Successive governments have launched programmes and schemes aiming welfare of the masses. But what they have failed is successful implementation and reaching to the beneficiaries. The government machinery is not fully capable in both the aspects. The reasons can be attributed to mainly two factors; firstly, inefficiency of government in implementation and secondly, lack of awareness among people. Furthermore, the reason of inefficiency can be attributed to improper monitoring, lack of accountability, corruption and misalignment of incentives, say experts. On paper, the schemes sound pretty impressive. But they are certainly not so effective when it comes to the basics.
It is indeed a disappointing story -- that despite several welfare schemes of the government, Goa is far behind in creating a prosperous society. I experienced this first hand very recently, when I attended a programme at far away Collem, near Dharbandora in the far stretched constituency of Sanvordem. The programme was meant to educate women, especially tribals, about their rights – ranging from legal aid to survivor compensation schemes to the FRA. The programme was poorly organised and was marred by a host of issues. But that’s not the point – I saw women sitting in the poorly erected pandal on a humid morning, waiting for the programme to start (and end as well). Many of the 80 something participants were visibly fuming at the organisers and dignitaries who paid no heed to the discomfort of the women, but allowed the host to introduce each one of them, twice or more (consuming almost an hour in only introduction of guests).
I spoke to a few of these seemingly agitated women and they informed me that they belonged to local self help groups and were told to report at the venue between 9 and 9.30 am -- and ironically none of them had any clue about the nature of the program. While a host of government and judicial officers on the dais took pride in presenting their speeches, to an utterly disinterested and agitated audience of women and children, I probed them further. I soon realised that their varied stories had one common meeting point – most of them living in this neglected part of Goa, were struggling to make both ends meet. Talking to them about a list of government schemes – from free health schemes of the Health & Family Welfare Department, to welfare schemes for girl children of the Women & Child Welfare Department, loan programmes for tribal communities of the Tribal Welfare Department and the Social Welfare Department -- I dug more into them.
A few metres away from the venue, I met one Shobha Gaonkar, 40 something, inside a dusty bus stand, waiting for a bus to go to Dharbandora (the administrative hub of this constituency). Her daughter, about 20 years of age accompanied her. Was her daughter registered under the Ladli Laxmi Scheme and was Shobha a beneficiary of the housewife pension scheme of the State government? I probed. They replied in the negative. Shobha told me that she along with her husband had visited the Women & Child Development office at Panaji for over five times in the last few months and every time they would send them back under one pretext or the other. After this, I spoke to a dozen more women mostly belonging to ST communities and it appeared to me that Shobha’s case was not an isolated one -- it was obvious, government schemes were far away from reach.
From the conversations, it was fairly clear that a majority of these families are in the dark about most government schemes, and this constitutes one of the reasons behind the schemes not reaching the poor. The second bottleneck -- it takes time and money to get one’s application approved. Like one woman lamented, “I was told that one should have political influence to avail such schemes.” For many like her, for whom the day’s earning is critical to survival, running from pillar to post to get the schemes sanctioned is little short of a nightmare.
Many have lost hope in these government schemes after repeated failures to avail them. For this part of Goa, it is a challenging task to navigate the procedure to avail government benefits. Right from filling application to visiting government offices, they end up seeing it as a challenge and give up on availing the schemes. These stories indeed reflect the sad state of affairs in the state and surely the government has a long way to go before the schemes really reach the deserving beneficiaries. Crores of rupees have been spent over the years in trying to make people aware of the various government schemes and programs. However, the dis-connect between the campaign’s message and the reality is far away from each other. The general assumption underlying most campaigns is that the public is not using services or engaging in government schemes because of its lack of awareness. Other reasons such as quality, access barriers, leakages and, most importantly, trustworthiness of such services are ignored. According to experts, in the modern day, with a multitude of information sources available, the challenge is not a mere lack of awareness but of confidence -- in believing the message, in accepting government programmes, in reform policies, and in the governance.
So how does the government explain not reaching out to intended beneficiaries? How can they improve the system to make the benefits reach poor?
As far as the Collem experience goes, majority of the local communities are un-organised and there exists a wide communication gap between the local administration and these communities. There is a need of better coordination among private entities, community, civil society, NGOs and government right from designing a public policy to implementing it in a transparent and effective manner. Instead of formal programmes like the Collem one, a interactive programme with the public, with public interface, a programme where the participant would get her grievance addressed -- would be key. For evaluations of campaigns promoting government programs show interpersonal communication, community involvement, resonate much more with the audience and help in its effective implementation.