Thursday, October 31, 2013

Look Beyond GDP !

It is a popular quote by Friedrich Nietzsch : All things are subject to interpretation. Whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth. Elite and educated Indians have high obsession with two parameters for judging development in India either GDP growth rate and numbers of stock exchange. I will discuss about GDP and similar indicators. GDP is a good indicator but doesn't show up complete picture. It does not take into account income distribution.

Let us talk about Per Capita Income. It is calculated by taking a measure of all sources of income in the aggregate (such as GDP or GNI) and dividing it by the total population. So, its just an average ! Hence, increase in wealth of Tata, Birla and Ambani can show up good figures for India but can't really reflect development of a common citizen. Let us use three global indices of development for comparison:

1. GCI (Global Competitiveness Index): issued by World Economic Forum, and is based on a composite ranking of growth potential, business competitiveness, etc. India ranks 64 among 152 nations in 2013-2014 report.

2. HDI (Human Development Index) : issued by UN which is a composite of education, per capita GDP, longivity, etc. India ranks 136 among 186 nations in 2012.

3. Gini Index: this a part of HDI, which ranks countries according income disparities in the society. A Gini index of 0 represents perfect equality, while an index of 1 implies perfect inequality. Although income inequality in India is relatively small (Gini coefficient:0. 325 in year 1999- 2000), India's nominal Gini index rose to 0.368 in 2005. [Source]

Hence, we are a country with high growth rate and still lacking in basic facilities like health and education. Only figures does not explain this position. I will give data for the reasoning. Let us ask a basic question : Can bad policy decisions block development in a country like India that has many aspects of inclusive institutions ? Yes, that is cent percent true for India. Kothari Commission (1964-66) suggested to allocate 6% of GDP for public expenditure on education. Leave the past, even in the last decade, we haven’t spent more than 4 % of GDP. (Source). Our expenditure on public health hasn't gone up more than 4 % of GDP from may years. Figures of any developing or developed country (Turkey, USA, UK, Brazil and SA) is always more than 6.5% from last 20 years. (Source)

As an approach to development, Ferro et al. (2002) were of the view that pro-poor growth in India can rest on two pillars—by grouping policies for improving the investment climate to accelerate growth and for empowering its poor to contribute and benefit from this growth. Robustness of the economy is a must thing but a significant investment must be made in people's lives. We have today thriving yet highly privatized health and education systems (with very different opportunities for different class). With the exit of middle class using public facilities, the bargaining power of remaining users has declined. Due to less investment by state in increasing its capacity, health and education have became costly affairs in private hands. We must think of households who have to spend a good part of their income to buy good health and primary education facilities in private sector – leaving a much bigger gap in the pocket that can be invested in their own or children’s future.

There are always enough reasons to despair and hope in India. Recently, Raghuram Rajan Committee Report has recommended for evolving a Composite Development Index for States. Kudos for new way of thinking ! Development is about a healthy community of economically active people. Hence, we need to see more than one indicators in popular media as well to get the complete picture. If someone is still not convinced , please march ahead and read : It’s Not The GDP, Stupid!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Visit for Social Audit of NREGS

NREGA funds are used for natural resource management activities by generating wage employment for the poor as well as strengthening their livelihood resource base. I will ask readers to go through these two articles :[ Rural job scheme: Can we get it right? and NREGA social Audit: Myths and Reality ] on Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) before going forward.

There is social audit of MNREGS going on in Balangir district from 22-10-2013 to 26-10-2013. I attended three such meetings as an observer only. I attended social audit at Kutenpali, Jharmunda and Kandajuri Gram Panchayat of Loisingha Block. Loisingha Block consist of 18 G.Ps with 108 Villages and is 22 km away from district headquarter. The officers, Sarpanch and GRS were present for the meeting on time. Yet, there was lack of people attending the meeting held at Panchayat Bhavan. The registered person data is taken from NREGA website for the financial year 2013-2014. I have given distance from Block Office to show their remote locality.

G.P.Distance from Block OfficeRegistered   In Meeting  
  HouseholdPersonsMaleFemaleTotalMaleFemale
Kutenpali7 Km6741899107682340400
Jharmunda12 Km6611686983703000
Kandajuri15 Km4571075596479770

Key Findings -

1. There were people keeping themselves busy in a game of cards but were unaffected by any meeting. This attitude of local people was fatal to their own development. Hence, all the blame of failure of government scheme can't be solely put on the state. The lack of participation of the local population was making the whole event into a flop show.

2. GP with 40 people was considered as success by block office. It was later told that such low attendance of 5-10 people without any local NGO participation is prevalent in another block of Balangir district. With the support of community based organization, the number of participants can rise upto 80-100 maximum.

