Where are the funds? When it will be disbursed? Where are the institutions to receive the funds? Who are all accountable for the funds use or misuse?
Any hopes for rural India? For the rural poor? The Central government seems to have lost its direction and also the initial dynamism for action. Many new developments had burdened the government with other preoccupations. The oil for food programme scandal in which Natwar Singh and even the Congress party are caught is to be resolved. The Bihar elections might completely give a psychological blow to the Congress in its capacity to hold on in government. So, where are the promises of reducing poverty? The passing of the Employment Guarantee Act, promising 100 days of work for a poor family, was touted as the biggest achievement of the UPA govt. But why is it still not taking off? Where is the fund allocation? When it is to be kicked off?
There is no report in the media about its implementation. The members of the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council seem to have fallen silent.
There is this news report recently from MP, from an NGO led by a qualified man, H.B.Sen who has a doctorate in applied social sciences from the Dr.Ambedkar National Institute of Social sciences, Mhow, MP and who runs the Krishak Sahayo Sansthan (KSS) an NGO associated with the Poorest Areas Civil Society (PACS) funded by the UK govt’s dept for international development. To reduce poverty and aid in sustainable livelihood projects. KSS works in 10 villages in Raisen district of MP, about 50 km from Bhopal. Sen’s experiences are the very same we have heard before. Small and marginal farmers in debt, they don’t get any prospect of higher farm incomes. Says Sen, bluntly: “Landless labours are better off than land-owning marginal and small farmers. The landless labour has no debts”.
What Sen, as a social sciences expert says is that atleast some Chief Ministers like former CM Digvijay Singh had given the rurally oppressed castes, Dalits, women and others a sense of some psychological comfort. Unlike the highly communal BJP created a sense of psychological oppression. Yes, today much more than economic and social security, the rural poor need some psychological sense of liberation and a sense of confidence in their future. This psychological freedom even many parties don’t give. Even the Left parties, the CPI (M) keeps its cadre and the sympathisers in a psychological bondage of party loyalty often by means of psychological terror, bordering on violent acts. Even the regional DMK,ADMK indulge in this sort of psychological insecurity in their cadres to subjugate them to serve their masters’ very irrational party control. P.Sainath had shown that landless labour, more so the woman labour, in fact lend money to farmers in AP villages and the farmers suicides draw mourners from the actual women landless labour as money lenders! So, the mainstream reporting of farmers’ suicides or the farmers distress doesn’t evoke any interests in the government, the public don’t feel like reading too many distress stories. So, what do you do?
The PM and his team seem to be blissfully confused with all the day today news that are of more momentous importance for the very survival of the government. So, what chance poverty can be reduced? Rural distress can be redressed? Farm growth will become once again a reality? No chance whatever! The reasons for the persistence of poverty in the rural areas, even in urban slums is that this government (or for that matter the NDA) has no serious idea of why poverty persists. The PM may be an economic policy maker. But he or his teams obviously don’t seem to believe in any core economic ideology. No one in the government or in the Congress party today would say or admit in any core new economic policy to tackle peoples’ problems. This seems to be a time pass government. To prolong as much as possible until some political earthquake, an election or some Constitutional hurdle can come and save it from new embarrassment.
So, why the Employment Guarantee Act won’t take off?
At least the government must be honest enough to know the reasons. The panchayats as they are constituted in the states, except in one or two states like Karnataka, is all politicised. In Kerala and TN we know for sure the panchayats are the handmaids of the ruling regimes, the panchayats are effectively used to build up the party cadres through several devices. One device is to see that any new funds that come to the panchayats are cleverly diverted to party cadres under the disguise of local contractors for various projects.
When the DMK was in power, I remember the day when a media/advertisement man came to me in the village and showed me a cheque for Rs.10,000 from the neighbouring village panchayat! I was shocked to see such a hefty ad bill from a poor panchayat! When I questioned him closely, I found that he is a DMK party man and the then government had permitted the panchayats to divert funds for ads in the newspapers to advertise their achievements! That way, the funds were to be sent to the headquarters. The same sharing, commissions are now routinely diverted to the local ministers who each, I am told men are assigned to collect so much funds for the party. There is a corrupt gang in each party, linked with the top leadership.
So, the panchayats, even otherwise, under the tight control of the bureaucracy at the state secretariat, simply remain shadow bodies, no gram sabhas or regular meetings, there is no need and there is no money and also the only time panchayats become alive is when elections come or when funds are released.
So, readers can imagine what will be the fate of the Employment Guarantee Act? The entire money, variously bandied from Rs,15,000 crores to Rs,45,000 crores would surely be massively leaked, the heavy leakages is the normal routine in all these Central funded projects, even World Bank funded projects don’t escape this fate. See what the Karnataka bigwigs, Deve Gowda and S.M.Krishna are publicly accusing each other over World Bank funded projects!
So, we can simply forget about anything substantial happening under the UPA as it is constituted or as the Central government is functioning. There are not even any serious-minded ministers in the Central government committed to rural India’s development. Unemployed rural labour don’t sit idle, they migrate to nearby towns or even across the state borders. The seasonal migration of agriculture labour or non-agricultural rural labour is a growing new trend. So, who would really benefit by the massive promised funds is a big question. Sharad Pawar knows well what happened under the Employment Guarantee Act in his state.
So, if such is the situation in the rural India and where banks are also playing openly a hostile role in priority lending, the tall talk of the Finance Minister to accelerate agri credit, it is not simply happening. He also seems to know the ground level realities. Poor man! After all, he has to keep his portfolio. As for Mani Shankar Ayer, he is in charge of panchayat raj for the simple reason he served Rajiv Gandhi when the Constitutional amendment was made. That alone doesn’t justify such a crucial portfolio is mixed up with a much more challenging oil ministry.
Who is to be blamed?
We need a new set of innovations.
We need innovative institutional mechanisms to ensure the Central funds are directly routed to the panchayat presidents. Or through the district collectors .Yes, when you don’t have politicians who don’t believe in any serious ideology of panchayats, there is no point is talking too much about panchayats as the panacea to all our rural ills.