Envisioning a rural renaissance
Apart from several schemes and grand plans announced by prime minister Modi during his Independence Day speech, what attracted me the most was Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojana. Modi wants to engage members of Parliament in transforming the scenes of rural and urban areas by showcasing model villages (adarsh grams) during his five-year term. He has asked MPs to develop one village each in their respective constituencies into adarsh grams by 2016 and add two villages by 2019- last year of current Lok Sabha term. In other words, each MP is targeted with three adarsh grams. Thus, if all 793 MPs implement this program ideally, about 2,400 villages should be expected to emerge as adarsh grams under this plan.
Creativity and innovations have been integral part of India’s culture and development. Model villages are not exceptional. Several NGOs transformed economically poor, barren, resource poor villages into model villages in the past. In many ways these were not lesser than adarsh grams in their approaches. Let me give some names of villages of which I had seen a few in my career spanning three decades: Adgaon, Devpimpalgaon, Ralegan Siddhi, Hiware Bazar (all in Maharastra), Shantipura (near Mysore) and other projects implemented under Participatory Integrated Development of Watershed (PIDOW) programme in Gulbarga district (Karnataka), Sukhomajri (Haryana), Ankapur (Telangana) and others. Several NGOs had integrated renewable energy components (biogas plants) into watershed development projects to move them further towards sustainability. When these people-centered projects had succeeded with intended results and impacted neighbouring villages too with increased water tables and demonstration effects, they received attention of the authorities. These villages were visited by large number of people and print media covered success stories widely. Academicians and researchers analysed these projects and wrote papers. Creativity and innovations did not stop here. Depending on the local situations (both social and geographic), unique experiments were carried out in Palamau district (Jharkhand) by pooling the land from farmers for collective agricultural development through Chakriya Vikas Pranali (cyclic system of development). Another creative experiment was successfully carried out and later expanded to several states was Wadi program. It was described as an approach to human and eco-system well-being. It begins from family (instead of village as a unit) and their individual farms. More than 160,000 farmers have adopted this model covering over 65,000 hectares of land in nine states of India. NABARD has been sponsoring this scheme through localised names in many states. All these models were successful because of people’s participation, capacities of communities and collective actions.
I must single out one ideal village which has attained a ‘super hero’ image including the media – both print and electronic – Gangadevipally, situated 20 km from Warangal in Telangana state. It is promoted by a well-known NGO Bala Vikasa. As a part of my profession, I visited this village four times in the past 10 years. A village with over a thousand people has been making news in development sector for achieving 100 percent in respect of several social indicators. It is no wonder that this village had received many awards ranging from the local authorities to the President of India for its accomplishments, unity and cohesion. Gangadevipally panchayat is managed by 24 committees formed to promote decentralized leadership for its needs thus bringing villagers into its self-governance and administration. It attracted the attention of many and visited by bureaucrats, politicians, development professionals from different parts of the country and representatives from international development community from abroad. Committees’ members are invited to meetings and seminars to share their experiences in transforming their village into an adarsh gram many years, sustaining since then and moving forward. Interestingly, this village has a bilingual (Telugu and English) website www.gangadevipally.com Leadership played a key role in shaping up this village and the social processes have taken many years as participation remained cross cutting task throughout the development and transformation. In other words, to reach to the current level of ideal village, Gangadevipally took more than 15 years. Community driven development is a slow process and challenging.
Meanwhile, in September 2014, another feather was added to the cap of Gangadevipally! The government of India has selected three model villages (Gangadevipally in Telangana; Punsari in Gujarat and Hiware Bazar in Maharashtra) to showcase them as exemplary models. Documentaries were made by the government and screened as a part of the Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojana’s launching on October 11, 2014 by the prime minister Narendra Modi. He has also released guidelines of this scheme on this occasion.
