty line level.
Towards achieving this end, much greater care will be exercised in the process of selection of beneficiaries. Considering the low absorptive capacity of the poorest among the poor, the adoption of total household approach will be emphasised as a major plank of the Programme.
Due emphasis would be given to augmenting productivity through IRDP by taking up land-based activities like minor irrigation, dry farming, horticulture and even farm forestry. With the emphasis of IRDP on the poorest of the poor, this would imply large-scale conjunctive activity with land reforms.
Concrete steps will be taken to step up activity in the Industries, Services and Business (ISB) sector. Realistic project profiles will be worked out for household enterprises and wherever possible larger group enterprises in areas of traditional skills.
These will take into account the need to provide balancing equipment and improvement of existing capital stock along with the provision of working capital to maintain continued income flows and asset development and renewal.
In a number of other sectors of the economy like water supply and sanitation and improved agricultural implements, there is considerable scope for developing productive ventures for production and service of new technology-based equipments which will be exploited and developed to the maximum extent as part of secondary and tertiary sector activity under the IRDP.
The absence of infrastructural support and backward and forward linkages which is a major area of weakness under the programme will be given special attention.