Model Village and our MPs’

SAGY

How come most of our people’s representatives are unable to sustain their interest in the development of villages they represent? I am raising this issue in the wake of a recent report which says that as many as 475 out of 543 Lok Sabha MPs have not even cared to identify the village they would develop under Phase- III of the Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojna (SAGY) launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi amidst great fanfare in 2014.

Under Phase-1 of the scheme, each MP from the two Houses of Parliament is supposed to identify a gram panchayat in his constituency with a view to turning it into a model village of development by 2016. Two more gram panchayats – three in all – would acquire Model Village development stamps by 2019. This is surely a laudable scheme by the Prime Minister which could keep the MPs grounded to the soil for all-round growth at the grassroots.

It all started off very well, to begin with. As many as 500 Lok Sabha MPs and 203 Rajya Sabha MPs identified villages in the first year of the launch of the SAGY scheme. In Phase II, 234 Lok Sabha members and 136 of 243 upper House members failed to identify villages. For the latest Phase – III, 90 per cent of MPs are yet to adopt a village while the time is running out fast for the 2019 deadline. Does this waning interest among MPs suggest some in-built flaws in the scheme? Or, have MPs found the proposition to be time-consuming and not lucrative enough, politically and otherwise?

No doubt, the scheme suffers from some serious flaws. In the first place, it does not provide for a separate budget since it seeks convergence of various schemes and programmes already in vogue.

Second, parliamentarians, especially from the Lok Sabha, feel that picking up one village in the constituency could create adverse reaction in other villages under their domain, to their political disadvantage. This is understandable.

Third, the MPs have to focus on micro-level monitoring work in gram panchayats – the job which comes under the jurisdiction of MLAs. This could unnecessarily generate conflicts of interest, especially if parliamentarians and legislators happen to belong to two different political outfits.

The SAGY is typical of Modi’s development mantra which is hurriedly conceived without giving due weightage to the ground realities. This was seen in the case of Demonetisation as well as GST. Both the schemes were full of flaws, operationally and otherwise.

The Hon’ble Prime Minister ought to realise that misplaced thoughts could become counter-productive in the long run. Every development scheme and initiative for reforms needs to be in tune with ground realities. Also, it needs to be appreciated that we cannot have a uniform approach to development tasks in a country of diversity like ours. The face of India changes after every 25 or 30 districts.

The only answer to this onerous challenge is decentralization of policy and planning. Equally crucial for rural development is empowerment of the panchayats, both financially and functionally.

The monitoring work of development is generally done by the district-level-administration. MPs and MLAs could be associated with it for a six-monthly or yearly review for re-fixing of priorities, depending on changing demands and expectations of the villagers concerned.

What is needed in today’s complexities is depoliticisation of the development process. Development tasks must not be seen through political or sectarian angularities.

Development demands empowerment of the people, educationally, health-wise as well as in meeting their basic necessities of life and infrastructural connectivity between Bharat and India.

As it is, the overall development in the country is far from flattering. I do not wish to talk of big projects or schemes which have their own tales of flaws. What disturbs me is the latest report from the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IRPRI)’s 2017 Global Hunger Research Index (GHI), in which India ranks 100 among 119 countries studied. The country’s rank, in fact, has fallen by three places compared to 2016. Significantly, in the 2017 Hunger Index, India falls behind even war-ravaged Iraq and North Korea. The only consolation that could be derived by officials is that in Asia, Pakistan and Afghanistan are below the ranking of India!

A number of global and Indian studies have talked about the sufferings of the common men on various counts like nutrition and child mortality, awfully poor standards of primary and secondary schooling, lopsided growth and the prevailing illiteracy. These harsh facts show how precarious the country’s social and human conditions are.
True, major changes relating to human affairs, including in education, public health and infrastructure development, cannot be brought about overnight by the Modi government. All the same, decades of failure demand changes in policies, strategies and prioritization of the very concept of Vikas.

Development tasks must be in tune with grassroots realities in villages. Here, areas of flaws have to be identified afresh and new plans of action evolved and operationalised on a war-footing basis.

Indeed, the real challenge before the Niti Ayog planners and leaders is to ensure that the poor get a reasonable share in the “human resource and economic cake” through new avenues of growth and development. This is possible if the rulers at the helm adopt the required correctives urgently to rid the Indian society of the imbalances that make the poor poorer and the rich richer.

The government is expected to be a “prime mover” in the development process. But in a vibrant democracy like ours, it cannot blindly or instantly transplant one Model or the other. Our “development strategy” has to be tailored to the actual conditions prevailing in our villages.

I hope the Prime Minister would think along new lines. He needs to appreciate that the centralization of decision-making does not improve performance on the ground. Rather, it creates obstacles for innovations and creativity of indigeneous talents at the grassroots.

A developing economy like ours cannot afford extravagance to support the whims of politicians and the indifferent functioning of the bureaucracy in the name of Model Village Development!

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