New Mantras For India’s Development


 Women farmers at work in their vegetable plots near Kullu town, Himachal Pradesh, India.  Pic by Neil Palmer (CIAT).
Women farmers at work in their vegetable plots near Kullu town, Himachal Pradesh, India. Pic by Neil Palmer (CIAT).

A decade or two ago, many in India’s development community acted with the best of intentions, but without the best of evidence. If households lack clean water—help build wells ; if people suffer ill health—set up health services; if the poor lack capital to start businesses, give them credit. But the actual reality is not simple, it is very complicated. Well water can be contaminated, people don’t always use their local clinic, and savings or insurance may be better than credit. In theory, the poor themselves are in the best position to know what their communities need and what the right choices are.

Contrary to Third World assumptions, the Indian poor are willing to pay for quality services if they are genuinely useful and are available through hassle free systems. Today the poor are investing their precious savings in private hospitals and private schools. They are also borrowing at heavy rates of interest from private finance because bank loans, despite being cheaper, are mired in thickets of red tapism. The poor have lost trust in the State’s bureaucratic system that consumes so many precious mandays, involving loss of earnings, and may not finally yield any benefits. In fact, the poor are   wiser now and   understand that in several cases the loss of income in chasing government departments for official largesse   neutralizes the net benefits.

India spends more on programmes for the poor than most developing countries, but it has failed to eradicate poverty because of widespread corruption and faulty government administration. The development landscape still remains largely   arid   and is not showing the sort of development that such enormous public expenditure would seem to warrant, and the needs of important population groups remain only partly addressed.

Although development policies will continue to focus on tangible outcomes – such as more hospitals, more children in school, and better sanitation – human development must not be reduced only to that which is quantifiable. It is time to pay more attention to the less palpable features of progress, which, though  difficult to measure, are not hard to take a measure of.

Much of the good work that is visible  is nowincreasingly coming   more from private players and not from the government, particularly in the area of financial services and education. But the entrepreneurial class is slowly developing disinterest on account of the limping reforms of the government.  The entrepreneurs face daunting barriers, such as inadequate logistics, poorly trained workers, consumer distrust of new technologies, high-cost marketing channels, backlash from existing merchants or moneylenders, and under-developed regulation. Handling these business challenges is an expensive and slow process, and new ventures require many years to become cash-positive.

But by promoting  e corporatism, government cant abdicate its primary responsibility of providing affordable housing, healthcare, sanitation and education to thus who cannot afford them  .in capitalist countries also these, tramlines are well drawn and social safety nets are accorded high priority. At the same time the government must   ensure that scarce financial resources are properly used in meaningful ways.

Every year, wealthy countries spend billions of dollars to help the world’s poor, paying for seeds, beans cows, goats, textbooks, business training, microloans, and much more. Such aid is designed to give the poor people things they can’t afford or the tools and skills they need to earn more. Much of this aid undoubtedly works. But even when assistance programmes accomplish things, they often do which get far more weightage than they deserve. More worrisome is the actual price of procuring and giving away goats sacks of beans and seeds, textbooks, and the like.

Take cows. Many organizations give poor families livestock, along with training in how to raise and profit from the animals. Cows themselves usually cost no more than a few hundred dollars or a few thousand rupees each, but delivering them — identifying and targeting recipients, administering the donations, transporting the animals — gets expensive.

Such programmes surely reduce poverty: having a cow is undoubtedly better than not having one. But they also carry an opportunity cost, since the money spent on procuring and delivering the cows or other assets could instead go directly to the poor .Finally animal husbandry programmes   need fodder and veterinary allowances at least for the start up period.

Social capital has become a ubiquitous part of community-based development theory over the last decade. The idea presumes that the key to problems at the lower    pyramid lies in the capacity of a community to develop collectively beneficial activities and institutions. In too many places and too many ways, women are taking charge of themselves after grappling which the levers being provided to them.

Indian planners should not discount completely the merit of providing certain goods and services to the people at the bottom of the economic pyramid, but we must understand that poor are not at the bottom of the knowledge or innovation pyramids. Unless they encourage building on the resources in which poor people are rich, the development process will not be   mutually respectful and learning cultures will not be fostered in societies. Inclusive development cannot be imagined without incorporating diversified, decentralized, and distributed sources of solutions developed by local people, on their own, without outside help.

The dynamics of funding are also quite skewed. Who gets funding, , how, and for what depends on where the money comes from, who sets the agenda and whose definition of what needs to be done informs this. This shapes the entire paradigm: drawing board, design, delivery, execution and resource allocation.

In India over a hundred schemes are delivered to the same set of beneficiaries through mutually insulated administrative silos, set up by central government ministries intent on jealously guarding their respective fiefdoms. Convergence of schemes at the delivery point becomes virtually impossible, thus depriving beneficiaries of the multiplier effect that would operate if the beneficiaries themselves, through their locally elected leaders, were to have the authority to plan and implement the utilization of these resources in keeping with their own respective priorities.

The argument for a systemic reordering of the delivery mechanism to shift from bureaucratic delivery to participatory development has been made right form early panning era, but has somehow not been integrated forcefully into our grassroots plans.

The best approach to local development is to tap into the knowledge already available and think of ways it can be leveraged to achieve a more appropriate, locally useful and sustainable development. Approaches to rural development that respect the inherent capabilities and native    of rural people and that systematically build on experience have a reasonable chance of making significant advances in improving those people’s lives. A critical success factor is creating organizational capabilities at local levels that can mobilize and manage resources effectively for the benefit of the many rather than just the few.

History has shown us that many of today’s challenges can be overcome in the years ahead. The world has the resources and the knowhow to improve the lives of all people. We just need to empower people to use their own knowledge to shape their futures. If we do that, more inclusive development will be within our reach.

(The writer is author of Village Diary of a Heretic Banker and Women in Islam: Exploring New Paradigms)


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