Adarsh Gram Yojana: Lessons to learn

Adarsh Gram Yojana: Lessons to learn

Villagers' involvement, engagement, and commitment in the development process is crucial from the start.

It has been about three months since Prime Minister Modi offered India a strategically important opportunity to promote inclusive development with Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana (SAGY).

So far, this opportunity to fulfill Mahatma Gandhi’s dream of ‘gram swaraj’ has had an inauspicious start. It looks as though it is off the national agenda already unlike other initiatives such as Swacch Bharath Abhiyaan and Make in India. Around 20 per cent of MPs are yet to select gram panchayats to be developed as model villages.

Deliberate attempts to spread wrong information about SAGY have created misunderstandings. Rahul Gandhi charged that no special funds were allocated for SAGY, and that priorities were decided by government officials and MPs. In fact, funding for implementation is available from myriad government schemes and MPs’ local area development.

The programme’s clear intention is to develop from the bottom up by finding out what villagers want. Engaging and mobilising citizens is the key to success.

Critics who have questioned the fairness of selecting only some villages to be developed as models, may need reminding of how difficult it has been to create even one model village in India. In 1950s, then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had declared Adarsh Nangla in Uttar Pradesh as a model village. Foreign dignitaries were shown the village as an example of how well India was progressing. Adarsh Nangla is in ruins today due to residents’ indifference and government apathy.

The UPA government adapted the Pradhanmantri Adarsh Gram Yojana (PAGY) programme in 2009-10, developing about 1,000 villages in five states the first year. None are considered model villages today. Only four villages in India today are considered model
villages: Ralegoan Siddhi and Hiware Bazar in Maharastra, Punsare in Gujarath, and Gangadevipalli in Telangana. The success of the first two can easily be attributed to outstanding leaders. The others are shining examples of people participating in a democratic process to develop their villages.

A small NGO, Sehgal Foundation (SF), has worked in Mewat – one of the most backward districts of India – for 15 years. Though located near modern Gurgaon, the poverty level of Mewat’s 431 villages is more than 80 per cent. SF’s “Integrated Sustainable Village Development” model targets grassroot actions in water management, agriculture development and rural governance with a multidisciplinary approach to make programmes sustainable, replicable, and scalable.

Operating with the understanding that ending poverty is a matter of human rights, SF works to mobilise citizens and build active village level institutions. SF’s “rights-based” approach has reached all villages in Mewat during the last four years. It’s “Good Governance Now” (GGN) campaign focuses on developing a critical mass of actively participating villagers to bring about effective governance in their communities.

Citizens trained in GGN have improved PDS delivery of quality products on a timely basis. Mid-day meals now meet mandated standards. Education quality is improved and illegally collected fees returned. MGNREGA salaries are paid on time and scams are fewer. The anganwadi center has better service and regular attendance. Roads are cleaner, there is less garbage, and toilets are built for BPL families.

Transforming Notki

Sehgal Foundation transformed one village into a demonstration model village in 2008 to show villagers what was possible. The community of Notki had an engaged and active sarpanch at the time. Improvement included household toilets, paved roads, roadside plantings, solar streetlights, waste water disposal, and a fully equipped and properly managed maternity clinic.

When the project was completed, SF shifted its role from direct implementation to support. When some deterioration in the roads and loss of trees occurred after two years, the newly elected sarpanch expected SF to take care of repairs. The team worked with Notki citizens for  a year before successfully countering this expectation. GGN training helped villagers understand the importance of taking responsibility for their development and exercising their rights with appropriate government programmes and services.

Even the best-conceived government projects are difficult to implement. So heed the all-important lesson learned – the absolute necessity to obtain involvement, engagement, and commitment from villagers in the development process from the beginning. To avoid joining the list of past failures, attention must be paid to the selection and training of people to implement development.

Use the concept of Bharath Nava Nirman initiative, and Sehgal Foundation’s GGN model, to mobilise and train village youth as volunteers to help citizens avail various government programmes. Create an assessment index with well-defined development criteria: income generation, water and energy resources, health, education, transportation, environmental issues, and governance. Engage independent evaluators to provide timely feedback.

Create an accessible SAGY portal for MPs to provide monthly updates.
Despite the usual objections and criticisms, India has an opportunity with SAGY to demonstrate how, with active involvement of civil society, leading educational institutions like IITs, and IIMs, and through  regular monitoring of the progress of the implementation of SAGY, we can promote inclusive development and play a part in ushering in Mahatma Gandhi’s dream.

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