The following text was originally delivered as a speech under the auspices of the Forum of Free Enterprise in Bombay on 15 September 1960 by B.G. Rao, I.C.S (Retd.). The author reviews the problems of rural unemployment and underemployment and tries to distinguish between rural development and rural welfare. He further suggests that social education and the programme for women and children under Community Development deserve examination.
You can read the original, unabridged version here.
Our achievements in the community development field have been puffed and praised by so many and so frequently that I would not mind performing the less pleasant but more necessary task of pointing out the extent of our failure. The sources of inspiration for community development are as different and various as the Father of the Nation, the Indo-American Technical Cooperation Programme, the Grow More Food Committee, the Ford Foundation, the late Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission and some original thinkers among the senior officers of the Planning Commission. With such mixed parentage, one would naturally expect the idea to be anything but clearly defined. And lack of clarity in the basic approach has been its principal feature.
We are often asked, “Has there been no improvement at all then in the past nine years of planned community development?” Of course, there has been, but planning implies the best use of limited resources. Two years ago, the Government of UP appointed a Committee under the chairmanship of a veteran Congressman. The Committee made a lengthy review of community development work all over the State. It reported that the C.D. (Community Development) programme of the Government had yet to accelerate the process of social and economic transformation. My complaint is that community development has been ill-planned, if planned at all, and as regards the best use of limited resources – the less said, the better.
Recently, the Prime Minister mentioned that the functions of the Planning Commission were not merely to plan but also to evaluate the execution of the plan. Attached to the Planning Commission is a Programme Evaluation Organisation whose primary duty is to assess the progress made by the C.D. activities – an annual audit. The Seventh Report of this organisation was published in April 1960. It contains a general review of the progress of planned community development over seven years. And “in the emerging picture shades predominate and the reader is left with the impression of an inadequately coordinated endeavour, governmental rather than popular in character, and sustained more by hope than by achievement”. These words of the report also convey the views of many other objective students of C.D.
The Third draft Plan indicates a refinement in planning methods, viz., ignoring all inconvenient criticism. The section on community development ignores the Evaluation Reports even though the Prime Minister thinks they are essential.
Why? Not because these criticism were frivolous or unfounded but because the Planning Commission knows that with the backing of the Prime Minister, it can get the Parliament to approve anything it puts forward. And the Parliamentary debates on the draft outline of the Third Plan have shown us the extent of the interest vocal MPs felt in this part of the draft.
Planning requires priorities to be prescribed as much in the rural sector as in the industrial sector. For instance, one village may have three wells supplying it with drinking water; a fourth may be added for greater convenience. But another may have no well at all, and the villagers may have to trudge three or four miles before reaching a reasonably safe water supply source. Now it has to be decided which should have the priority. Then again, the agricultural production in a particular village may have progressively decreased because the irrigation tank in the locality has gradually silted up; at the same time, the school-master wants the thatched roof of his school to be replaced with a tiled roof; the sarpanch wants a community hall to be built because the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting is sanctioning a radio receiving set. If there are to be priorities in investing money and endeavour, which of these should have precedence over the others?
The Ministry of Community Development had requested the United Nations Technical Assistance Administration to send a mission. This mission was distressed to find that in one development block, the village streets had been paved with bricks, undeniably, an amenity to be appreciated during the rains; but with a little greater appreciation of priorities this money, material and labour could have been diverted to the very urgent requirement of draining away the excess water from the fields. This would have benefited the cotton crop and the farmer’s general economic condition. But none had bothered.
Improvement in agricultural production is to have priority in the community development programme for two reasons. First, it is time the country got out of the compelling necessity of importing foodstuff. Secondly, it is time that the farmer had a little more money in his pocket, not money given to him by the inflationary tendencies but by an actual increase of the fruit of his labour. Once he has that extra economic strength, he will have increased confidence in himself; his felt needs will increase, and he will have the desire and the energy to meet those needs. And then, the Government can come in with adult education, social education, community listening sets, community centres and even training camps for “village leaders”. The draft outline of the Third Plan indicates the decision to allocate a more significant portion of the community development funds to agricultural development. This is a step in the right direction. It is only a pity that the draft outline does not explicitly abandon its old policy of simultaneous advance along the rural front.
