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Rural prosperity will propel development
Prime Minister Modi unveiled the Sansad Adrash Gram Yojana (SAGY) on 11 November to fulfill the dream of Mahatma Gandhi of achieving gram swaraj.

Even after two months, only 541 of the 793 MPs have selected villages for development.


Misunderstanding at the core of SAGY

There is a lot of misunderstanding or deliberate attempt to give mis-information on the SAGY.

Rahul Gandhi was saying there are no special funds allocated for the programme. This is not true. There is adequate funding for implementation of SAGY from  myriads existing of government schemes and from the MPLADs.

Some were critical that when there are about 625,000 villages and 265,000 gram panchayats, how can just few be developed as model villages. Critics need to understand the strategic vision behind the scheme. They have neither studied the earlier failed efforts to develop model villages nor the success of some NGOs in developing model villages even without substantial funding from the government.


Previous efforts of developing model villages...

Adarsh Nangla in UP was declared a model village in 1950s. It had everything one could think of. It was a show piece to foreign dignitaries on how India was developing villages with success. However, today it is in total ruins because of the indifference of its residents and apathy on the part of the government. It is for this reason SAGY is stressing the involvement of the villagers in the development.

In 2009-10, UPA government launched Pradhan Mantri Adarsh Gram Yojana (PAGY) programme for villages where there were more than 50 per cent population of scheduled castes, to be developed as model villages by allocating special funds. In the first year about 1000 villages in Assam, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan were developed spending Rs. 10 lakh per village. Unfortunately today none of these villages can be considered a model village. PAGY was perceived as vote bank politics rather than as a sincere effort to develop rural areas.


Four outstanding model villages

The very fact that we do not have more than four model villages in India shows the difficulty of developing model villages. There are several thousands qualifying in specific parameters such as cleanliness or having toilets in all houses, or 100 per cent literacy, but very few have everything going right to be called a model village. I consider Ralegoan Siddhi in Maharashtra, Hiware Bazar in Maharashtra, Punsare in Gujarat and Gangadevipalli in Telangana as four such. While the success of the first two can be attributed mostly to the outstanding leaders (Anna Hazare and Hiware Bazar respectively), others are shining examples of people participating in a democratic way to develop model villages.

Efforts of Sehgal Foundation to reduce poverty in Mewat

Let me share the experience a NGO, S M Sehgal Foundation (SF), working in one of the most backward districts of India, Mewat in Haryana. The experience shows that it is not easy to develop a model village. Though finance is important, it is not critical to success. The most important factor is to change the mindset of villagers and to make them feel that they are significant stakeholders in shaping their destiny.

Mewat is located close to prosperous Gurgaon. While Gurgaon is driven by 21st century technological advances, residents of Mewat district are suffering from poverty burdened by 18th century traditions. The district has poor rains. Most of the district has saline water with no easy access to drinking water. The government welfare programmes have failed miserably to reach many eligible villagers.

From its inception in 1999, SF funded organisations to provide multiple services to select villages. Later SF started implementing its own, using needs-based approach by promoting small families (average family has 8 members) and funding projects to increase agricultural productivity and improving connectivity to the market. Seeing slow progress in contributing to the main mission of poverty alleviation, the strategy was changed to service-delivery approach.

The vision during this second phase was ‘Integrated Sustainable Village Development,’ a multidisciplinary approach based on mobilising the community and building village level sustainable institutions. It targeted grassroots actions in water management, income enhancement, life skills education and preventive health.

Since integrated sustainable development required a lot of resources to support the service-delivery approach, SF shifted its strategy to a Rights- Based Approach (RBA) from 2008. The SF team considers overcoming poverty and emphasises empowerment and accountability. Evolution to RBA was partly influenced by the government adoption of some new ground breaking legislations like the Right to Information Act (2005), Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (2005), and the Right to Education Act (2009) and earlier welfare programmes like PDS, the mid-day meals and integrated child development schemes.

Focus on good governance...

After adopting RBA model in select villages, SF has worked with communities to spread the approach in 400 of the 431 villages of Mewat. Critical success factor for the effectiveness of RBA is the “Good Governance Now (GGN).” GGN model focuses on developing a critical mass of villagers actively working to bring about effective governance.

Today villagers are able to improve time delivery of public distribution system outlets, and improve the quality of products; mid-day meals scheme  implemented to the standards laid out by the government; quality education through improved teaching, return of illegally collected fees, timely payment of salaries and less scams in MGNREGA; better service and regular attendance at anganwadi and better sanitation by cleaner roads, less garbage, building of toilets for BPL families... Today, villagers make better use of RTI to ensure timely and effective government assistance. This reduced scope for corruption. These are also the goals of SAGY.

Despite all the successful intervention of SF with communities in Mewat, it may not be possible to find a model village in the district like the four described earlier. It is not that SF did not attempt to develop such a model village. In fact SF developed one village as a model village at a total cost of Rs. 68 lakh and demonstrated how to bring about the desired change. That village had well laid roads, toilets in every household, roadside plantings, solar lights, soak pits to dispose of waste water and a fully equipped and properly managed maternity clinic with a trained nurse. Panchayat land was developed into a model orchard to generate funds for the panchayat. However, over the next few years, the village could not sustain the level of progress. SF continues to work with the community to make them own the responsibility for the village upkeep.


Suggestions to MPs adopting SAGY

Here is an important lesson for MPs to remember that it is absolutely necessary to get the total involvement and commitment of villagers starting with the planning process, continuing through implementation and maintenance to sustain development. Without community commitment, it is not possible to make a model village. This cannot be done by pumping money into the village. Like the GGN trainees of SF, who have been successful in empowering villagers to access various government schemes, Government of India has successfully developed an initiative called Bharat Nava Nirman. Its volunteers have been able to bring about noticeable changes in the villages they are working.

The government can consider the tremendous talents available at IITs, IIMs and other leading institutes of higher learning by requesting their students to do internships with SAGY villages close to their institutes. A new programme called Indian Youth for Model Village Development can be organised to tap into youth energy.

The Ministry of Rural Development may consider the following for a successful implementation of SAGY.

1.    In each selected village under SAGY, MPs should ask officials in charge to train village youths using the concept of Bharat Nava Nirman as well as lessons learnt from  GGN model. A new programme called Indian Youth for Model Development can be organised first in IITs and IIMs and then to other colleges.

2.    Ministry should have an interactive portal for SAGY where each MP should be requested to give a monthly update on the activities as part of SAGY.

3.    Ministry should develop a matrix to assess in a formal way the development taking place in SAGY villages. At the end of every year, Ministry should send a team of experts/consultants/advisors to SAGY village to assess the development.

The success of SAGY can have a huge multiplier effect if the state governments can adopt and extend the intiative to the MLAs. Also seeing the model villages, villagers themselves may start implementing those models.

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