Mayawati in double trouble

Published : Sep 14, 2002 00:00 IST

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati, through a series of administrative measures, has succeeded in antagonising the Centre and, more crucially, the World Bank, on whose aid the survival of some of the State's key socio-economic projects depend.

UTTAR PRADESH Chief Minister Mayawati is in trouble, simultaneously with the World Bank and the Central government because of her obsession with the Dalit agenda. The World Bank has taken strong exception to the frequent transfers of officials monitoring projects funded by it and threatened to review funding assistance. The strictures came after Mayawati requested the Bank to fund her pet Ambedkar Village scheme. The Centre, which took her to task for implementing 50 per cent reservation in the State's sports colleges, made her withdraw the controversial order.

Mayawati's obsession with the Dalit agenda may have fetched her votes in the Assembly elections, but the World Bank is certainly not impressed. While rejecting her request for funds, the Bank rapped the government for the poor progress made with regard to the various projects funded by it and warned that it would reconsider its decision to fund projects in the State. The World Bank has held the frequent transfers of officials as being responsible for the tardy progress of the projects.

In a strongly worded letter dated August 1, 2002, written to State Chief Secretary D.S. Bagga, World Bank's Country Director Edwin Lim said: "We have now learnt that project managers have been replaced within three weeks of assuming office. The project coordinator of the Diversified Agriculture Support Project has been changed twice in quick succession and at the moment there is no project coordinator. In the forestry project, numerous changes have been made over the past six months." The letter went on: "Such developments do not augur well for these time-bound projects that require consistently good leadership." As a warning, it adds: "We will continue to closely monitor implementation and progress for all the projects and if significant improvement is not made we may have to reconsider whether the Bank can continue to support these projects." Lim's letter concluded on a note of caution: "I hope you will review the situation and take appropriate steps to rectify the situation." The letter makes it amply clear that at the moment, the Bank does not propose to fund the Ambedkar Village programme, especially when other projects it has funded are suffering because of the Chief Minister's penchant for shuffling officials.

Under Mayawati, frequent transfer of officials has been the rule. There have been cases of officials being transferred three or four times in the span of a month. At times, officials who report for their new assignments have discovered that they have been transferred again during the time that they took to travel to their new places of posting.

During her earlier tenures the U.P. IAS Association raised a hue and cry over the issue. Senior officials even requested deputations to the Centre in order to avoid being shuffled too often. This time, there have not been as many protests, but the World Bank's observations have certainly highlighted the malady. The Chief Secretary described the letter as being a part of the "routine" correspondence between the Bank and the government, saying he did not remember the contents as reported in newspapers.

Mayawati's obsession with Ambedkar is well-known. She spent hundreds of crores of rupees on the development of a park in Lucknow named after Ambedkar. Spread across several acres of lush green land in the heart of the city, the project remains one of her top priorities. Similarly, identifying villages as Ambedkar villages based on the size of their Dalit populations and taking up their development on a priority basis has been one of her pet ideas.

During her previous two stints, she selected 11,500 villages under this programme, many of which still remain very backward. The most obvious sign of a village having been categorised as an Ambedkar village is the presence of a statue of Ambedkar. As this correspondent witnessed during a visit to Jhiran village in Bijnore district, there is nothing much by way of development. Shortly after taking over as Chief Minister this time, Mayawati identified another 10,000 Ambedkar villages and met the World Bank Country Director in May to request funding for their development. However, it was only after the Bank reviewed the pace of the projects it had funded earlier that the Country Director wrote the letter. The World Bank has already agreed to fund important rural development and infrastructure projects together worth $2,783 million in the State. In the last couple of years alone the World Bank approved projects worth nearly $700 million in the fields of primary education, health care, power and fiscal and governance reform.