3. There was notice attached to the Panchayat office but no meetings were held on the importance of social audit. Adding to this limited communication, effective strategy of rural communication through vocal was also utterly discarded by the government. Neither NGO nor any community organization was used for mobilizing the public.

4. Land development through individual project is equally good option with community project in the remote location. Due to hilly terrain and poor connectivity, there is greater participation in NREGS in backward GPs. Most of the people working as labour in NREGS are tribal and BPL card holders.

5. The Gram Panchayat must own the data it collects; Information is a basic tool for planning. Information relevant to each area like population, Infrastructure and natural resources database is rarely available for use. Even NREGA data is available on the internet yet not available to common man in the village. Virtual transparency may give temporary relief to the government officials, whereas the reality is that villagers have to meander through a cobweb of data to search and find what they are looking for.

6. Surplus labor used in NREGS can generate productive assets that can be eco-friendly in nature. The asset base of the poor both individual (for example, Land leveling, reclamation of soil, bunding, constructing small ponds) as well as collective assets (for example, regeneration of common lands, water harvesting structures, group irrigation facilities etc) can be strengthen through this scheme. Migration of unskilled labors can't be stopped with virtually 30-40 days of the work.


In NREGA, government officials and PRI members had used fraud measures like “creating fake muster rolls, inflated bills, exaggerated measurements, and non-existent works, all through bribes and cuts from wage seekers" to make money. What need of hour is social audit, best tool we have for monitoring using community participation to curb such fraud activities. Development from design is not primarily about selecting right people for the job. It is about setting of right processes, standards and procedures followed with continuous adherence to it. I will end with the words of Omnia Marzouk, President, IofC International - : 'Nothing lasting can be built without a desire by people to live differently and exemplify the changes they want to see in society.'

Monday, October 21, 2013

Rural Managers: Their role from a development professional's view

[ This post has been taken from 2013 edition of Dhwani, the annual journal of published by RMAX [ Rural Manager's Association of XIMB (Xavier Institute of Management, Bhubaneswar)]. Content has not been tampered but published without prior permission. Please contact blogger in the case of any dispute/offence/copyright issues.]

Author : Mr. Shouvik Mitra, World Bank Consultant

The development sector has seen a sea change over the last four decades starting from the Sarvodaya movement, primarily inspired by the Gandhian philosophy in the early sixties to the professionalization of the sector in the mid eighties where NGOs like PRADAN and MYRADA came into existence to the near corporatization in the first decade of this century. Thus, with the evolving scenario the role o f r u r a l m a n a g e r s h a s c h a n g e d drastically. When Dr. Kurien established IRMA in 1979, the goal was to develop professionals to work for the sector in general and for AMUL/ GCMMF in particular. Today, rural managers are involved in organizations ranging from grassroots level NGOs, secondary support NGOs, donor agencies, private foundations, agri-business entities and social enterprises.

The role of a rural manager, over a period of time, has become more evolved, more sophisticated and more complex. This change in role is due to the change in contexts in which rural managers work. These contexts have opened many new opportunities for rural management as a field to grow. However, the same contexts have given rise to some peculiar challenges for rural managers. Let us take few examples. Most of the NGOs today face certain major organisational constraints, such as, funding and limited outreach. This along with sector specific demands, multi-dimensionality of rural poverty as well as high donor expectations poses a unique set of challenges in the face of rural managers. The Government being the largest player in rural development sector is worried about quality and efficacy. The donors and foundations are facing constraints of dwindling innovativeness, quality partners, timely delivery and measurable impacts. The entrepreneurs are facing capital constraints, government policies and quality human resource. The agenda of inclusiveness is going through a major drift among the corporate agri-business entities while the corporate social responsibility wings are too focused with R&R, establishing brand value and a general lack of understanding of the way forward. Another new concept that has emerged is Producer Collectives. Though their presence is still on a relatively smaller scale, they not only face issues of quality HR, capital constraints, and lack of mission but also suffer from governance issues and member-organization conflicts.

Poverty is complex phenomenon and there is no single silver bullet to wipe it out. And it has become extremely critical to work on several fronts simultaneously to tackle it effectively. It is now rare to find organizations working in a dedicated domain like health, education, empowerment, livelihoods. The recent mantra is overall well being of community and thus the organizations prefer to work across multiple sectors, though many of them continue to have a core competence in one or few of the sectors. This has necessitated knowledge across different domains for professionals working at the grassroots level.

Another challenge for the demographers today is migration, the solution to which is to provide ample employment as well as self employment opportunities in rural India. The need is to tackle this situation by proposing ideas for self-sustaining business models which not only generate revenue for the corporate but also proves beneficial monetarily and socially for people at the base of the pyramid. It is here that rural managers, armed with a combination of business acumen and compassion can contribute the most. Majority of social ventures fail to scale up due to lack of managerial skills. Similar is the case with implementation of a number of government schemes. To justify the claims of 'social inclusion', it is important for the development agencies to broaden their horizons to include a whole range of beneficiaries and not just a minor part of the population. All sections of the society are equally important to achieve the goals inclusion.

