6. Role of Organisations of Rural Poor in Promoting Anti-Poverty Programme
It is now universally recognised that no programme of rural development aimed at the alleviation of the poverty of the masses can attain any significant measure of success without organisational efforts of potential beneficiaries. Treating the beneficiaries as objects or recipients of some grants and loans and keeping them inert all through the process will not release the creative energy and promote independence of mind which are so essential to emancipate them from the shackles of poverty and other socio-economic bondage. But it is also well recognised that it is a difficult process. Even in countries with long democratic traditions, the growth of organisations of rural poor at the grassroots has been very little. Reasons are well-known. There are factors, both internal and external, which inhibit their growth and spread. Among the factors, external to the system, are “coercive power of propertied class, economic dependence of the poor, the in-built bias of law and order machinery to maintain status quo, lack of supportive legislation and non-implementation of existing laws enacted in their favour”.1 Other factors hindering the development of such organisations come out of heterogenity of poverty itself. “The poor are differentiated and divided by such factors as conflicting economic interests, caste and community differences, sex discrimination, and other divisions which compel the poor to compete among themselves for limited opportunities and resources”.2 Precarious economic existence of the vast masses of rural poor make them easy victims of manipulations by the landed classes; and not infrequently, seeds of dissensions are skillfully planted among them to make them fight each other. Disabilities of destitution are so cleverly played that the poor tend to look upon their exploiters for support and deliverance rather than on their own organisational strength through unity.
These are all well-known. Yet, if the IRDP, the NREP and the land reforms and whole host of activities for the poor have to succeed, there is no alternative but to promote consciously voluntary organisations of the poor to protect and to defend their own rights. The best of bureaucracy has its limitations to reach the last man in the line. No delivery system can be so responsive and flexible as to ensure smooth delivery of inputs, credits, technology, etc., to this group who initially would not have the absorptive capacity for all these. On the other hand, the psychosis of dependency and fear make the beneficiaries approach some intermediary to get them in touch with the outlets of the delivery system. As a result, a whole host of middlemen and ‘development touts’ spring up who cheat the beneficiaries in the name of sharing the illegal gains with the bureaucracy to facilitate sanctioning of schemes and delivery of other benefits to which they are legally entitled to. At present, there is no way of eliminating this group of unscrupulous people (who are cheating the unwary beneficiary and creating bad name for the administration), except by raising the consciousness of the beneficiaries and making them come forward in organised groups.
Raising the consciousness of the rural poor has to be a main item on the agenda of any poverty alleviation programme. Programmes fail not because of lack of manpower in bureaucracy nor because of lack of resources. In fact, today there is plenty of both. But if the poor are not made conscious subjects of the process of development through a participatory process, many of the known deficiencies of the programme cannot be remedied.
Genuine voluntary organisations can play a very significant role in bringing the delivery system to the beneficiary groups as well as organising these groups around certain definite economic activity or even as interest pressure group. Any endogenous group formation of the beneficiaries would at the initial stages require external support to some extent in imparting some knowledge input, organisational skill and, may be, some financial help. Such organisations can foster the local leadership from the initial stages so that a new dependency syndrome does not develop. The State has also to play a very important role in the development of such organisation. Genuine voluntary organisations irrespective of their political affiliation should be encouraged to work among these beneficiaries. Their activities in organising these beneficiaries with different interest groups should not be frowned upon, even if initially their attitude and activity have an anti-establishment look.
There will be opposition from the lower rung of bureaucracy as such organisations will be a direct threat to their established authority. But if the organisations are not allowed to develop and function independently and fearlessly many of the leakages that take place can never be stopped and the back-flow of the benefit to the undesirable groups cannot be halted. In this connection, holding of conscientization camps with the beneficiary groups and the government and bank officials at the cutting edges can have a wholesome effect on the entire process.