Despite the fact that the World Bank's aid is absolutely necessary for the continuation of these projects in U.P., Mayawati has apparently not grasped the implications of the Bank's warning. In her reply to the issue in the State Assembly, she categorically denied that the World bank had ever threatened to reconsider the provision of funding. She also declared that the "so-called letter was a fake," and that the World Bank had reiterated its resolve to continue funding. However, the Bank's spokesperson Gitanjali Chopra clarified that the threat delivered was for real. "It is not that we are pulling out of the State immediately. But we certainly have some concerns about our on-going projects there and these concerns have been expressed in the letter, which was written by our Country Director," she said, and added that the question of taking up any new projects was related to the Bank's concerns as expressed in the letter.

Significantly enough, this is not the first time that the Mayawati government has been criticised by the World Bank. Shortly after Mayawati took over as Chief Minister, the Bank stalled the second instalment amounting to Rs.100 crores (approximately $226.80 million) of the loan for the 'Infrastructure and Financial Reconstruction' project, which is spread over 15 years, expressing its displeasure over the pace and the quality of work done. The Bank released the money only after a visit by its team and a lot of pleading by the State government. The Bank had also expressed its displeasure over the sluggish pace of power reforms in the State.

Ever since Mayawati assumed office, the World Bank's perception of the state of affairs in Uttar Pradesh seems to have changed drastically. Not so long ago, the same institution had given the State government a pat on the back, when Rajnath Singh was the Chief Minister. World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn, who visited India in November 2000, had assured the Government of Uttar Pradesh of the Bank's continued support in its fight against poverty. "U.P. is very important to the Bank, and we value our partnership," he told Rajnath Singh after witnessing a presentation on the State government's reform programme and development objectives. Wolfensohn complemented the government for its "eminently sound" strategy of introducing fiscal and governance reforms to make the administration transparent, accountable and accessible. He observed that since the Bank's mission was to fight poverty, its focus had to be Uttar Pradesh, which accounted for almost a tenth of the world's poor. Wolfensohn said: "It is our privilege to work in the State so that the burden of adjustment did not fall on the poor." In a subsequent meeting with the Chief Minister, he had said that it was up to the government of U.P. to determine the pace and content of the reform and poverty reduction programme. The Bank, he said, would provide support in a timely manner.

In fund-starved U.P., the World Bank is central to developmental projects, especially in the rural areas and in the infrastructural sector. Uttar Pradesh is one of the Bank's three partner States in India. The Bank has approved projects worth nearly $700 million in the last couple of years in the areas of primary education, health care, power, and fiscal and governance reform. The Bank's U.P. portfolio is focussed on poverty reduction, with an emphasis on projects that involve and are driven by beneficiary communities themselves. Should the World Bank stop funding, the State would be in a fix. A look at some of the key projects funded by the Bank in Uttar Pradesh would illustrate this fact.

One key project approved for the State in the last couple of years is the U.P. District Primary Education Project (DPEP) ($182.4-million credit). The project, aimed at including the most disadvantaged districts of U.P. in the successful all-India DPEP, involves the local community in establishing and running primary schools. It has resulted in increased enrolment, fewer drop-outs, improvement in girls' literacy, and better learning skills. Another such project is the U.P. Health Systems Development ($110-million credit), intended to build institutional capacity and improve quality of services in primary and referral hospitals. Then there is the U.P. Power Sector Restructuring Progra-mme ($150-million loan). The loan, extended as part of the support to power sector reforms, is meant to finance critically needed investments in the transmission and distribution system, remove some critical bottlenecks, and improve the quality of supply in selected areas.

The U.P. Fiscal Reform and Public Sector Restructuring Programme ($125-million credit and $126.3-million loan), is another crucial World Bank-funded project. The Bank's first sub-national adjustment loan in India, it will help the State implement a comprehensive set of reforms in the areas of public expenditure management, tax policy and administration, civil service, anti-corruption, deregulation, decentralisation, privatisation, financial management, and accountability.

