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Delivering Resources To People —In The Context Of Manipur—

On the April 10, 2009 issue of this newspaper, I had written an article titled ‘Hill Millionaires’. This article was written soon after my return from Ukhrul district where I had gone to plan for an Integrated Watershed Development Project (IWDP). I had described in this article how, by growing Kiwi and large cardamom, the jhumiars, who today find it difficult even to meet both ends, could be made millionaires with Kiwi fruits, presently imported from New Zealand, selling at Rs, 400 per kg in the Khan Market, New Delhi, and large cardamom at Rs 1,000 per kg. This project is underway now. Obviously, hopes among the jhumiars in the 11 project villages are very high. Everyone who has heard about Kiwi wants to grow it. The demand is huge; a very positive sign indeed. 2,000 families will take up Kiwi cultivation commencing this season. All the jhumiars in the project villages will give up jhuming in three to five years. Permanent forest cover will progressively increase to more than 80% of the village land area.

This is a fallen world. Manipur is no exception. Rajiv Gandhi, during his Prime Ministership, had famously said, ‘only 10% of the designated Plan resources reach the poor for whom it is intended’. The million-dollar challenge is not about allocating resources but ensuring that the allocated resources reach those for whom they are intended in full. During his time, a revolutionary constitutional amendment was initiated to empower the panchayati raj institutions to receive Central funds and to undertake a number of additional activities apart from providing water, light and road. This initiative, which subsequently became law, sent a clear message that empowered people’s organizations are the first requirement at the village level. That is, a well-capacitated ‘recipient system’ has to be first created through which the resources can be channeled. We must accept that Government machinery cannot create functional and dynamic organization at the village level; it requires social mobilization and capacitation, which has predominantly been done only by NGOs.

The 1970’s saw an ambitious 21-Point program implemented under Indira Gandhi’s ‘Garibi Hatao’ initiative called the integrated rural development program (IRDP). This was a major flop primarily because it targeted ‘men’. All in the system colluded to make money and merry resulting in almost total non-repayment of bank loans. Then came DWACRA (Development of Women and Children in Rural Areas). Under this program, however, the women groups performed differently. They used the bank loans properly and repaid them as well. Picking up on this, in the late 1980’s, IFAD and the Indian Bank initiated in Tamil Nadu the now famous ‘women SHG (Self-Help Group) program’. This experience has brought out that women are certainly more trust worthy and that resources can be entrusted to them.

Let me establish the principles: (a) To ensure that the Plan resources reach those for whom it is intended in full, the first requirement is that a well-capacitated recipient system is established at the village level, that is, a people’s organization is created. For IWDP, watershed committee (WC) will be this organization. More than 50% of its members must be out-spoken women who will be able to challenge men’s misdeeds. Its chairperson could even be a woman. Ideally, its chairperson and secretary must be educated younger persons who are honest and sincere, and can give time. (b) Target women as beneficiaries. Not only are they trustworthy, but reaching women would also mean reaching the entire family. Fortunately, women SHGs already exist in most villages. Use them straight away. Perhaps, some more SHGs may have to be formed by women who have been left out. What is very important is forming their federation. The federation gives an organizational structure to women and their SHGs it in the village; it empowers women even more. It is also easier to reach out to the SHGs through its federation. The federation has the potential to become a mini micro-finance institution later. It can take bulk-loans from banks and MfIs (Micro-finance Institutions) and on-lend to SHGs. (c) Youth is another category that can be reached by forming youth SHGs.

Another factor that Rajiv Gandhi identified as to why development did not reach the villages quickly was that Plan funds sent to State Governments were forwarded to the districts with much delay. He created a revolutionary system in which DRDAs were formed at the district level and Central funds for rural development were directly transferred to the DRDAs much to the discomfiture of State Governments. But it worked. Funds reached villages faster. The learning is that the nodal project implementing agency for the IWDP can transfer funds directly to the WCs. Eliminating intermediary levels not only would prevent delays but also levels of corruption!

It is not that the WC chairpersons and members are angels. While, yes, the village-level people’s organization for IWDP, the WC, must be trusted and funds transferred to them, it is equally important to establish checks and balances. Good governance is about transparency and accountability. There must be a village-level plan of action for every project village with activities and budgets stated clearly. At least, the SHG federation and the SHGs should be made aware of them. It is very important to create in each village a social audit committee, comprising three women including a chairperson, which should ensure accountability.

A danger to successful village-level people’s organizations sometimes comes from within the village itself. Political agents and politically-connected families and those who own larger land areas could interfere to become the chairpersons/secretaries to knock off large chunk of resources that are primarily meant for the powerless poor who have no voice. Two criteria would help here: (a) all positions of WC should be held by persons from among the residents and the beneficiaries who are the poor, and (b) fixing upper limit for benefits per family.

Other things that could be insisted upon are proper maintenance of resolution and cash books. Also photographs before, during and after completion of all activities along with beneficiaries. Direct transfer of funds to people’s organizations, depending more on women, and establishing local-level checks and balances will ensure both 100% reach and utilization of resources.

In Manipur system of things known to all, under this IWDP, it has been possible to deliver 100% of funds to the WCs through the DC, Ukhrul (Mr. Ashok Kumar IAS) without any ‘cut’ in between and to establish checks and balances as described above.

The young Khongjal WC chairman, Luckyson, promised me during a village meeting in his village that his village would achieve 200% output for, under this IWDP, their dream of every household in the village having a terrace paddy plot would be fulfilled by undertaking leveling (leveling using bulldozer is a key project activity under this IWDP). I have bet Rs 100 with him on this. If they accomplish 200% output, I will lose my bet. My prayer is that I must lose.

*The article is written by Dr S Vettivel

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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