“Policies made in Air-conditioned hall don’t work at grassroot level” was a cliché for me, until I joined PMRDF. Working and studying at National Institute of Rural Development provided me with opportunities to participate in policy level meetings in the very initial stage of my career. And, I have been fortunate enough to listen to senior bureaucrats and experienced and renowned rural development practitioners, who decide and formulate schemes at the very highest level.
Most of the times these meetings and discussions were focused on the structure and processes involved in implementation of schemes. Academics and rural development professionals were very critical, well most of the time, and pointed out lackadaisical attitude of government functionaries at the district and level below it for failure or under performance of schemes. And I tended to believe the same. Rampant corruption, inefficient and pre-medieval workforce, utter chaos, unimaginative and high handedness were my assumptions about the district administration. Once I received my selection mail I geared myself to meet the challenges head-on with strong desire to bring change.
As it is said, making opinions is one’s prerogative and their validity in real situations is another. I was extremely fortunate to have a young and dynamic IAS officer, Shri Nand Kumarum as my reporting officer. On our (Vikram, Manish, Swasti and I) interaction with him during our training period we had raised a few of our apprehensions on transparency and time consuming processes that delay the benefits or completely derail the well intentioned schemes. I was a bit taken aback when he asked us, what our thoughts on google drive are?!! All of us were blank. I knew I was about to get in whirlwind once I received the confirmation that I was the one who would be working with him.
I am pleased to share that under his guidance and support I got involved in many initiatives like installation of a floating bridge across the river Son, libraries and infrastructure (Like bench and desks) in schools, RO +UV community drinking water plant (capacity of filtering 10,000 liter/day), giving Anganwadis new and modern outlook through installing mary-go-round, slides and swings for attracting kids, establishing heavy motor vehicle driving school in association with TATA motors, water cum fire brigade tankers and “Mahua Route” (a name given to a project for collection of Mahua in same fashion as Tendu leaves), skill development of youth in driving light motor vehicle and as security guards apart from traditional projects under IAP. He always reminded me that we should not be reinventing the wheel but look for initiatives that have already taken place and are replicable and fit for our requirements and needs. Most of the projects mentioned above have already been tried and tested elsewhere in the country with good success. I would also like to share that in Singrauli funds are directly transferred to beneficiaries in their accounts from district itself. Having our documents on google drive has helped us bring coordination among many departments. For example, constant sharing of list of the anganwadis taken-up through IAP & BRGF with Women & Child Welfare department has stalled the duplication of works.
But after a few months, I also happened to come across some weak spots in District Administration. The officials at district & level below it are so overburdened with work that they tend to follow strict orders from the seniors or whatever is given to them in writing, thus leading to total loss in creativity or self initiatives (I do not intend to generalize it for other districts).
Having new schemes now and then or rechristening the old schemes might seem necessary and important, but these well intentioned initiatives tend to blur the clarity rather than provoking new lease of life in grassroot officials. They (officials at Block and below) tend to become more dysfunctional with hue and cry of not having proper training and knowledge of the same. Especially, in districts (IAP) like ours where most of the officials are in-charge of more than two schemes, sending them for training sometimes creates acute shortage of human resource and impacts the progress of the schemes he/she is handling. There is huge mismatch in accessing the quality and quantity of human resources required and available at implementation level. I have seen an official in-charge of SGSY (in a non intensive block) being totally unaware about National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM). I was part of an institution that specializes in capacity building of the rural development professionals but after one year as PMRDF I can only suggest to have hundreds of such institutions or it should go for online or distance mode of training for reaching the remotest corners of the nation thus training hundreds of professionals and officials at a time. Further, new schemes should be designed by taking cognisance of the human resource requirement and availability. Information required at each level should follow some consistent format, not like having different formats for different hierarchies of officials.
But now, I can gladly say that it is the most cherished and fruitful year of my four years as rural development professional. Many myths have been broken with a few disappointments and several moments of joy. I have learnt a lot and also unlearned many things in my brief journey as PMRDF. Journey continues….
Rohit Joshi is based at Singruali District of Madhya Pradesh. Rohit has done his Post Graduate Diploma in Rural Development and Management (PGDRDM) from National Institute of Rural Development, Hyderabad. He was involved in coordination of training programmes on NRLM for three years before joining as PMRDF.