The privileged place that U.P. occupied in the World Bank's scheme of things had become evident in April 2000, when the Bank announced the approval of a $511.3-million package for the three projects mentioned above. V.J. Ravishankar, a senior economist at the World Bank's New Delhi office, had said: "U.P. has signalled a very clear commitment to improve the quality of governance in the State and reduce corruption. Its reform strategy is expected to have a measurable positive impact on poverty reduction by improving the quality and delivery of health and education services to the poor, by increasing transparency at the local level so that development spending and safety nets reach those most in need, and by making public institutions more responsive and accountable".

Explaining the Bank's new approach to State-level lending in India, Lim had said: "As the reform agenda has shifted to the States over the past few years, the Bank has re-oriented its strategy to focus mainly on reforming States such as Uttar Pradesh through fiscally responsible, multi-sectoral programmes of assistance, which serve as a vehicle for developing and deepening the reform agenda and for accelerating poverty reduction in these leading States."

Among other ongoing projects in the rural sector was the Uttar Pradesh Sodic Lands Reclamation Project. The World Bank announced the approval of a $194.1-million equivalent credit to the Government of India for the Uttar Pradesh Sodic Lands Reclamation Project II in November 1998. This project would take care of the problem of declining agricultural output in the State, primarily due to severe agricultural land degradation, with much of this land affected by sodic soils. Another important World Bank-assisted project in U.P. is the forestry project for which the Bank announced on December 10, 1997 a $52.9-million equivalent credit. The project seeks to improve forestry management through innovative programmes involving local communities. Using new management techniques, the project will increase the output of forest produce, thereby raising the incomes of the rural poor who depend on them; help increase forest cover; and conserve biodiversity. In this backdrop, it is a serious matter that the Bank has taken such a grim view of the progress of the projects.

Characteristically, the Chief Minister rejected outright the concern expressed by the Opposition parties in this matter. The statement she made in the State Assembly said that the transfers to which the "fake letter" referred to were made on the recommendation of the Bank itself. As for the tardy progress of the projects, she said that there was some misunderstanding because the projects were indeed progressing satisfactorily.

The matter, though, may not end here, and as was made clear by the World Bank representative; a close watch will be kept on the on-going Bank-aided projects.

MEANWHILE, Mayawati was involved in yet another controversy. She issued a government order on August 24 effecting 50 per cent reservation in sports colleges and hostels in the State: 21 percent for the Scheduled Castes, 2 per cent for the Scheduled Tribes, and 27 per cent for the Other Backward Classes. She did this without taking her alliance partner, the Bharatiya Janata Party, into confidence and without even discussing it in the Cabinet. Union Sports Minister Vikram Verma criticised the move and said that it would lead to a further fall in the standard of sports in the country. He said that dividing sportsmen on caste lines was wrong and that the Centre had no intention of replicating the order at any level. The move evoked sharp reactions from eminent sports personalities and various sports associations. However, the BJP reacted cautiously.

Apparently, there was pressure on Mayawati to withdraw the order. In a dramatic move, she not only withdrew the order but suspended the Principal Secretary, Sports, Harish Chandra, for having issued the order without her knowledge. Interestingly, Mayawati holds the Sports portfolio. But in her characteristic style, four days after it was issued with her signature duly in place she feigned ignorance about the order, saying that she got to know it only through television newscasts. She said she had directed the Chief Secretary to investigate the matter. She asserted that her government was committed to the development of S.C.s and S.T.s and the OBCs but its first priority was to make "jobs, bread and security" available to them. She said that admission of the underprivileged sections to sports colleges was not as important as the question of their livelihood and security.

But the irrepressible Mayawati promptly announced similar reservation in the allotment of fair price shops. The order, which came into immediate effect, reserves 21 per cent of the shops for the S.C.s, 2 per cent for the S.T.s and 27 per cent for OBCs. In the absence of enough S.T. applicants, their quota would go to the S.C.s, the order said.

Although the BJP has eyed these developments with concern, so far it has refrained from making an issue out of them.

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