Restrictions on errant development projects

Friday, 26 May 2023

The National Economic Council's actions initiated recently against laggard development projects have been long overdue but their net outcome is likely to be partial. The Planning Commission (PC), according to a report, recommended putting restrictions on release of funds against a total of 536 small-to-medium scale development projects until they receive extensions. The projects in question will get a place in the next ADP, but restrictions on fund release will remain in force. The tenure of these projects under implementation for periods ranging between nine and 15 years ends at the end of next month. Most had managed extensions earlier but failed to complete their work within their deadlines.
The delay in project implementation is a chronic problem and the authorities are yet to find an effective solution to that. Not that the projects that have lately come under NEC restrictions are the only ones facing implementation delays. Many mega and big projects have got time extensions, and some have managed it for more than once. The delay in project implementation exacts a toll on the State coffer. Sometimes, the cost of the projects goes up three to fourfold. The availability of funds has never been a problem in areas of project execution. Some other issues, administrative or otherwise, in most cases, are found responsible for stalling project execution. For instance, the projects facing the NEC-imposed restrictions on receiving funds in the next financial year did not bother to seek extensions despite execution delays. So far, they got away with their built-in indifference, as projects remaining unfinished even after the expiry of their tenure were included in the next ADP as ongoing ones.
All these unwanted developments have been emerging because of the lack of monitoring by the controlling ministries/ divisions, various departments and directorates and the IMED (Implementation, Monitoring and Evaluation Division) of the Ministry of Planning. It is widely believed that execution delays are often done deliberately since time overrun entails cost hike, and that helps many to accrue undue financial benefits.
The selection of incompetent project directors (PDs) and the frequent transfer of PDs are seen as major reasons for delays in development project execution. Often some PDs are made in-charge of multiple projects, leading to various complexities in their execution. The government, it is reported, has been thinking loudly to create an exclusive administrative cadre that would oversee project implementation. With proper training imparted on development administration, this particular cadre members might deliver positive results. The weaknesses in the execution of the Annual Development Programme (ADP) are known to all concerned. The policymakers do also feel the necessity of improving project execution and maintaining the quality of projects to help reduce wastage of resources. Mere stalling project execution or suspending the release of funds is unlikely to help much in improving the situation. The Planning Commission and others concerned will have to devise an effective package capable of streamlining the process of development project implementation.