The word 'adarsh' carries heavy moral weight, public image and a lot of expectations. Therefore, selection of villages (communities) is very crucial for the success and sustenance of initiatives post project period. Community’s engagement and active participation must be ensured at all stages of the implementation. Villages with history of participation in collective actions, coherence, proven track record of conflict resolving abilities should be taken into consideration during the selection. Any village divided on political, caste or religion lines will not be able to give desired results and expected outcomes of adarsh gram. Prime minister Modi further added several challenging expectations in his speech. His key points were: i) This scheme aims at village transformation and a holistic approach; ii) Advised MPs to follow demand driven approach; iii) Maintain family-type relationships with the community in selected villages and spend time informally to promote harmony; iv) Don’t show your authority and power but inspire villagers; v) Be a catalytic agent and a facilitator in this creative mission; and vi) To convert these noble thoughts into actions, guidelines give a lot of flexibility. No doubt, all these sounded like music to ears and offered a lot of positivity and spirituality especially when the Indian society is passing through the prism of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation. All these with technological advancements have been affecting human relationships and influencing on thinking and attitudes for common good. Modi concluded by saying that this scheme is beyond typical government scheme as it is based on people’s participation and voluntarism. Then only these villages will become smaraks for the neighboring villages and create a viral effect among many villages. Therefore, MPs should not rush in selecting villages without careful assessment of communities, their needs, receptivity, local dynamics, and engagement with developmental programs in the past. Consultation with local MLAs, elected grassroots leaders and NGOs is also a key factor.
Once preliminary assessments of these villages are completed, then the needs assessment and prioritisation will give contours of the sectors and emphasis (land and water management, safe drinking water supply, sanitation, health / hospital facilities, education, migration, livelihood and others) will categorise the nature of an adarsh gram. Timeframes advised by the prime minister- one village by 2016 and another two by 2019 will be a major challenge to accomplish. If the communities are not organised, do not show signs of stability and coherence for collective actions for their growth may pose a serious setback. Participation takes its own pace and cannot be accelerated as per the government time lines. There are many examples of failures where participation was not ensured resulting wastage of precious funds and efforts. Modi rightly said that in spite of several government schemes, transformation did not take place in communities. Therefore, this scheme attains utmost importance for simple reason that these are adarsh grams (ideal villages) for people to see.
Since this scheme is MPs-driven, the responsibility squarely falls on their shoulders. It is a dream scheme of the PM to ensure how best each MP contributes to make an impact by 2019. High expectations from this human and habitation (living and non-living) transformative initiative will be a gigantic task to fulfill especially when it is pitted against the five-year term. Community organisation and its active participation, social processes, equity issues, conflicts and other local socio-political factors are bound to crop up. I doubt whether villages will reach the stage of adarsh during the five year term but sincere efforts should be made in selected villages, make them to progress rapidly and at least put them on the path of being adarsh.
Building capacities of communities is essential to take ownership of the village development. They should be facilitated to take lead role to coordinate with elected leaders, appropriate authorities and other stakeholders to continue their multi-sectoral activities on a long term basis. Communities should be in a position to insulate themselves from vulnerabilities usually associated with changes of personnel in respect of elected representatives at various levels (panchayat, MLA and MP). The momentum generated through this scheme should constantly move progressively towards sustainability to make adarsh gram to become a real role model. Then only these villages can create what PM called ‘viral effect’ to other villages. Looking at the complexity and diversity in our country, we are bound to end up with multiple base models to meet people’s diverse needs and aspirations.
Engagement with local and resourceful NGOs is essential to bring quality to the program. It is recognised that Self Helf Groups (SHGs) promoted by NGOs function effectively, remain coherent, stable and sustained for longer periods when compared with government promoted SHGs.
Government staff cannot match with professional NGOs in respect of social processes, organising communities, engaging them in participatory planning and community driven approaches, prioritisation of needs and so on.
Adarsh grams are perceived as achievers on various social fronts viz social justice, removing inequalities, making landless shareholders in village commons, living and working together for common goals and progress towards adarsh. NGOs are well equipped with these capacities, have comparative advantages and facilitate communities to bring ownership into each and every activity. Then only adarsh grams become Sandarsh grams (Sansad + Adarsh= Sandarsh) for people to go and see.