The annual report card of many ministries would be awash in red if past performance were the sole criteria for review. The annual reports of the Standing Committee tabled in Parliament provide a lot of information about the various ministries. The annual reports this year are even more informative as they review not only the performance during the year but also the achievements, failures and slippages over the entire Five-Year Plan period.
For project developers and project consultants the reports are even more useful as the reports indicate the actual usage of funds vis-à-vis their original and revised budgets. Besides giving the extent of variance at a macro level the concerned committee also reviews the reasons for the variance and makes suggestions and recommendations for bringing about an improvement or enabling better compliance. In fact, these reports go far beyond mere number crunching.
Going through some of the reports tabled recently, it is surprising to note that finance is not really one of the main constraints reining in project development and growth. Indeed, in many cases the committees have admonished the ministries for the abysmally low spending. In the case of Urban Development, for instance, as much as 30 per cent of the outlay remained unspent. Even after huge cuts made at Revised Estimates (RE) stage, the ministries could not utilise the amount in the concerned schemes or projects. Even though the budget in actual terms is rather small, the Urban Development Ministry deserves special merit as it affects the development of an estimated 67 million persons living below poverty line.
Even in other ministries like Oil & Natural Gas, under spending has been highlighted. The original plan outlay of Rs 81,382 crore was scaled downward in the 9th Plan and of this only 71 per cent would be utilised. Some of the problems leading to projects not seeing the light of day in the 9th Plan identified by the committee included delays in granting of environmental clearances, problems in acquisition of land, backing out of joint venture partners and delayed execution by contractors and foreign suppliers. Even exploration projects are stymied by the regulations on environment and protection of Coastal Regulatory Zone. The committee has suggested modifying rules and also permitting exploration and production on the basis of "compensatory afforestation" principle. The committee also commented on the lacunae in implementation and monitoring process observing that private sector majors get clearances in a very short time for which PSUs have to wait for a very long time, that too without any success.
Most ministries have been advised not to go in for making over-ambitious plans but to inculcate more realism in planning and achieving the same by better monitoring and implementation. While it may be difficult to rein in planning in the current Plan, project implementation would definitely improve if some of the suggestions and recommendations made by the various committees were taken seriously.