Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Underperforming Government

J&K fails to meet the performance targets on social programs funded by New Delhi

Centrally Sponsored Social Welfare Schemes - J&K fails to meet the target

(Kashmir Times)

Jammu: Notwithstanding the haughty claims of the helmsmen, the flagship programmes of the Social Welfare Department (SWD) have largely failed to meet the expectations in Jammu and Kashmir with one major scheme i.e., Contributory Social Security Scheme (CSSS) failing completely and only few components succeeding to some extent in the case of other schemes.

The unnecessary retention of huge un-disbursed money in bank accounts and delays in finalisation of rate contract for nutritive items under ICDS persisted. Besides the poor financial management, the contributory factors attributable to failure of schemes include lack of proper planning, non-release of funds, non-adherence to eligibility criteria and lack of supervision and monitoring.

The department is faced with a harsh criticism vis-a-vis its functioning in the report of Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India for the year ended March 31, 2009.

As per the report, the supplementary nutrition under Integrated Child Development Scheme was not provided to all beneficiaries (2005-09) and the shortfall ranged between seven and 40 per cent. Health check-up and other referral services were not provided in Jammu division. Targets fixed for National Social Assistance Programme were not achieved in full. Pension under Integrated Social Security Scheme was not provided to the physically handicapped through money orders in Kashmir Division in contravention of guidelines.

The welfare activities by the Social Welfare Department (SWD) are carried out through Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS) and State Sponsored Schemes (SSS). Two state sponsored schemes viz. Integrated Social Security Scheme (ISSS) and Contributory Social Security Scheme (CSSS) and two Centrally Sponsored Schemes viz. Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) and National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP) were test-checked in audit.

The state government introduced (2004-05) the Contributory Social Security Scheme (CSSS) for marginal workers in the age group of 20 to 50 years. The workers are to be covered by providing them Social Security of Rs. 100 per month for a period of 10 years, provided, income of the beneficiary from all sources does not exceed Rs. 30,000 per annum. Matching contribution is also required to be paid by the beneficiary and both contributions are to be deposited in a Bank for a period of 10 years during which no withdrawal is allowed except in case of death of the beneficiary. After 10 years, the beneficiary has an option to either withdraw the amount or opt for a pension scheme to be evolved by the Bank.

The extremely low percentages of achievement indicate dismal performance of the scheme in the State. Projections have not been based on any survey through which the actual number of beneficiaries could be identified. As a result, there have been huge unspent balances, at the close of each year. Further, the Department could disburse only Rs. 1.18 lakh to the beneficiaries during 2005-09. The DSWOs attributed the poor utilisation of funds to non-conducting of enrolment, incomplete submission of application forms and non-contribution of matching share by the beneficiaries. It was also seen that there was nothing on record to show that the Jammu and Kashmir Bank has evolved any scheme for payment of pension as envisaged, it was maintained in the audit.

The Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) was launched (October, 1975) in the state for delivery of an integrated package of services comprising supplementary nutrition, immunization, health check-ups, referral services, nutrition and health education and non–formal pre-school education in order to reduce incidence of mortality, morbidity, malnutrition, school drop-outs, improve nutritional and health status of children in the age group under six years and enhance the capacity of the mothers to look after the normal health and nutritional needs of the children.

The focal point of the scheme was the Anganwadi centre, which was managed by honorary workers selected from the local community at the project level. The immunization, health check-ups and referral services were to be delivered at the Anganwadi centres through a network of health services at the Primary Health Centres (PHCs). There was lack of monitoring of almost all the components of the scheme both at the state and district level. Basic records relating to family survey, immunization, referral services, supplementary nutrition/distribution, etc. had not been maintained in any of the five test-checked CDPOs (Jammu) and watched by three23 test-checked Programme Officers (Jammu). Further, no watch on receipt of Monthly Progress Reports/feed back reports from projects and submission of different reports to the GOI had been kept. No voluntary organisation had also been entrusted with the job of monitoring the scheme, the report noted.

