By experience and qualification I was an Urban Development professional and setting foot in Rural Development sector was pretty accidental. But the journey in this field has showed me a different world altogether with extreme experiences of depression and surprise. While I was enjoying the visual treat of natural scenery in the field, it was simultaneously disheartening to see the rural realities; the thought of leading an entire life by distress shook my heart.
The very fact is that even after 6 decades of independence and plethora of policies; we have not been able to secure the basic infrastructure to every citizen which shall develop into them enough capacities so as to live a dignified life. I have deep faith in systems and believe it is the only method to bring stability to sustain in the long term. But at the same time I am also very well aware about the implementation crisis the country is facing. Moreover, personally I carry scepticism to a great extent over the philosophy of policy makers. Hence I always thought to get into a position where I can contribute in generating macro structure while being close to the grass-roots.
I have a mission to generate a constructive structure that shall enable freedom of choices to every individual. The capacities to make a rational choice can be only generated through sound education and human development efforts. While pursuing this fellowship I was anticipating this opportunity where I can get hands-on experience to create an environment where we design, implement, access and analysis the community development efforts.
So far we could only touch the implementation aspect of the service delivery. We have been planning various projects which would not only increase the living standards of the people but could also encourage local enterprise. The effort is to provide maximum exposure so that people themselves can choose and demand their own path to development. Moreover, we are also designing the institutional methods of bringing newer and modern ideas to ensure easy accessibility of services to the villagers.
In the last year of Fellowship we have been involved largely in institutional monitoring. We almost walk with the records of all the projects/works and interventions made in every village. Whenever we visit the village we can verify the status of the work done on field. One of the toughest jobs in the district is to get reliable data of work status because functionaries hardly visit the remote villages. With this initiative of institutional monitoring we get a better understanding of the village situation, their requirements and challenges in planning new projects. Although with fear, at least this exercise improved the attendance of the staff at village level. I still remember an incidence from initial days where a village welcomed and garlanded me saying, “We are receiving first government official in our village after independence”. That was a moment when one could barely decide how to react! I was simply shocked.
Initially we were asked to undertake an infrastructure availability survey at the village level. With the help of this survey we could identify the pockets in the district which exhibit critical infrastructure deficit. It also helped gain an understanding of the efficiency of the departments/agencies in general.
A fellow colleague also developed an indicator called “Net Infrastructure Index” which determines the infrastructure standards of each village. Collectively villages with least NII were clearly the area we required to focus initially. Eventually we formulated clusters of these villages showing adverse indicators and developed a cluster development plan. The idea was to bridge the physical, economic as well as service infrastructure gap.
The villages in Gadchiroli are mostly disconnected with the district head quarters; some geographically and some in terms of electronic communication. I realized that an effective way to reach out and communicate would be through radio services. There are 5 languages being spoken in the district making it difficult to comprehend a single lingual transmission. Hence I figured out that a community radio project would be of higher utility providing choices in transmission as well as higher employment opportunity. When I communicated this idea to the Collector, it was readily accepted. In fear of malpractices if outsourced, we asked the local ITI centre to act as the transmission centre. The project shall be executed as soon as we receive the technical sanction.
Gadchiroli is a huge district with a scattered and very thin population. Hence, providing services on the popular count of population norm is irrelevant for the district. A reflection of this was low response to MNREGA due to absence of banks. People would not prefer to opt for employment under this Act since it pays directly to their bank accounts and they are made to travel up to 90 kilometres to reach a bank. Taking an advantage of the PCI’s decision of expanding bank networks through IAP, the Collector decided to improve the banking networks. Fellows actively helped in establishing such units. Currently we have brought in 14 new Ultra Small Branches across the district extending their services to almost 1.5 lakh people dwelling in interior pockets.
Apart from these group projects I have undertaken two assignments individually. The first was a research on Public Distribution System in Gadchiroli. I made an analysis of the current system along with its challenges and recommendations to improve its efficiency. Secondly, with the help of DRDA officials, we have designed a dairy project in Gadchiroli which was seen as a distant dream till date.
I consider this fellowship as a milestone in my carrier, where I could not only enhance my horizon of vocation but also touched that sensitive zone of life which lies miles away from so called ‘state-of-the-art’ lifestyle. It helped me grow as an individual as well as a better citizen.
Priya Tayde is based in Gadchiroli of Maharashtra. She is a B. A. In Political Science from University of Pune and an M. A. In Development Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences Mumbai. Priya joined PMRDF with 2 years’ experience in the development sector