For the first time in eight years, we now find the Planning Commission noticing the need for fixing priorities and giving agricultural production precedence over welfare activities. But the pattern has been set and followed for eight years. A revision of attitudes and budget provisions may be made difficult, if possible, by political pressure and public demand. And here we come to the rural public.
The First Five-Year Plan and the second were eloquent about public participation in rural development programmes. We were told that the Community Development Programme aimed to establish a suitable organ to ensure the involvement of villagers in the planning stage. This is regarding planning and not the execution of plans. Nothing could have better indicated that Delhi is aware of the diversity and variety of our villages. But Delhi has its views of what is or ought to be suitable for the town and, therefore, simultaneously with this declaration, an administrator of community projects was appointed and was made responsible for planning, directing and co-ordinating community development work throughout the country. He was not merely coordinating but planning far away from the villages.
The Second Plan mentioned that “the participation of people in planning and execution of rural schemes is an essential feature of the movement and in this the results achieved are promising”. That is what the Plan said. But the Administrator was meanwhile upgraded into a Minister, his staff and status appropriately enlarged and his power of issuing instructions to all and sundry on all aspects of planned rural development. According to an official publication, the fruit of nine years of people’s participation is: “On the whole, the people’s attitudes and reactions in most of the blocks are not yet generally favourable to the success and growth of the community development programme. The majority of villagers do not regard it as their own programme and seem to rely mainly on the Government for effecting the development of rural areas”.
If there is a Ministry of Community Development, it has to have some work to do. So, under the name of coordination and integration, it poaches upon the preserves of Agriculture, Health, Education and Culture. Recently, the Union Minister of Agriculture is reported to have wondered why the Package Plan for improving agricultural output in Punjab is being dealt with by the State Minister for Community Development and not by the State Minister for Agriculture. It is time that the Union Minister realised that the Ministry for Community Development is an anomaly. I said so in a rather notorious minute of dissent three years ago. Recently, the Indo-American Export team pointed out that the existence of that history as a separate unit leads to overlapping and confusion; it did not mention the waste of scarce resources.
Agricultural production directly involves the cultivator. We also have a large class of landless villagers; apart from the shopkeeper, schoolmaster and others, we have among them the village artisan and the landless labourer. The village artisan may often be under-employed; the landless labour is, and often too, the small farmer. Not all our efforts at increasing our agricultural production will provide full employment for more than some of this village population. Suppose, therefore, the increase in agricultural production is the primary problem from the farmer’s point of view. In that case, the increase in employment is the problem of a larger section of the rural population.
If the Planning Commission has any plan to solve unemployment, then it must give us at least a rough idea of its size. It has been said that the private sector’s investment in agriculture, minor irrigation, etc., will be Rs. 800 crores. Everyone knows that this is a sheer guess and that in this matter their guess is as good as anybodys. But it was necessary to show how big our plan was going to be. Hence Rs. 800 crores have to be spent. The Planning Commission apparently felt no need to make a similar guess in regard to rural underemployment and unemployment. The absence of data in a plan cannot be made up by platitudes.
This problem of rural unemployment and underemployment has another facet-cottage industry. Pilot projects had been started in a number of C.D. blocks during 1955-56. An evaluation of their work was made by the Programme Evaluation Organisation. Its report is depressing. The various all-India bodies and commissions concerned with cottage and small industries “have not evolved the practice of thinking together to” establish local projects to meet the local needs for two reasons: First, the love of centralisation and the habit of planning from above and, Second, intolerance. The result was that only 37% of the trainees in these pilot projects took to the crafts they were trained for. The wastage was 63% and many of these had received stipends. And the stipends ranged from Rs. 7 to Rs. 75 per month.
