Few days back I read an article in the front page of Times of India on an alarming fact….National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme makes liquor lobby richer?!!
Initially, I thought that it would be another scam in this country of corruption, but when I went through the article, it was definitely a thought provoking one..! The report says that the rural folks who started getting the guaranteed income, had started spending more on Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) and reach home empty handed…! Liquor lobby had given higher bids for license as they are keen and happy on grabbing this opportunity!
This is one among many sad stories in the so called Indian development cycle of last 60+ years, thanks to our Air Conditioned offices of the planning boards, planning commissions and high flying Babus. Many of our bureaucrats hail from influential families and they are hardly sensitive towards the lifestyles of our rural public. Many of them had acquired positions by taking advantage of the quota system based on their community..! If you conduct an audit you can easily find out except a very brilliant few, many of them are there by taking advantage of scientifically wrong representation systems, though they were neither eligible nor weak in any respect.
Coming back to the issue, the Govt. move to provide guaranteed employment to the rural public was one of the dynamic decisions of ages and welcomed by one and all. Every serious and sincere citizen of India, who looks forward to inclusive growth had visualized this as a legendary move towards such a goal, but our defunct planning and implementation ‘legends’ left enough loop holes in the entire programme, which directly or indirectly encourage different kinds of social evils at different parts of the country…!
Every company launches products after extensive market research and after checking & understanding the real requirement of the targeted users/ consumers. Can anyone refer to a single Govt. scheme which was introduced after such an extensive home work? They neither have the habit of studying what matters for the beneficiaries nor they adopt any scientific method to find the development gap..? These social evils arising out of such schemes are the classic examples of the lackluster attitude of our planning folks …! As per a World Bank survey conducted as early as in 2000 – 2001, over 70% of the rural communities who belonged to BPL, were under the grip of money lenders and their abuses..! Of late, there were mushrooming ‘Micro Finance’ organizations who took the debt over from these abusive money lenders. Though there are still some exceptionally good such micro finance organizations, many NBFCs have formed NGOs to operate their agenda as the interest rates they charge are no better than the money lenders!! Of late, the multiplicity of such organizations led to unhealthy competitions between these organizations and guided beneficiaries towards a multiple debt trap, which resulted in suicides in certain areas and thus inviting Govt. interference and regulations….!
However, there are a few such organizations which have been doing extremely admirable job in empowering micro entrepreneurs by constant micro monitoring (not micro managing) and by hand holding them till they become successful. In the process, they have re-financed them multiple times to achieve self sustenance!! This contrast between these organizations is a classic case study of the importance of understanding the unique nature and sensitivities of various rural communities to make them succeed and as a result to achieve the actual objectives of the programme.
My experience with coconut farm labourers in the Kerala – TN border in Palakkad district of Kerala is that such people are vulnerable to financial exploitation primarily due to alcoholism of husbands and the end sufferers are the women folk who are abused and misbehaved at, by the money lending lobbies. As a matter of fact, the average earnings of a male used to be Rs.150/- per day and not even a single penny reaches home as they spend everything in liquor – be it toddy, arrack or IMFL..?! When I was working close with them during a state poverty eradication mission project, I made a scheme, where I used to pay these guys only Rs.50/- per day and release the balance payment on Saturdays directly to the women folk! This had fetched double result as the absenteeism became almost nil as the women folk took extra care to send these guys to work and they could resist the exploitation of money lenders!!
As a next step, I could strike a deal with some rice mill owners to supply rice at the miller’s rate (which used to be about 20 – 30% less than the market prices) to these people as it used to be a huge weekly off take for him. This eradicated starvation of the children and women of these households as good quality rice was always available at home…! We used to make the payment from the accrued balance of their earnings and they get an additional discount from the miller..!
I quoted this experience here to reiterate my conviction on the need for our planning ‘Bureaucrats’ to understand the practical needs and social evils existing in each part of our country apart from the general socio – economic background of each place. A carpet policy shall be at the macro level and a fine tuned adaptation needed at the micro levels for implementing each programme. If the authorities don’t do a social audit and take corrective action, the NREGA will become another such scheme which may disrupt the harmony of existing social system by encouraging the liquor mafia which is waiting in the corner restlessly calm, salivating to suck the blood of these poor households …!!