Right through my childhood, being brought up in different cities across India, the idea I had of a village – green fields, long winding roads, vast empty spaces, clean air and a closely knit society – was a big attraction for me and very early in my carrier, I had decided that I would spend at least some time exploring and understanding village life. The first opportunity I had of exploring a village was during my engineering when I could move around in villages near my college and talk to people. It gave me a sense that people in villages too face some severe hardships and it isn’t all hunky – dory as was my imagination during my childhood. It is then that I decided that I wanted to work with the people in rural areas. As luck would have it, with my post graduation in rural management, I got my first opportunity of staying in villages for much longer and understanding the nuances of village life.
Having completed my education in 2011, my tryst with the development sector continued with a job in a reputed CSR where we worked to improve the quality of education in government primary schools of a tribal district in Rajasthan and then later in an action research project on socio-economic impact of use of micro–irrigation in agriculture. Though both these opportunities gave me valuable experience in this sector, the sense of having directly contributed to the betterment of the rural society was somewhere missing. That is when I came across this opportunity to join the Prime Minister’s Rural Development Fellowship scheme.
The fact that as fellows, we would be given a chance to work within the government administration system and get firsthand experience of how important rural development schemes like NRLM, MGNREGA, IWMP, NBA etc work was going to be an invaluable learning experience – I thought. Besides, it was also an opportunity to understand the deficiencies plaguing our system and make meaningful contributions to improve the delivery and outreach of these schemes. The training provided to us in the first two months of our fellowship gave me further clarity on what we were expected to do as fellows and the areas where we could contribute during our stay in the districts.
Life as a fellow for the last 10 months has truly been a roller coaster ride. I have been lucky to have a very dynamic District Collector who has involved me in a number of schemes like NREGA, the State Skill Development Mission and various other livelihood projects that are currently being implemented in our district. Working in the District Rural Development Agency has allowed me to understand the provisions of many more schemes and my focus has been on trying to converge different schemes so that targeted beneficiaries could avail the maximum benefits.
However, working with the field staff in implementation of these schemes hasn’t always been easy. My efforts at convincing them and higher authorities about my ideas haven’t yielded fruits every time. Convergence of different schemes has also been a challenge since each scheme has different criteria for beneficiary selection and process of implementation. However, struggling with these issues everyday has helped me understand the minutest details of these schemes and the complexities involved in the development sector. I have been able to move some earth while working with women SHGs on a convergence programme for vegetable gardening through NREGA, NRLM and NHM. We have also been able to add a secondary source of income for some women SHGs by training them in mushroom cultivation. These humble initiatives have made me more grounded and I have learnt that even a minor improvement in the income levels of a poor village household is a huge contribution.
With these insights and valuable lessons, I aim to move forward in this sector and will try and make small but meaningful contributions in the lives of villagers of my district by becoming a link between them and the district administration.
Anshuman Gupta is based at Surajpur, Chhattisgarh. Anshuman completed his B.E. Electronics and Communication from Manipal Institute of Technology, Karnataka in 2009 and PGDRM from IRMA in 2011.