The draft itself mentions that during the first three years of the Second Plan, the village industries encouraged by the State have not been able to provide full remunerative work or to attract young men with some measure of training and education. It tells us that utilisation of funds has been slow and only a small impact could be made in improving techniques or marketing facilities. Maybe, because of this poor showing, there seems to be some desire to be realistic. There is a proposal to use improved techniques and use power for many of the processes involved like making pulp for paper, crushing non-edible oil seeds, and manufacturing gur and sugar from the palm. Of course, the electric power will keep the ghani-crushed oil and the khadi unpolluted, despite the admitted marketing difficulties. Only through rural electrification accompanied by starting a power-operated rural industry can we hope to tackle under-employment and unemployment of the underprivileged sections of the rural community. It does not appear that the Third Plan is going to lay the requisite stress on this.
I have tried to distinguish between rural development and rural welfare. I have pointed out that in our C.D. programmes, the latter has precedence over the former. I do not mean that community welfare should be completely neglected. It cannot be a “jam tomorrow” policy, such a policy cannot satisfy the voter in a democracy. All that I suggest is that the emphasis on development should be greater.
I have already said that drinking water supply should have precedence even over agricultural development. The First Five-Year Plan called it a basic requirement. The draft outline of the Third Plan, however, describes it as one of the many desirable amenities. One does not understand this shift in emphasis. It is surprising that even today, ten years after the Planning Commission was established, it has no data on this subject, nor has the Ministry of Health. And they have yet to think out the minimum standards of distance, quantity and quality.
Social education and the programme for women and children under Community Development deserve some examination.
In the Second Plan, there is a provision of Rs. 15 crores for social education. Of late, social education is called fundamental education. The programme consists of adult literacy classes, the organisation of community centres, women’s organisations, youth clubs and village leaders’ camps. The Planning Commission has described it as a comprehensive approach to the solution of the problems of the community through community action. This most wonderful thing seems to have flopped if we are to rely on the various evaluation reports. Appreciable numbers of those made literate have lapsed into illiteracy; the running of the recreation centres has been generally unsatisfactory. The rate of mortality among youth clubs, women’s organisations, etc., has been very high, as much as 57% in the blocks studied by the Programme Evaluation Organisation. The leaders’ camps are intended to efficiently train members of the panchayats and cooperatives to perform their duties. I have no doubts that the Ministry of Community Development, with the assistance of the Ford Foundation, will soon open similar camps for our MLAs & MPs to help them perform their duties efficiently. Duties which are surely more demanding, more difficult and more important than those of the village punchas.
One would have expected the draft plan to take note of these evaluation reports and suggest new lines of action. Instead, it blandly remarks that some progress has been made in this field in the Second Plan period and as in the case of cooperative farming we are merely told to wait for further particulars. That is a pity. Social education is a good thing but the correct medium for it has yet to be evolved. It is wise to try new ideas in pilot projects rather than let loose on the countryside social and educational organisers of the type which we have seen in the past seven years.
I have referred to the programmes for women and children mainly to show that like the Community Development Ministry, the Central Social Welfare Board was created as a coordinating agency. It utterly failed even in this respect. The Community Development Organisation came into the field first and had its women’s and children’s welfare programme.
A few months later the Central Social Welfare Board was established. The clash of interests of certain personalities made peaceful co-existence difficult from the beginning. It was, therefore, decided that their areas of operation should be exclusive, the Board would not operate in Community Development Blocks. But as the community development blocks increased in number, so did the welfare projects, and gradually their workers began to raid the same villages. Insistent tales of confusion and waste and overlapping began to reach Delhi. And the Central Government ordered an integrated pattern of activities. That was in December 1956.
Today almost four years later, that decision is still on paper. The study team on community development appointed by the Committee on Plan Projects had suggested certain practical measures which could have produced some useful results had they been implemented. These concerned the organisation, the approach and the work pattern. These suggestions were angrily brushed aside. Then the PEO made a study which pointed out the terrific centralisation in the Central Social Welfare Board; it suggested that what was needed was a coordinated pattern of work. Then there was another team appointed by the Committee on Plan Projects which also recommended some sort of coordination between the two organisations. Nothing has happened, and perhaps nothing will, till we have a Ministry of Social Welfare!
People in positions of power and authority and those with a political or economic voice loud enough to be heard have so far taken little interest in examining the Community Development programme. The villager is still patient enough with our plans for him.
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