Working as a Prime Minister’s Fellow, I’ve observed that a critical root-cause of various developmental challenges and conflict is in-efficient utilization of public funds on account of serious issues with the processes and current manpower.
Top-management is most of the times in-efficient, over-burdened & sometimes improficient. Processes are over-complex and become even more challenging to implement on account of ad-hoc target approach instead of planned/realistic approach by states/districts. Grass-root teams continue to remain understaffed, shoddily-trained and without proper incentives leading to promotion of fraudulent practices. Silos work is prevalent and win-win collaborations, both within and with external organizations are still at a nascent stage. Further, endowing people with information and functionaries so that they can take up need based projects is infinitesimal, while the top-bottom movement continues to be capacious. To illustrate, vital initiatives such as empowering executive committees of gram panchayats with funds &functions, financial inclusion for NREGA beneficiaries and SHG status mapping are rolled out in-a-flash without a plan or stakeholder co-ordination and with unrealistic timelines. NREGA work types are often pushed from top and imperium command is utilized to subjugate the gram sabha/panchayats to approve what may not always be needed/be priority creating disaccord. Mandatory compliance letters instructing tasks and demanding reports are issued at an extremely high frequency. Most of these letters create superfluity, add complexity and garble what is already mentioned in the pre-arranged comprehensive NREGA Operational Guidelines.
The aforementioned governance aberrations have resulted in a permanently perturbed state of affairs at district level ensuring that most tasks become execution checkmates! Hence, staff gets little time to respond to needs of people and delivery of schemes doesn’t meet expectations. Adding to misery, ithas given rise to an un-written, mutually-beneficial arrangement between the grass-root staff and elected-representatives. By quickly utilizing the funds, staff meets targets and representatives extract short-term benefits. Well-intended representatives, interested in useful community projects, too have Lilliputian choice on account of no skilled functionaries (engineers/agriculturists).Therefore, people see public funds as a tool for ‘immediate benefits’ which creates short-term gratification but no long term, sustainable community empowerment which could reduce dependency. This also signifies the need for a paradigm shift in the practiced communication from government to its people.
I’m able to spot these issues because of my background of working in diverse environments (multi-nationals, start-ups, collaborative-initiatives) and hence the ability to analyse relatively. On a lighter note, if this is how Samsung, Microsoft, L&T, BHEL and counterparts would be managed then computers, mobiles, metro-rails and power-plants would continue to be dreams and would have sunk all shareholder money! We can debate on capitalism-v/s-socialism and workfare-v/s-welfare later, but first let’s get the basics right!
Time is an important dimension and constructive improvements need to happen soon. It is therefore important to acknowledge, take responsibility and focus on systemic improvements that can improve the core. Hence, ‘simple, innovative solutions keeping in mind constraints’ has been my approach in all initiatives that I’ve taken as a PM-Fellow. After showcasing results, we move to scaling/recommending various improvements. To illustrate, we have focused on supporting need based creation of self-sustainable livelihoods for small/marginal farmers through horticulture works on private-lands using NREGA. We’ve partnered with agriculture specialists, given power of information to people through marketing brochures and made processes simplified and self-motivating for staff. The farmers are excited that their income is going to multiply in the limited land! The pilot project is also approved for scaling-up across district!
Our district is fish eating but most fish now comes from AP/WB because many ponds have become defunct and fishermen migrate in search of work. We worked with fishermen groups to refurbish government ponds using NREGA. The immense success of pilot has created a wave and all government ponds will be refurbished before 2014 monsoon! Many panchayats had mammoth (e.g. Rs. 57lakh) NREGA liabilities built-up since 1-2 years and Rs. 3/5/6/10lakh allotments from state would get used towards past dues, leading to slowdown in current work, delayed wage-payments, loss of faith in NREGA and constant protests. Special camps were organized where data was collated scheme-wise, records certified and entire liability cleared (some panchayats done, others in process). Training for timely MIS-updating and uniform physical record-keeping was conducted. The benefits of the latter are immense when it comes to improving delivery & transparency. Many other NREGA initiatives such as panchayat-wise monitoring, need-based convergence, partnership with civil-society, asset use-mapping, micro-planning and social audit pilots have been tried out success fully. Policy papers on process/HR improvement have been co-created and presented to state.
In community-led total sanitation, in partnership with MeghPyneAbhiyaan, a tola has been made nearly open-defecation-free using ‘Ecosan-toilet,’ an innovative concept where human waste is segregated at source and both urine and faeces are used as organic fertilizer. Since it has direct linkages with livelihood (less fertilizer input costs and better crop productivity) farmers instantly connect! ATMA funds were also used to educate farmers across the district and we will soon promote Ecosan-toilet construction under NREGA too!
Honey bee keeping in forest areas has high potential, but never took off because the boxes are distributed by KVIC/Horticulture Dept. without any technical training. Boxes were becoming threats since bees would sting children! We used ATMA funds to provide training and create farmer-interest-groups leading to happier farmers and some initial honey produce. Focus is now on dedicated training & community enterprise creation.
A district disabled rehabilitation centre and soil testing laboratory have also been setup and pilot results are encouraging.
Going ahead, planned is a ‘rural business incubator’ to support our small/marginal farmer groups to innovate and at the same time create a productive, systematic channel for utilizing massive funding available from NABARD/PMEGP/Agriculture-Dept. Additionally, the north-Bihar floods disaster problem has been understood and community-led mitigation plans are being made. NREGA and external technical assistance will play a big role. I would like to thank my mentor and boss, the current District Magistrate Mr. Sridhar Chiruvolu for encouraging various initiatives, utilizing my competency regularly and helping me understand the system’s challenges better. I’ve seen positive change when I use the ‘simple, innovative solutions keeping in mind constraints’ approach and would like to continue working on innovatively implementing various ideas/policies/5-year-plans, recommend constructive policy changes and a move to simplicity.
Chintan is placed in West Champaran District, North Bihar. Prior to joining the PMRD Fellowship, he co-founded a Social-Enterprise and was a Manager in Enterprise Risk & Sustainability at Larsen-&-Toubro. He has also spent time as Fellow at Foundation for Universal-Responsibility of HH Dalai Lama, as Journalist at Education-Times and as a Researcher at Greenpeace. For achievements in embedding Environmental-&-Social Risk-Management in Core Operations at L&T, he was invited as a speaker by The Project Management Institute. His Social-Enterprise GreenAdd was incubated twice by Unltd India. He is an Engineer by qualification and recipient of the ‘International Award for Young People’ for all-round achievements during school & college.