Rural development, a tired theme?

But still it drives fear and tremors in Delhi!

Ministers can proactively do many things!

Corporate social responsibility can be identified and publicized!

Civil society initiatives need appreciated and recognized by the governments. The PM must be silently cursing the electorate of Punjab and Uttaranchal for being ungrateful. The Finance minister must be blaming the farmers for distorting his simplistic understanding of the economy. Anyway, one can be sure that Sonia Gandhi must be blaming the duo for having let her down do badly. More than the UP elections, the next general elections must be creating sleepless nights for her already.

The Finance Minister has said in his budget speech that there is no dearth for the schemes or the funds! That is a fine sentiment. Yet his budget allocations bear out the contrary reality. He hasn’t allotted more funds for the rural employment guarantee scheme. He hasn’t allotted any additional funds to the integrated child development scheme. He hasn’t allotted more funds to the elementary and secondary education!

Nor, the agri sector is very enthused by his allocations! There rather is the unsaid admission of failure on the agri front.

What do these acts show?

Certainly, the government knows the inflation is threatening its very own existence. After losing out the crucial states like Punjab and Uttaranchal and UP what more justification has the UPA? Its very own chances in the next general elections seem dim.

So, where do we go from here?

Finance minister has been speaking on and off on so many topics. One was corporate sector’s social responsibility. Why doesn’t he spell out some schemes? There are so many such schemes for him to speak on and we give here one or two. Likewise, other ministers have their jobs cut out here. Here again we give them some ideas. They can generate any number of such ideas and act upon.

It is all a question of leadership from top to the middle and down to the gram levels, right?

So, shall we expect the Central government to act fast? Before it is too late? Before the looming next general elections? More than the PM, it is Sonia Gandhi who must be worried and who must prod the ministers to act at once!

Rural India is teeming with too many people. Too many are getting stuck into an economic sector that must be empowering the people with more energy, more job opportunities and more facilities to live a decent life. That is partly happening, we have to admit. There is so much money chasing the poor, all the populist schemes are supposed to target these vulnerable groups. But there is so much diversion of funds; even the unspent funds allotted to the rural employment scheme speak of the state of inefficiency that prevails in the rural development schemes.

There is almost a complete breakdown of governance even in some of the well-developed that is well-governed states. TN and Kerala are two good examples. There is so much devolution of powers in Kerala panchayats. Yet the state seems a poor performer when it comes to economic development. What little micro enterprises Kerala have, they are all so disjointed, they have no overall perspective, no structure economic development paradigm. The political culture is such that no one will dare to openly speak of the need for a capitalist approach to development. Unless private sector thrives within some limits, at least, there can’t be bigger industries thriving. That is one reason why Kerala is an economic laggard.

No amount of egalitarian talk will compensate for the need to economically strong economy unless there is a fair share and an acknowledged role for a large industry in manufacturing, services and allied sectors. This is an economic reality no Kerala politician is willing to face.

The same dilemma now haunts the W.Bengal politicians too. Yes, Buddhdeb now hogs the limelight for his daring to bring in large industries. The signing of the Tata motors plant in Singur is by far the biggest achievement in the state. But this is just a beginning. The state has to go a long way, before it can speak of anything worthwhile in the social sectors, so beloved of its famous son, Amartya Sen, the Nobel Laureate! As it is, even Sen is constrained to speak out fully and truthfully about what is wrong with his fellow Bengali brethren!

So much for the relevance (or irrelevance?) of the Marxist politicians and their party strategies. The Left can be blamed for the successive Congress defeats in the state Assembly elections for the UPA is constrained to move fast and act in economic reforms.

Even the regional parties like the DMK are acting like a drag on the Centre with their own populist programmes, so many freebies, so much economic waste and so much noise with nothing concrete on ground level, programmes that can really trigger an economic development at the grass roots.

Unfortunately, the good programmes don’t get noticed. The media, both print and electronic don’t find it profitable to publicize the same. Two programmes, surprisingly from Karnataka, seem to offer so much hope for positive changes in the rural India.

One is the “Nemmadi” scheme that give computerized records of “Rights, Crops and Tenancy” across the table that is put in place in 690 hoblis as of date. That seeks to eliminate the middlemen, the village accountant, the biggest source of corruption and harassment so far. Even now, the scheme mandates the VA’s signature that is still to be eliminated. However, the scheme is a welcome breath of fresh air in an area like rural administration that hasn’t changed with the times.

The other scheme is of course a community-inspire health scheme, again in Karnataka, just on the outskirts of Bangalore in Hoskote. In association with one medical college, the scheme reaches the villagers at their doorsteps and offers treatment to kidney failures and preventive therapy. This disease is now assuming epidemic proportions, 20 lakh patients already, and one lakh being added each year! This is an initiative by a noted nephrologist, Dr.M.K.Mani of Chennai and this effort needs replication nationwide so that civil society initiatives gets recognized and corporates assume responsibility for each district and each taluk, so that gradually, the entire country  is covered by such community health schemes. There is already one or two more such health schemes in Karnataka, one a specifically farmers oriented health insurance scheme run by one corporate hospital(Narayan Hrudalaya)and another  statewide scheme to cover the entire state.

These are some of the positive developments. The integrated child development scheme is another one that needs such community initiatives. The CII is pushing forward the concept of PPI, public-private participation, in several of the rural infrastructure development schemes. This is of course very welcome. The same PPI concept can be extended to some of the community development schemes, more so in such sensitive and vulnerable population, in dealing with HIV/AIDS and other social service sector.

As we are all told or reminded by experts and others, there is now a widespread awareness that economic development is not just certain economic indicators alone. There is a need to appreciate it is the development of the capabilities of the mass of people that is the true index of any development worth its tag. So, the Centre can take so many initiatives. The ministers individually should take upon themselves some of the community development initiatives through civil society groups as well as through corporate linkages so that each of the schemes becomes sustainable on a long-term basis.

Yes, the Finance minister is right there is no dearth of schemes or the funds. But then, what we need is to identify the schemes, the geographies, the agencies and award and reward them! Announce the agencies would be specifically added in the awards like the Padma awards so that we learn to appreciate the selfless, unpaid workers from the civil society. What is great about finding the bureaucrats being awarded each year with no visible reasons for appreciation?  

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