A successful example of utilisation of this method in support of a government programme for the poor beneficiary group is the rural labour camps organised in West Bangal in connection with “Operation Barga.” The main purpose of these camps was to make the poor think about their basic problems of poverty and come out with their own perception about its causes and possible solutions. The officers who attended the camp were given the role of observers or scribe as most of the participants from the non-official groups were illiterate. These camps had a salutary effect on the minds and attitude of officials. “Their smugness, arrogance and superciliousness get a terrible jolt and they think afresh of their role as change agents.”1 After the 3 or 4 days’ camp the non-official participants also acquire tremendous amount of self-confidence as for the first time in life they could articulate in public their latent feelings about their own sufferings and harsh realities. The knowledge input that went into them in course of these sessions of dialogue heightened their awareness and leadership capability. Wherever the camps were successfully conducted, the results in the number of share croppers getting recorded was very satisfactory. The same methodology which was applied in recording names of share croppers in West Bengal can be very successfully utilised for the various schemes for poverty alleviation which would include identification of schemes for NREP/RLEGP and types of investments that the different categories of poor require to make their households viable. In the process, the various socio-cultural impediments that impede such poverty groups to come forward could also be identified and countered. The beneficial fall-out of such camps could be innumerable. The participants of such camps can also form the nuclei around which purposeful organisations of the poor can be developed with required intervention and assistance of genuine voluntary organisations.
The issue of involvement of people’s organisations in the implementation of the 20 Point Programme was discussed at the highest level in the Chief Minister’s Conference in April, 1983. Proposals regarding (i) extension of support to all voluntary agencies which have an actual presence in the villages; and (ii) organising camps for landless labourers and weaker sections to make them aware of the need of organisation and give them information about programmes available to help them, were accepted. Serious follow-up action has been initiated on the first point. A well-known figure in NGO movement has agreed to become a consultant to the Planning Commission on voluntary organisation. He is going round different states identifying grass root voluntary organisations who are actively engaged in promoting activities under the 20 Point Programme. After the list is drawn-up, it is sent to the State Government concerned to form a Consultation Group with representatives of these organisations and senior State Government officials connected with 20-Point Programme with the Chief Secretary in chair. The functions of Consultative Groups are: (i) to obtain feed-back on implementation of development schemes covered by the 20 Point Programmes, (ii) to assist voluntary agencies in solving the problems encountered by them in their work, and (iii) to encourage the recruitment of larger number of idealistic persons for rural development. So far such groups have been formed in two states though identification has been completed in a number of states.
Mere identification of genuine grass root NGOs has boosted up the morale of the movement. They are getting encouraged to have local grievances settled with the local authorities with confidence and resolution. But the overall impact has yet to be judged. Regarding holding of conscientization camps, no all “India scheme has as yet been formulated and launched. But a number of organisations, some Governmental and some education, are working in a sporadic manner in this field.
With the expansion of TV in India to cover 70 per cent of the rural areas the possibility of utilising this media for raising the consciousness of the poor for organising them into groups and for proper utilisation of the funds and schemes meant for them can be fully exploited. Live telecast of such group discussions where the problems of the poor are discussed by themselves would have electrifying effect on other poverty groups provided they have opportunity to view such programmes. Exposure through TV of the harsh realities of life of the poor and how through group actions they can counter at least a part of their problems would go a long way in creating awareness among many. Achieving this would be very difficult only through the process of isolated camps in view of the vastness of the country and the magnitude of the problem.
A point which is often raised is that where there are elected panchayat bodies at local level should there be any need for such organisations of the poor? Selected panchayats are expected to be responsive to various pulls and pressures and political forces. But to exert such pulls and pressures one has to have either economic power or organisational strength. Hence, even to make the elected panchayat more favourably responsive to the poor it is necessary to develop interest groups of the poor to promote their cause. A successful anti-poverty programme which enhances the income of the poor and ensures creation of assets in their favour and thereby helps making them free economic agents would certainly bring about reprisals from those socio-economic forces which are likely to suffer some dilution of their socio-economic suzerainty over their erstwhile captive labour force. Without a large measure of conscientization of the poor resulting in strong and vibrant group action the poor would not be able to retain their economic gains for long.
Nowhere, a mere top-down reform programme succeeds completely. While the State has to play a major role in allocating resources, providing legislative backing, creating machinery of implementation and delivery system, the critical factor in its success has always been the matching involvement of the voluntary organisations of the rural poor. To the extent the State can create conditions favourable to their growth and free functioning, the programme succeeds. Where it demurs or deliberately hinders, the programme languishes. That seems to be the lesson of history.
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