A rural manager thus needs to juggle with a number of issues and come up with optimal solutions in whatever organization s/he may be working. S/he is expected to deal with organizational staff, ground level workers, outside/intervening agencies, rural community members, all at the same time.

The question to be asked here is how one can equip oneself to cope with such diverse and demanding situations. Is only a rural management degree itself a sufficient condition to be an effective rural manager? I doubt it. The right kind of attitude is of paramount importance; an attitude to work with rural poor in a manner which is professional, yet tender and at the same time not compromising on the quality of the outcome. What is required is a delicate balance of both head and heart where one is hardnosed about the efficacy of the project and is also concerned about the well being of the community. There is hardly any room for trade-offs. S/he must be able to analyze the situation and visualize the possible solution. It is required from him/her to be willing to unlearn, learn and relearn continuously and over a period of time.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Why Government Schemes Fail?

All claims of 'development' by government appear to be a hoax ...obviously ! Because we always see huge margin of difference between announcement and implementation. Let us redefine government for our own understanding. It is a crucible of interest groups, rather than a black box of noble intentions. So, the responsibility of failure of schemes lie with various stakeholders in the development process.

Growth can never be inorganic and the system needs to learn before they grow. Now replace ‘system’ with ‘welfare scheme’. Example: Gradual improvement (IRDP - SGSY - NRLM) is better approach for development. Not all schemes are so much lucky. They are renamed and often termed as 'old wine in new bottle'. Sometimes if any scheme is a completely prone to the corruption, we have hinged for its immense benefit to power holders. Bad schemes is like giving perpetual gifts that has made people into beggars rather than partners. India's government programmes are riddled with corruption and leakage. The main source of corruption arises from the identification of beneficiaries. Identification is not a statistical exercise, but is a major political activity. Nitin Pai has written an article focusing on this issue only - Where are the Poor?.

Rajiv Gandhi’s famous and oft-quoted statement that out of every Rs 1 spent on development only 15 paisa reaches the poor. Monitoring and Evaluation is often the weakest part of the chain of the schemes. Officials are getting salary for what they are supposed to serving the people. They get away clean either with not doing anything at all or doing with bribes. This is the most damaging aspect of the government jobs. Even harsh reviews and suspension does not mean anything to them.

Unused knowledge is a buried treasure. Government officials at block levels have brilliant expertise but they rarely display an ounce of integrity. The block level officials and extension workers are inadequately available and most of the posts were vacant. So, the staff is always overburdened by additional charges. None of govt official will talk openly of their exasperation with the stiff deadlines. But off the record, most are forthcoming. And, their feedback is rarely taken serious. There is also lack of specialization at the top level of bureaucracy. Same officer can look sports affairs with equal expertise as livelihood ! Such is the way of functioning government. This system has began to change positively from the last 10-15 years with the incoming flux of new officers.

The reformers calling for heads of government servants and public representatives are not free from all blame. I will not give detail here in the corrupt practices of NGO sector but will take a dig on activist mode workers. Most of the activist are either committed right Swadeshi or a leftist social workers . They are staunch and passionate persons who are anti-globalization, anti- market and assumed that all decisions however big or small had to be taken in GramSabhas and will turn up invariably the right ones. Hence, not all feasible solutions are put on table and negotiation becomes ideological battleground.

Poor can not be served poorly; Government must stop thinking that PRI as low-cost and voluntary. People’s Participation for Empowerment and Good Governance may sound like a jargon in the reading but it is not. It is a simple process of taking voice of an important stakeholder i.e. public. There will be corruption in the early years, but surely spread of awareness will happen in upcoming years.

The hunger and poverty that one sees all around must be tackled with better designed scheme. Structural transformations at the top to allow local actors to participate with their potential is required. We must focus on convergence of existing schemes of the government rather than launching new schemes. Only then, we can roll back redundant schemes and put in their what is required. Even we got a new scheme. "The Implementation Part" is key to measure any success of intervention rather than allocation of fund. I will leave readers with quote by Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi in his article "The contractor state": The government of India is a government of contractors, by contractors, for contractors.

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This Blog is meant purely as a personal diary of a rural manager in making. It exists to record information, experiences and opinions about various issues encountered in the line of duty. Any person, institution and organization mentioned here doesn't assume any liability for its contents. This is not a deliberate attempt to defame anyone. And if you have actually read all that is written in the blog and aren't mad at me, then thanks for your time and patience !

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