The recent decision of the Ministry of Cooperation and the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) to establish a primary dairy in every panchayat in the country in the next three years, is undoubtedly significant. This would go a long way in not just revitalising the panchayats, but also help the process of integrated rural development and employment generation, which is much needed.
The Union Minister for Cooperation Amit Shah while inaugurating one such diary said that a complete action plan has been prepared and two lakh primary diaries will be established at the village level across the country in three years, making India a big exporter in the dairy sector by connecting the farmers of the country with the White Revolution. It is understood that in Gujarat, the White Revolution has changed the fortunes of farmers and Rs 60,000 crore is deposited into bank accounts of about 36 lakh women annually through Amul. And thus, there is every reason to think that some other States may emulate the Gujarat example.
The broader question that underlines this decision is the greater role of the white revolution as also the potential of strengthening the panchayat system. Such activities would go a long way in reviving the village economy as also the incomes of farmers. Added to this is the fact that availability of milk at affordable cost would help children get this vital drink in villages.
Similarly, Prime Minister Modi has rightly envisaged a greater role for the panchayats at the recent Water Vision@2027 and asked States to adopt ways where the ‘water budget’ is prepared at the panchayat level based on how much water is required in which village and what work can be done for it. Stating that there was need for water conservation of all local sources of water, he urged gram panchayats to prepare an action plan for five years, where a roadmap ranging from water supply to cleanliness and water management should be considered. In this connection, he called for increasing role of works under MGNREGS, crop diversification, afforestation, micro-irrigation programme and conservation of groundwater under the Atal Bhujal Yojana for conserving water at the base levels.
In fact, he stressed that it was the responsibility of every State to make water a subject of cooperation and coordination. The explanation being that: When treated water is reused, fresh water is conserved, it benefits the entire ecosystem. That’s why water treatment, water recycling is essential; Our rivers, our water bodies are the most important part of the entire water ecosystem”, and there’s need to create a network of waste management and sewage treatment in every state.
Well thought out, but perhaps more needs to be done, given the additional emphasis being given by the government to skilling, reskilling and upskilling. The exercise could also be taken up by the panchayats and training imparted to those who need the same. The importance of this can hardly be emphasized and those panchayats that can provide space could be taken up for such training in a phased manner under the supervision of the Ministries of Human Resource Development and Rural Development in collaboration with State level agencies.
In this connection, training of farmers to increase production and productivity as also to concentrate on value-added crops, in collaboration with the Indian Council Agricultural Research (ICAR) would be of great help to small farmers. Further, where there is a problem of availability of water, training could be given to shift to water resistant technologies in farming. The whole purpose would be to implement the oft-repeated slogan of ‘lab to land approach’ while ensuring that overall yields go up.
The rural economy has been witnessing growth, specially in the agricultural sector. But considering the huge number of people engaged in this sector, there is need for technological inputs as also easy availability of finance. Added to this, the type of crops suitable for each area has to be identified, which the experts in collaboration with the panchayats can do and accordingly train farmers. It is mainly the small and marginal who need the guidance so that they could increase their incomes.
The government should contemplate setting up a panel and become agents of change. to explore widening the activities of the panchayats to gear up the process of rural rejuvenation. The panel should identify the panchayats that have their own buildings and could take up the responsibility of carrying out additional work as outlined above, preferably in collaboration with voluntary organisations and educational institutions. One may mention here that like post offices, which have started banking activities, the panchayats should also carry out multi-faceted work.
To start with around 100 to 200 panchayats all over the country should be identified who could take up the additional work. All this is imperative if the rural sector has to be revitalised as the country cannot prosper without a vibrant countryside.
Resources are vital for strengthening the panchayats and the 15th Finance Commission provided Rs 2.97 lakh crore to the States for distribution to the panchayats during the period 2020-2026 compared to Rs 2.00 lakh crore by the 14th Finance Commission. Apart from resources, sufficient manpower has to be provided by the States and Union Territories for effective functioning by the panchayats as an earlier report pointed out that support staff and personnel in the latter are lacking.
In expanding its activities, the panchayats can create their own fund. A few months back, the Union government stated that, in terms of Article 243-1, the Governor shall constitute State Finance Commission to review the financial position of the panchayats and make recommendations regarding distribution between the State and the panchayats of the net proceeds of taxes, duties, tolls etc. leviable by the former, which may be divided between them and improve the financial position of the panchayats.
The whole objective of strengthening the panchayats is to gear up the process of rural development, which is vital at this juncture for economic and social revitalization. Unless the grass-root level institutions are strengthened, democracy and inclusive growth will not occur. One needs to recall here Mahatma Gandhi’s objective of making villages self-sufficient but, over the years, the neglect of the rural economy or it not being given the priority it deserves largely continues. In such a situation, it goes without saying that panchayats must become active agents of socio-economic change and the government ensure that its plans are put into action, proactively.—INFA