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In search of Kadaknath

Ever since Anna Hazare broke on the national scene, the word Gram Swaraj has all over again gained currency. Anna talks of democracy at the grass roots and he has his village – Ralegan Siddhi to showcase as case study. I have never been to this village in Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra but believe it has brought certain economic autonomy and the villagers are better off than what they were say a decade back.

But is Hazare’s experiment unique? It may sound a new idea to those whose world view is limited to Cyberia. As one moves beyond the four walls of air-conditioned cocooned India, it’s not difficult to see that Gandhi’s vision of Gram Swaraj is being implemented in plenty and with the mandate of our much bruised Constitution.

There may be a dispute over how Gandhian are the village development programmes but then it’s also wrong to hold a grudge against making the schemes adaptable to changing environment.

Mahatma had said, ‘Political and economic emancipation has no meaning unless it lifts the people from poverty and ignorance. In the Indian context it is only possible if villages are transformed, since the soul of India lives in villages.’ Since independence we have seen village development programmes vary from being focussed on self-reliance to urbanisation.

Experience over the years has shown the need to reach a balance between the use of modern technology and dependence on traditional systems for rural development. The idea is to make the villages and the villagers realise their full potential at the same time ensure end of migration in search of livelihood. However, this is easier said than done. Our rural development programmes betters those of many other nations for its sheer enormity.

The annual budget for rural development of the union government is humongous, around Rs 15,000 crores. In the metropolitan corridors there is the general belief that this budget is failing to have its effect. There are justifications too in the statistics and figures doled out by foreign-trained economists. However, the social picture is just not about honour killings in the rural areas, it’s also about a ‘ghunghat’ clad Bhoori Devi interacting with senior officials of a public sector undertakings with the confidence of an achiever.

Last week while travelling to the backward district of Jhabua on the Madhya Pradesh-Gujarat border, the only motivation in the beginning seemed to be the chance to partake of the pigmented meat of Kadaknath, a wild chicken variety from the area. Kadaknath doesn’t anymore rule the roost in the district; he is being given a run for his money by a new variety called Croiler.

‘Kadaknath is a wild variety. Breeding it for poultry purposes has not been very successful. The tribal population here would not touch broiler chicken as it lacks in requisite lustre. Therefore we introduced Croiler, which is as magnificent in make-up as Kadaknath,’ says Manish Kumar, a Delhi University graduate who is heading a team of an organisation called Community Friendly Movement (CFM), which in association with Gail (India) Limited is running a village empowerment programme called Anhad Gram, which when translated would mean a village without boundaries.

In Kumar’s team there are several like him who have been to good urban educational institutions but have chosen to work in the backward districts helping the tribal population learn watershed management, develop poultry, organic farming and conserve nature. With public sector companies under Petroleum Ministry alone spending approximately Rs 367.57 crore in carrying out various activities under the CSR scheme during the financial year 2011-12, there is scope for people like Manish Kumar and his team members to create that urban-rural symbiotic relation, which can help achieve full potential of our rural resources. Of these ONGC spent Rs. 121.08 crore, followed by IOCL with Rs. 82.73 crore. Gail spent Rs 70.6 crore.

If we have not been able to achieve the desired results in rural areas, the aforementioned figures would show that it is not on account of lack of effort on part of the government or lack of planning programmes. Then what is the factor which is restraining the spur in growth? One factor which can be held responsible for slow growth is the ‘low target orientation of the programmes and achievement of such target goals, especially where real ground benefits to the beneficiaries are to beaccounted.’

What is the solution? Certainly not the manifesto drafted by Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP, which is rooted in Cyberia with no firsthand experience of working in rural India. The rural masses are still not fully equipped to take major decisions on development alone but have the potential to deliver in partnership of those committed towards rural development.

The revival of Kadaknath poultry breed in the company of Croiler in Jhabua could give us the ideal model of a successful urban-rural partnership, which has been somewhat achieved by NGOs working in the rural areas. These groups have largely succeeded on the account of being slightly better off at mobilising and building up community ownership and responsibility.

There is no doubting Gandhi’s philosophy that soul of our nation rests in the villages. However, the way to Gram Swaraj in this era and time could not be through village autonomy bordering on isolation. It has to be based on robust public-private partnership. The spur to create growth in rural areas has to come from urban India. And thankfully this model is being successfully replicated in several areas including the backward district of Jhabua.

Sidharth Mishra is with Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and consulting editor, Millennium Post
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