India has seen a rise in social sector spending since 2004. The outcomes, however, have been underwhelming. The best-known illustration of this phenomenon is the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) where the quality of assets and the number of jobdays created are far below expectations. It is the same story across programmes in health, education and elsewhere, says Mihir Shah,member of the Planning Commission.
“In Act after Act, we are just creating hardware. We are not creating software at all. All this is what I call the problem of U without Q. Universalisation without quality. That is the bane of all our programmes. Whether it is NREGA or ICDS (Integrated Child Development Services), the focus of the people, the government and civil society is always on scaling up. We always neglect the quality aspect. And universalisation with quality cannot happen unless it has been cracked at a reasonable scale first.”