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How to 'Community Connect'

Laying out the foundation and direction for community-driven development made possible by an effective devolution of power, supported by shared resources and expertise

How to Community Connect
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After the publication of 'Community Connect' by MillenniumPost on January 22, 2020, many asked me to explain the road to go-ahead for Unnat Bharat Abhiyan 2.0 (UBA 2.0) and hence I penned this article. The academic world has been oriented to write and speak in an intellectual language and not in layman's speech. To reach the masses, one has to write or speak in people's language and for which academic writing has to be simplified. Teachers in higher learning institutions have to be conscious of the social realities of rustic folk in rural areas. The moment they become conscious and concerned for the rural poor, they will speak the language of the people and lead a life of the ordinary citizens living in rural areas.

To carry out the UBA 2.0, a teacher has to think of the available resources that can be shared with the poor across the country. These may be ideas, knowledge, skills, products and applications. It requires concern and not just a formal order from the university. It is not a charity but a responsibility. It needs passion, commitment and concern, not just direction from above.

Here is a story about the activities of a Department in a higher learning institution. Ours is a department conventionally named Political Science and Development Administration in a Gandhian Educational Institution (Gandhigram Rural Institute – Deemed to be University, fully funded by Government of India) and we are not offering a conventional programme in Political Science but we offer only an innovative postgraduate programme termed 'Development Administration' meant for preparing middle-level managers for development agencies. It is a five year integrated 'Sandwich' programme with more field components. The department after passing the conformity legislation to the 73rd Constitutional Amendment in Tamil Nadu, an awareness programme has been conducted in the rural areas with the help of the students. When we conducted such programmes in rural areas, we have involved the local civil society and community-based organisations. Media, both print and electronic, had given a wide coverage for our activities and thereby we reached out not only to the masses but also to the policy community and political class.

After the conduct of local body election in 1996, we have created a separate unit 'Rajiv Gandhi Chair for Panchayati Raj Studies' in the department to carry out multiple activities to strengthen the rural local government. In the Rajiv Gandhi Chair, we have prepared modules for conducting training programmes to the newly elected representatives of the people. Since the Rajiv Gandhi Chair is equipped professionally to conduct training programmes, government and various other agencies have entrusted the responsibility of training the Panchayat leaders. As a result, the Rajiv Gandhi Chair has conducted capacity building exercise for 8,000 Gram Panchayat leaders and of them, 4,000 comprises of Dalits and women.

Preparing participatory planning is the mandated activity of the panchayats. As per the Constitutional Amendment, the Rajiv Gandhi Chair initiated a micro plan in 73 Gram Panchayats in five districts with the cooperation of the district administration. There are nine categories of elected representatives in the three-tier system of the Panchayati Raj. For them, reading materials have been prepared and published. For Gram Panchayat leaders and the officials, an administrative manual has been prepared and published. This was the first of its kind in India. Till date, many states do not even have administrative manual for panchayats.

In Tamil Nadu, the District Collector has a role to play in Panchayati Raj activities as the inspector of panchayats. Hence a separate administrative manual has been prepared by the Rajiv Gandhi Chair and has been presented to all the District Collectors. Having seen the administrative manuals, the Ministry of Panchayati Raj, Government of India wanted a generic administrative manual. We have helped the Kerala Institute of Local Administration to prepare such a manual by following our administrative manual and it has been submitted to the Ministry of Panchayati Raj. Having seen the active academic and outreach activism in the field, the Ford Foundation has entrusted the responsibility of conducting a study on the impact of economic globalisation in the livelihood of the poor in Tamil Nadu.

Based on the study a training module has been prepared and conducted training for the local body leaders as to how effectively utilise the opportunity comes out of globalisation for the poor and to avoid threats of globalisation. Yet another assignment was given by Action Aid to the Rajiv Gandhi Chair to conduct a study on 'Disaster Management' in Orissa and Gujarat, leading to the preparation of a training module based on the experience of these states. By using the modules, training has been conducted for the local body leaders drawn from coastal areas on "Disaster preparedness and Disaster Management". The UNDP through the state planning commission asked the Rajiv Gandhi Chair to prepare a District Human Development Report (DHDR) for two districts in Tamil Nadu.

To scale up our Panchayati Raj activities, we brought out a supplement with a vernacular newspaper every Monday titled Panchayat Malar. This was carried out for a year. Similarly, Good governance through local governance, an All India Radio programme was conducted for six months throughout Tamil Nadu.

Periodically Panchayat leaders summit has been arranged and the problems of the Panchayati leaders have been sorted by the intervention of the local body minister and higher officials. Women Elected Representatives Federation has been formed and it has been facilitated by us for its activities. A specific government order has been obtained from the Government of Tamil Nadu to help the women leaders by the district officials for the smooth functioning of panchayats and effective delivery of services to the community.

While implementing the poverty reduction project in Tamil Nadu, the Rajiv Gandhi Chair has been asked to train the managers of the project on the new approach "Community Driven Development". It is an intensive month-long training program for the project officers and was conducted effectively in the filed, rather than being conducted in a classroom.

The Rajiv Gandhi Chair activities were assisted by the World Bank, UNDP, UNICEF, the Ford Foundation, Population Foundation of India, Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, State Planning Commission, Ministry of Panchayati Raj, the Hunger Project and a few other agencies. Having seen the activities of the Rajiv Gandhi Chair, five MPs have contributed from MPLAD fund to construct a separate building for Rajiv Gandhi Chair. A member of Parliament has helped the Department from his MPLAD fund to create a computer lab for training and students' use.

Even while entrusting the work of preparation of Devolution Report to the Institute of Social Sciences Mumbai, by the Ministry of Panchayati Raj, it has been advised to keep one Panchayati Raj expert as an adviser and hence I have been asked to guide the devolution report preparation work. It is to be noted that all our activities included the involvement of students and they benefitted immensely. Village stay and field activities are mandatory for our students.

All our experiences are documented in different books published by us through reputed publishers. Seeing the competency of the department, the UGC has sectioned Special Assistance (SAP) programme for our department. All these activities are carried out by our department over a period of time with the active participation of the faculty members, research scholars and students with the support of the administration.

When a small department with six staff members in a small university can do this kind of activities, the conventional departments in the conventional universities with larger manpower coupled with infrastructure facilities can do much more community-driven service, thereby, also lifting the standards!

The author is a former Professor and Rajiv Gandhi Chair for Panchayati Raj Studies, Gandhigram Rural Institute. Views expressed are strictly personal

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