The Backward Regions Grant Fund Programme (BRGF), launched by the Prime Minister at Barpeta in Assam on 19th February 2006, signifies a new approach to addressing persistent regional imbalances in development. The programme subsumes the Rashtriya Sama Vikas Yojana (RSVY), a scheme earlier being administered by the Planning Commission. The BRGF Programme covers 250 districts in 27 States, of which 232 districts fall under the purview of Part IX and Part IX-A of the Constitution dealing with the Panchayats and the Municipalities respectively. The remaining 18 districts are covered by other local government structures, such as Autonomous District and Regional Councils under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution and state specific arrangements as in the case of Nagaland and the hill areas of Manipur. The list of districts covered under BRGF is at Annexe 1.
2. The BRGF programme represents a major shift in approach from topdown plans to participative plans prepared from the grassroots level upwards. Panchayats at the Village, Intermediate and District levels and Municipalities, constituted under Parts IX and IX-A of the Constitution, are positioned as institutions for planning and implementing the programme. The conviction that drives this new locally driven approach is that grassroots level democratic institutions know best the dimensions of poverty in their areas and are, therefore, best placed to undertake individually small, but overall, significant local interventions to sustainably tackle local poverty alleviation 3. While recognizing the comparative advantage of local bodies in better tackling local matters, all backwardness cannot be handled this way. Therefore, the guidelines of the programme entrust the central role in planning and implementation of the programme to Panchayats in rural areas, municipalities in urban areas and District Planning Committees at the district level constituted in accordance with Article 243 ZD of the Constitution to consolidate the plans of the Panchayats and Municipalities into the draft district plan. Special provisions have been made in the guidelines for those districts in J&K, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura which do not have Panchayats, where village level bodies and institutions mandated under other frameworks such as the Sixth Schedule are to plan and implement the programme.
4. There are three features of BRGF that make it truly unique among central initiatives to combat backwardness. First, the approach of putting the Panchayats and the Municipalities at the centre stage of tackling chronic regional backwardness is one that has never been tried at this vast scale, save the implementation of NREGA. Second, no Central funding stream is as ‘untied’ as the BRGF – the funds can be applied to any preference of the Panchayat/ Municipality, so long as it fills a development gap and the identification of the work is decided with peoples’ participation. Third, no other programme spends as much funds, nearly 11 percent of the total allocation, for capacity building and staff provisioning. 5. District planning, which commences from the level of each local body and is finally concluded at the district level through the consolidation of these local Panchayat and Municipality based plans by the District Planning Committee into the draft district plan, is expected to better strategise both local and more wide ranging interventions into a composite strategy document. 6. The importance of this exercise cannot be under-estimated – considerable resources are available today through a host of Central and State schemes for poverty alleviation, infrastructure development and improvement of service delivery. However, when these are planned for, spent and monitored in vertical silos with little convergence, the results are usually sub-optimal. For instance considerable...