By Anjali Makhija and Charu Khanna
Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojna to develop model villages is an ambitious program launched by Prime Minister Narender Modi in 2014. It promises to be a workable program—but only if Members of Parliament (MPs) are able to convert it into a people’s movement. By learning the lessons from other successful models as well as from their failures, MPs can benefit without reinventing the wheel.
Many opine that the time given to create 800 model villages is too short, and the target number is too insignificant. In our experience working together with rural communities, we have come to believe that, with proper planning and foresight, the target is achievable and significant. The most essential ingredient in this whole recipe will be engaging the communities.
To illustrate the principles involved, we offer an example of the work of S M Sehgal Foundation in the rural areas of Mewat district, Haryana. Inspired by the vision of founders, Dr. Suri and Mrs. Edda Sehgal, and knowing that “seeing is believing,” the foundation team began in 2008 to develop a model village that others could emulate. The entire development process provided significant insights that we offer to MPs who are and will be treading a similar path.
Sehgal Foundation selected a village in Mewat district and provided most of the funds for the development projects over a two-year period. Concrete roads were constructed; trees with tree guards were planted along the roads; latrines were constructed; solar streetlights were installed; a delivery hut (childbirth and maternal and infant care center) was built; soak pits and soak wells were constructed for wastewater disposal; a model orchard was developed on panchayat (village council) land to serve as a source of income to sustain the village improvements; and the school was provided infrastructure support with a kitchen, water facility, and separate toilets for girls and boys.
The projects were implemented with great enthusiasm, and the community participated in the process. The villagers maintained the new good standards for two years after the work was done. However, the community did not take responsibility for sustaining the interventions. Childbirths continued to occur in the delivery hut, and villagers continued to use the toilets. But the roads were in poor shape; and the water tank in the school had broken and was not fixed. The soak wells, which had become filled, were not maintained, and the batteries of the solar street lights were not replaced when discharged or damaged.
As Sehgal Foundation continued to develop model villages, we soon realized that the communities participated only as long as Sehgal Foundation provided the funds that assured the completion of the projects undertaken. The people were not leading the process. From that important insight, the foundation team changed strategies and used different approaches in the development of model villages. We initiated micro-planning exercises with different groups in the villages, held mahila gram sabhas (separate meetings of the women of the village), facilitated approval of micro-plans by gram sabha, and supported panchayats in accessing funds from the government for work in their villages.
We shared skills and knowledge, which instilled confidence in villagers to plan their own agenda collectively and work with the government on their own behalf. Women played a key role in the whole process; in fact, in some villages, they were more effective and passionate about development than the men were. Villagers built latrines and started using them; they improved the school infrastructure, constructed roads, and cleaned their villages. They have maintained these improvements.
Lessons learned for implementing Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojna
Investing in hardware alone does not suffice. The greater investment must go toward empowering people and engaging them in their communities. Micro-planning exercises must be carried out in an inclusive and participatory manner, engaging all subsets of the community, including women and young people. Activities need to be prioritized by the people living in the community, and not by outsiders. The entire gram sabha needs to approve a plan for community buy-in.
A valuable tip is to focus on identifying citizens and members of panchayats who have leadership qualities. The community will benefit if those people are enrolled, trained, and nurtured. Members of School Management Committees, Village Health, Sanitation, and Nutrition Committees, and Self Help Groups must be engaged meaningfully in the entire process. These institutions will then have the commitment, mandate, and finances to sustain the development activities over time.
Women play a dynamic role in the development of villages. If proper training and guidance is provided to elected women representatives, they display the will and confidence to transform their villages. Under Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojna, we recommend the inclusion of a substantial number of villages headed by female sarpanchs (village council head).
Once the initial set of villages is developed, a mechanism to scale up this yojna should be ready to launch. Every district can adopt a predefined number of villages to be developed periodically. Invite interested panchayats to build their villages under this yojna. Organize district-level meetings to develop the plans and monitor the progress.
Finally, establish an evaluation system with predefined indicators covering social, economic, and environmental aspects. This will serve as a guiding tool to modify the yojna and develop a long-term plan to replicate the initiatives.
If our MPs focus on mobilizing communities and ensuring the active participation of women, the environment will be created to make success possible for adarsh gram. When communities take ownership, programs thrive. Success will build on success, creating a snowball effect.