Though village plans are an age-old concept, the emphasis by the Telangana government in taking them up in a mission mode to prioritise issues and implement them in a time-bound manner is new and should be appreciated. In the past, village plans were prepared by a few and imposed on all villagers with little regard to democratic decision-making. However, with the introduction of the new Panchayat Act, roles and responsibilities were fixed.
The Telangana government is executing many flagship schemes for rural areas like Mission Bhagiratha, Mission Kakatiya, Rythu Bandhu, Kalyana Lakshmi, Aasara Pensions and KCR Kits. The implementation of these schemes is largely with state departments, while the responsibility of development and implementation of integrated village action plans is with the gram sabhas.
Small Administrative Units
By forming small administrative units with the creation of new districts, mandals and villages, the government is trying to reach the doorsteps of the rural people. The number of gram panchayats has increased from 8,690 to 12,751. Establishment of new panchayats will ensure more decentralisation of powers and development of villages.
The 30-day village action plan should be an integral part of village annual and five-year plans. The plan needs to be developed with a vision for one year and five years, and then look for funds from different sources, including its GP funds, State Finance Commission grants, 14th Finance Commission grants, MGNREGA and corporate social responsibility funds. It should integrate with other ongoing schemes like MGNREGA but without duplication of work.
Village action plans should be developed in such a way that there is no duplication of activities undertaken by state line departments in the villages and panchayats. However, they should exploit synergies while ensuring a clear demarcation of roles and responsibilities.
Earlier, excessive importance was given to works like construction of rural roads and school buildings by both State departments and panchayats while village cleanliness, greenery and power were neglected.
Panchayats should focus on issues that are not the responsibility of the government departments, ie, activities with small budgets yet important like cleanliness, which include removal of dilapidated houses, animal sheds and debris, covering of unused borewells, cleaning of schools, government buildings and roads and removal of wild and unwanted vegetation.
Accountability from Bottom
Village plans are different from State and national plans, which are developed and implemented on a sectoral basis with separate budget allocations to each sector and scheme and implemented through separate sectoral departments.
But village plans are comprehensive and based on the area approach by integrating all sectors. Works are taken up based on priority and fund availability with the approval of gram sabha. The villagers should be able to develop and assess the budgets and accounts for effective prioritisation, fund allocation and implementation of plans.
The planned activities of panchayats should be realistic considering resource availability and local aspirations. Many works don’t need money. For example, supervision of schools by community, taking up tree plantation and maintaining cleanliness just involve shramdan and local monitoring.
The works that require big money can be undertaken by the line departments concerned like the irrigation department can construct water tank under Mission Kakatiya and the public works department can take care of the construction of school building under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan.
The planned activities of gram panchayats should explicitly mention clear goals like increasing participation of people, maintaining cleanliness and improving tree cover, preparing one-year and five-year plans, collecting taxes and paying electricity bills on time and managing streetlights properly.
The essence of the village plan is the collective visioning with a bottom-up approach with specified development goals for the integrated development of the village along with action plans. It is an instrument to prioritise and articulate the people’s vision of local communities and is also an instrument for confidence-building. It is developed through a participatory process by forming functional committees for different areas like sanitation, forestry, electricity, education, health, agriculture and water.
Gram panchayats with wider consultations with gram sabhas have to prepare plans by drawing resource map (one per village), social maps (for each habitat one) and by holding discussions among themselves. Village plans are prepared by the people for the people and should be owned by the people.
To make the plan more inclusive, there is a need to ensure representation of inaccessible communities, disabled people, old-aged, minorities, extremely poor and SC/ST population. It requires wider publicity, fixing times like early in the morning or late evening so that everybody can participate.
Improving the quality of the village plans is an ongoing process. Quality data, information gathering and large-scale social mobilisation are essential for better plans. The entire process should be in public domain with social audit. Training, capacity-building and handholding for village-level elected representatives and staff of different implementing agencies are essential parts of making the plan effective.
Utilisation of local experts and resource persons in the preparation of the plan is essential. Use of participatory monitoring tools, guidance and assistance to gram sabhas in development and implementation of the plan in association with State Institute of Rural Development, teachers, local opinion makers, NGOs and line departments, third-party assessments and community should be vital for improving quality and relevance.
However, they should not dominate the process of development of plans; they can only act as experts to guide villagers to prepare their own plans. There is a need for mobile-experts who can guide villages in a block and should have a coordination committee to coordinate among different stakeholders.
The Telangana government has introduced the new Panchayat Raj Act (2019) to give more teeth to local bodies in the implementation of village plans with sufficient funds and power to meet the aspirations of villagers. The Act is aimed at strengthening panchayat raj to provide corruption-free and effective governance to the villagers. As per the Act, gram sabhas must be conducted every two months to monitor the implementation of village plans.
Ultimately, the future of India lies in its villages and better implementation of village plans as envisaged by Mahatma Gandhi.
(The author is Principal Scientist — Agricultural Economics, ICAR-Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture, Hyderabad)