Fortify the last mile of governance

Appointing change agents or public relations consultants at field level will help welfare schemes reach the beneficiaries better

By Author Vanam Jwala Narasimha Rao   |   Published: 25th Feb 2019   12:12 am Updated: 25th Feb 2019   10:12 am

In a democratic society like India, people have several hopes, purposes, aspirations, ambitions, desires, requirements, passions, problems, needs and so on which is but natural. In order to address these, there are several avenues in the form of schemes and programmes created by State and Central governments through which a citizen is benefited.

Against this background, people once in five years, elect the party, which in their view will fulfil their needs. The contesting parties make promises through election manifestos keeping in view the people’s welfare at large. Voters consider them and elect a particular party to power.
The government thus elected initiates and implements the promises made in the manifesto. When it is done, people appreciate its efforts and elect the same party repeatedly. Failing which, the same people choose an alternative in the next elections.

In the recent past, some like-minded political and official personalities met and deliberated these issues to get an understanding of our democratic functioning. Many opined that Chief Minister and TRS leader K Chandrashekhar Rao who has been re-elected to power in the State, with millions of aspirations, would continue to administer in the same fashion as during the first term by initiating and implementing various schemes for the all-round well-being of the people.

Optimum Utilisation

But there were also differing views expressed by the participants, raising doubts about the optimum utilisation of schemes by the eligible beneficiaries, despite taking every measure to see to it that they reach everyone. They feel that however well-envisioned a scheme might be, when it comes to implementation, there could be some technical and other unintentional hitches that might come in the way of effective implementation. These need to be overcome necessarily.

The Telangana government has come out with a number of schemes and programmes for the people belonging to all sections of society. Thanks to media, the information on these schemes is reaching properly to the prospective beneficiary and by and large they are able to access the schemes. Still, there may be a gap in their reaching all. Many keep enquiring about the procedure and process involved in availing the benefit from a couple of schemes.

For instance, the other day a domestic help enquired about the process to avail the benefit of the two-bedroom house. She sought the help of any influential person in getting one allotted to her. When she was told to apply for it, pat came the reply that no authority was accepting the application. On enquiries with the authorities concerned, it was found that she was right.
It is only when the Collector calls for applications for a particular village in accordance with guidelines specified in a Government Order, applications would be accepted. How many really know about this? Even if they know, will they be able to apply?

Getting Left Out

A similar request came from another person for availing the benefit under the Kalyana Lakshmi scheme. Her doubt was when she should apply and how to apply online. After applying, though in many cases the response from the government is quick and the amount is received well before the marriage, in a few cases, it takes sufficiently longer time due to technical or other reasons.

Similar cases may be there in overseas scholarship, fee reimbursement, Aasara pension, KCR Kits, regularisation of Sadabainama agreement or Rythu Bandhu, Rythu Bhima, etc. It could be even for obtaining various certificates like birth, death, income, caste and so on.

In Telangana, over 2 crore people live in rural areas and 1.5 crore in urban areas. According to the 2011 census, Telangana’s literacy rate is 66.46%. This indicates one-third of the people are illiterates and probably even among literates, not many would understand IT-linked procedures like online application. Despite various publicity modes to educate people on various schemes, many may not be able to know all the details involved in availing a benefit.

This is exactly where we may need to think of appointing change agents or public relations consultants at field level in service of people who will take care of the requirements of prospective beneficiaries in all aspects — right from creating awareness to availing benefit of any scheme for which s/he is eligible. This is like an agriculture extension officer for every 5,000 acres to guide the farmer.

Carrying Information

A change agent or the public relations consultant is a person from inside or outside the government who helps an individual in educating him/her about various aspects of a particular scheme, procedure involved in applying, contact persons, documents required, etc. The change agents would assist from end-to-end — play the role of counsellor, guide, teacher, or researcher, a mediator or as an advocate for the individual on behalf of the government.

An effective change agent demonstrates extraordinary versatility within a broad skillset. Sometimes they perform a specialised role to meet the specific need of the individual with reference to a scheme. In due course, s/he would be the mentor, facilitator and custodian of every data of the individual under her/his care. Thus the data bank of every individual citizen of the State could be developed.

At the rate of one change agent for every 2,000 persons in rural areas and one for every 3,000 persons in urban areas, the government may recruit 15,000 — 10,000 rural and 5,000 urban for a population of 2 crore and 1.5 crore respectively — such change agents. At the rate of about Rs 35,000 per month, it may cost about Rs 600 crore per annum, which would be worthwhile spending.

These public relations consultants at the field level could also handle the public image of government. The job will involve making the public aware of news relating to government, schemes in such a way so as to create interest and utilise the benefits. If seen as feasible and practical, the government may think of putting it into practice. This can also help eliminate corruption, if any, in obtaining benefits from the schemes and programmes of the government.

(The author is Chief Public Relations Officer to Chief Minister, Telangana)