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Participatory approach to rural growth key to address challenges

AJAI KUMAR | Updated on January 23, 2018 Published on April 27, 2015

Mega initiative: The Smart Village programme brought a new angle to governance through participation by encouraging individuals, institutions or private organisations to partner villages and handhold the development process by facilitating communities

Will the Prime Minister’s Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojana (SAGY) achieve this?

The trajectory of India’s rural development has been commended for successful interventions, yet the country is still a long way from eradicating poverty and bridging the development gap between rural and urban centres. As we study the history of developmental strategies in the country, we realise that the approach to rural development has undergone a paradigm shift over the last few decades, from that of a ‘top-down’ to a ‘bottom-top’ approach.

Until the 1990s though India’s strategy to development was that of centralisation, where the centrally administered support programs and planned interventions like community development and integrated rural development did not result in substantial rural poverty alleviation. These shortcomings led to the realisation that the top-down approach or the ‘trickle down’ effects of economic growth takes way too long to reach the poor, and the need for decentralisation.

What it means

Decentralisation typically involves transfer of power and authority from the central/State government to the local level, and to non-government and private organisations, thus enabling the rural poor to – a) share in decision-making that affects their daily lives; b) evaluate the outcome of their own decisions; c) minimise chances of misunderstanding; d) understand the difficulties and complexities of administration, planning and management; e) accept responsibility for failure; and f) develop a sense of belonging and commitment to civil society.

Article 40 of the Indian Constitution provided for the decentralisation in the form of a general directive to the state to establish Panchayati Raj institutions at the village level to formulate and execute various programs of economic development and social justice. Today a plethora of central and State-sponsored schemes are being implemented directly/indirectly through Panchayats on many aspects including health, education, income security, water and sanitation, housing and roads.

However, the promising start towards decentralisation in most States soon began to fade, either under political pressure or due to changes in growth strategies and policies of the government. The creation of Panchayats was not followed up by the devolution of powers and resources to these bodies, stalling progress of the decentralisation process.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojana (SAGY) has renewed the focus on translating the concept of Gram Swaraj or village democracy into reality by ensuring the participation of all sections of the society in all aspects related to village development, especially in decision-making and resource allocation. The focus of this program is on strengthening local democracy through strong and transparent Gram Panchayats and active Gram Sabhas, facilitating overall good governance. Under this flagship scheme, each Member of Parliament would motivate and drive development of best quality amenities & opportunities in these villages. MPs are expected to lead and nurture these villages and mobilise local community participation as they turn into “model villages” – a shining example for replication elsewhere.

Approach of scheme

The Scheme is unique in its having a holistic approach towards development. It envisages the all-round development of the village across areas such as agriculture, health, education, sanitation, environment, livelihoods etc. Going beyond development of institutional & social infrastructure, it lays emphasis on raising the living standards along with accumulation of social capital.

Each MP is free to identify any village for the Adarsh Gram initiative except for their own village or that of their spouse. Lok Sabha members can choose any village within their constituencies (urban MPs can select one from nearest rural area) and Rajya Sabha members can opt for any village in the State they represent with members. A member is expected to adopt one village right away and 2 others subsequently, out of which the first model village needs to be ready by 2016 and all three by 2019. Thereafter, members are expected to adopt one village every year so the target is to ensure 5 model villages by 2024. At this rate, the whole team of MPs can together contribute to 6,433 model villages by 2024. The number of Gram Panchayat’s covered will be 2,65,000.

Technology and innovations are expected to play a crucial role in the success of this flagship scheme. Adoption of breakthrough and cost-efficient technologies related to agriculture, livelihoods, building and road construction would vastly improve quality of life and expand the opportunities horizon, besides facilitating improved monitoring.

Andhra Pradesh has been the first State to formalise this approach to development as part of its Smart Village/Smart Ward Program. This program envisages implementing an integrated local development process around the principles of inclusion, equity, empowerment, social justice, bottom-up participation, self-management and inter-sectoral convergence.

The Smart Village program brought a new angle to governance through participation by encouraging individuals, institutions or private organisations to partner villages and handhold the development process by facilitating the communities, especially women, youth and deprived and marginalised communities in society, while integrating different sectoral verticals of the government.

They will be acting as a catalyst between the village body and the government in identifying the development needs, connecting them to the relevant government schemes, and monitoring the implementation process. They will also be responsible for mobilising any additional funds and appropriate technical support for development projects.

Effective coordination and systemic monitoring is essential for ensuring the achievement of the desired outcomes of the approach to development.

Committees to be set up

The Government of The State Government on its part will be setting up various committees at State, District, Mandal and Village level to independently monitor the development process. However the self-monitoring and learning system of the participatory approach will ensure that all the key stakeholders in the Smart Village Program, including sponsors and service providers, are capturing and understanding the progress, process, performance, degree of participation and persistence of sustainability of the development initiatives.

Advisory boards

In addition for effective governance, advisory boards have to be set up at the village level which will act as a decision-making and implementation authority. The crux of this approach is to provide the basic social and economic infrastructure, create human and institutional capacity, create more jobs and focus on the growth areas in identified sectors for increased resource use efficiency.

The participatory approach outlined above is built upon the belief that marginalised people of community will best understand the challenges they face and how to address them. However, for the success of any participatory approach to rural development, control rights in governance structures should be assigned to people who have the requisite information and incentives and at the same time responsible for both political and economic consequences of their decisions.

In many situations, this devolution of power to local authorities and communities ends up putting the development process at the mercy of local power elite who may frustrate the goal of achieving public delivery of social services. Therefore, decentralisation through participation of local communities should accompany serious efforts to change the existing structures of power within communities and to improve the opportunities for participation and voice for disadvantaged sections of the community.

The writer is the Senior Strategic Advisor of YES Bank

Published on April 27, 2015
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