By Sanjiv Phansalkar
It is almost axiomatic that we find it far easier to tell others to do something than to do it ourselves. For instance, I like to tell people to keep their street clean rather than taking a broom and cleaning it myself. I see this tendency going all the way up to the highest echelons of society.
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana (SAGY) on 15 August 2014, he said that in his view all parliamentarians want to do something for society but find that they have little opportunity to do so. Through this scheme he gave them a concrete opportunity to contribute. The Members of Parliament would take responsibility of one village each year, for three subsequent years, and transform them to make them adarsh, or ideal.
Each MP was expected to lead the villages' transformation by utilising funds available under numerous government schemes. They could also use the MP Local Area Development funds, and mobilise CSR funds.
Initially, there was a lot of action on this front. In his short tenure as Minister of Rural Development, Nitin Gadkari convened many meetings to formulate guidelines for SAGY. The scheme was formally launched on 2 October that year. Under SAGY, each MP was expected to lead the villages' transformation by utilising funds available under numerous government schemes. They could also use the MP Local Area Development funds, and mobilise CSR funds to develop each village.
Four development goals
The MPs had to work towards physical, social, human and environmental transformation. They were expected to chose a village and inform the Ministry of Rural Development. Around 700 parliamentarians did that promptly.
While cynics thought that this was another gimmick, the novelty of exhorting MPs to take an interest and take the lead in transforming neglected villages excited quite a few others. During the last three years, the good work done by one or two MPs, for example Sachin Tendulkar, has been written about in the media. Civil society organisations have also collaborated with quite a few enthusiastic MPs to help them prepare micro-plans for village development under SAGY.
There is little information in the media about the real impact of SAGY. Perhaps, because new and more exciting talking points such as demonetisation and GST took over the news cycle. Even for those who critique the government were commenting on issues such as cow protection and vigilantism—no one mentioned SAGY. It has been three years since SAGY was announced, and its spirit seems to be sagging. It is difficult to know if any MPs even chose the second and third villages they were supposed to.
An MP's constituency has around 1000 villages. Should they be seen spending too much energy on one?
A village's transformation depends on the implementation of diverse policies and actions of public agencies such as the gram panchayat, or district administration, and several elected representatives.
To start with there is the sarpanch (village council chief) and his team, then there are representatives of the zilla panchayat (district council), followed by the MLAs (who are a part of the state government). While no one will object to development, it is logical that the scheme will succeed if all these agencies are aligned. Perhaps, the scheme will have a higher chance of showing good results if all the representatives belonged to the same political formation. An MP's constituency has around 1000 villages. Should they be seen spending too much energy on one? How will the other villages react? Will there be a backlash?
SAGY was to be implemented not by direct infusion of new, specific funds but by converging government schemes. While eminently possible in theory, this requires allocating limited existing resources. Naturally, the MP will have to negotiate, influence, and lean on others for a favourable allocation. This means, if nothing else, a frequent and fairly intense engagement of the MP in the process.
Development under SAGY has to be brought about by behavioural change. Is it easier to construct roads, bring in electricity, build toilets and create drinking water facilities than to ensure that people relate to each other better, that men stop drinking and beating their wives, and Dalits stop being oppressed? Can new hardware necessarily change behaviour for the better?
The spirit of SAGY would have won, showing huge transformation in the chosen village wherever the MP was able to align all other public representatives with his chosen task. It would have won if they were accessible and took personal interest in negotiating for fund convergence, and influencing social behaviour without the fear of a backlash from the remaining 999 villages of their constituency. Seemingly, a nice announcement, SAGY per se has not been an "adarsh" scheme, looking at the way our politics and society function.
Sanjiv Phansalkar is associated with the Transform Rural India Foundation. He was earlier a faculty member at the Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA). Phansalkar is a fellow of the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Ahmedabad. This article was first published on VillageSquare.in, a public-interest communications platform focused on rural India.
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