In the audit report, the CDPOs and POs stated that necessary steps would be taken in this regard. It was, however, seen that a committee to monitor the progress of the scheme was constituted (August 2008) in Kashmir division. The impact of the scheme has not been evaluated by any agency during 2005-08.

National Social Assistance Programme, a 100 per cent Centrally Sponsored Scheme comprising three24 sub-schemes, was introduced in 1995-96 out of which two schemes, viz. National Old Age Pension Scheme (NOAPS) and National Family Benefit Scheme (NFBS) are being implemented in the State. Under NOAPS, old age pension is to be provided to the destitutes (male or female) above 65 years of age with no regular means of own subsistence income or financial support from other sources. The fact that the achievements overshot the target in 2005-06 and the targets for the years 2006-09 had almost been achieved in full while there have been persistent savings, which were particularly high at Rs. 23 crore in 2007-08, shows that either the fund requirements had been grossly over estimated or the achievement claimed has not been actually achieved.

The state government had ordered (2002-03) enhancement of cash assistance from Rs. 75 to Rs. 200 and subsequently (April 2008) to Rs. 325 per month per beneficiary.
The Government of India (GOI) had also enhanced (April 2006) pension to Rs. 200 per month. Additional Central Assistance (ACA) of Rs. 3.27 Cr, against the requirement of Rs. 9.71 Cr to cover the enhancement in rates, for 2006-07 were released (February 2007) by GOI for payment of arrears. It was seen that the amount released by GOI was utilized, after being retained for more than one year by the state government, for payment of regular pension and no arrears were paid.

Pension assistance was being authorized without taking into cognizance the basic criterion of age (65 years) fixed for assistance under the provisions of the scheme. Out of the 20,179 cases test-checked pertaining to the period 2005-08, it was seen that in 10 (out of 12) DSWOs, 136 beneficiaries were paid (September 2006 and January 2009) pension without verification of the age and resulted in inadmissible payment of Rs. 32.65 lakh to 489 beneficiaries below the age of 65 years.

NFBS assistance of Rs. 10,000 is payable in lump sum to households Below Poverty Line (BPL) on the death of the primary bread winner, provided the age of the deceased ranges between 18 to 64 years. It was seen in audit that no data of eligible beneficiaries based on BPL criteria had been prepared at any level, in the absence of which the genuineness of the recommended beneficiaries was not susceptible to check.

To provide social cover to the destitute, widows/divorcees and the handicapped having no source of livelihood, the state government launched (June 1994) the Integrated Social Security Scheme under which pension assistance/relief was to be paid to each identified beneficiary. The demand for the release of funds has not been commensurate with the physical targets, the report pointed out.

The District Level Committee (DLC), with the District Development Commissioner as Chairman is to sanction pension/relief to the identified beneficiaries on the basis of verification conducted by TSWOs. No data of eligible beneficiaries, having meager support or source of livelihood, had been prepared at any level in Jammu division, in the absence of which the genuineness of the recommended beneficiaries was not susceptible to check.

Assistance to the physically handicapped under ISSS is required to be paid through money orders. The assistance is credited to bank accounts of the respective TSWOs by the DSWOs through cheques/advices. After preparing money orders for each beneficiary, the TSWOs deposit the same with post offices for further disbursement. Scrutiny of the records of DSWO, Rajouri showed that only 14 to 21 per cent of the beneficiaries were disbursed assistance through money orders and assistance in respect of other beneficiaries was credited to their bank accounts. Test-check also showed that none of the beneficiaries under the scheme were paid assistance through money orders in six DSWOs of Kashmir Division. Further, it was seen that Rs. 78.20 lakh had been returned (2005-08) as undisbursed amount of pension assistance through money orders by TSWOs. It was indicative of the fact that the money was released in excess as no proper survey of beneficiaries was conducted. The Department had suffered an avoidable loss of Rs. four lakh (five per cent of Rs. 78.20 lakh) as money order charges. Further, Audit check showed that Rs. 3.58 crore32 received back from banks as unclaimed amount was lying with five TSWOs in their bank accounts as of March 2009. No steps had been taken to scrutinize the merits of each case recommended in order to facilitate remittances/refund of these unclaimed amounts.

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