Development approaches and district administration

Program-scheme-bascd approach: District administration has been the arm of the governments to implement its policies, programs, and schemes. At the state level, the state government is divided into different departments such as Department of Agriculture, Department of Panchayati Raj, Department of Rural Development, Department oflndustries, Department of Primary Education, and so on. Similarly, at the national level, the federal government is divided into different ministries such as MOA&FW, Ministry of Panchayati Raj, Ministry of Rural Development, and Ministry' oflndustries.2

Due to the humongous size of governments both at the state/provincial level (median population = 70 million) and central level (population 1.35 billion), operating through the various departments and ministries becomes the most convenient way of public administration. As a result, different departments or ministries come up with different schemes and programs to fulfill their respective objectives. This often leads to compartmentalization and high transaction costs for program delivery. Further due to duplication of programs and mixed signaling to people at the community level, there is much wastage, chaos, and confusion among implementing agencies and people at the community level. For instance, there are over 70 state and central government initiatives targeting rural health. Convergence of schemes and programs at the community level becomes extremely hard to achieve due to different evaluation indicators and target set by different departments and ministries.

Compelled by the program design and deliver)' methods of different schemes and programs, the district administration is duty-bound to follow the program/ scheme guidelines. As a young IAS officer, early in their carrier and often with lack of experience in dealing with complex systems, the District Collector often lets the district administration implement the schemes and programs as per the guidelines. It is just the energy and enthusiasm of these young bureaucrats that keep them motivated to execute these schemes to the best of their abilities. Since responsibilities of a District Collector are so varied and large in numbers, there is hardly any time and energy left in them to reflect on the limitations of the schemes or delve deep on the counter-productiveness or conflicting nature of some of the schemes.

Manifestation of compartmentalization at the department level and consequent confusion and chaos can be seen from an illustration. As part of Amar’s all India study on Natural Farming Systems in India during 2011-2013, Amar was on a visit to a village in Andhra Pradesh. A group of farmers said that the government seems to be confused on what it wants us to do. They explained that the Department of Rural Development had been promoting organic farming in their village, whereas the Department of Agriculture promoted sale of fertilizers, chemicals, and pesticides among the farmers. They expressed their frustration at the contradictor)' approaches of the two departments of the same government.

Despite the challenges and contradictions of various policies and the huge burden of responsibilities, some of the District Collectors (DCs) break away from the norms of merely following the guidelines, but focus on some critical programs and take a creative and systems view to resolve the issues of implementation. The two detailed cases of district administration exhibit such rare efforts of DCs. In Osmanabad district, the District Collector took up the rainwater harvesting and agriculture revolution campaign (JSA). For details, see Section 4.22 of Chapter 4. The District Collector of Bhopal took up the project on early treatment of disabilities in children (Samarpan). See Section 3.24 of Chapter 3 for details.

Each of the District Collectors followed up with the respective government project, converged resources to it from other projects and tied up various institutions to ensure that these programs succeed to achieve the required objectives and long-term impact. Later the initiatives of both the District Collectors became a model project of the respective state governments. One of them also became a national program. They were credible successes that were replicated; however, the success rate of these projects in other districts was not as big as it was in districts where they were first initiated. The imagination and the grit of these young officers to systematically plan, coordinate, communicate, and converge did indeed matter for the success.

Cluster-based holistic approach of development. The success of the two sample District Collectors viz., Osmanabad and Bhopal on the two projects were not only due to the passion and diligence of the two Collectors but also because of the project’s fit to the dire needs of the people in the respective communities and their ability to integrate the individual project to the overall administrative system of the government.

In Osmanabad district, a drought prone region, where surprisingly the forest cover is less than 1%; water has always been the greatest need of the people. The compassion of the District Collector to resolve this problem of the people gave him the imagination to converge resources in his official capacity and then get the participation of the people from respective communities and elected representatives to contribute to the rain water harvesting project in their respective communities.

The District Collector not only worked on making water available to the communities but subsequently attempted to improve agricultural productivity, facilitated formation of farmer producer organizations, made provisions for storage and processing facilities, integrated development of animal husbandry and horticulture, and undertake massive tree plantation program. He also planned for mechanization of agriculture. Although the intensive input-based agriculture was technically inconsistent to long-term sustainability; the overall approach of the District Collector was an effort to achieve holistic development of individual cluster of communities. Similarly, the District Collector of Bhopal’s approach to developmental projects was also towards holistic development in the city of Bhopal.

In summary, bottom-up small-cluster-based approaches of development administration could lead to holistic development of people and communities. Participation and contribution by people and various stakeholders in a small cluster would reduce the burden of development administration. The current levels of transaction cost would reduce for the government as people themselves would contribute when they see that the development activities by the administration are directly planned and executed by themselves in a cluster. In addition, when development plans are based on priorities and participation of people, their ownership of these projects increases.

For development to be relevant, the schemes and programs are to be holistically planned and implemented through a small cluster approach, where citizens of the cluster can be directly involved in the planning and development process. People’s participation would increase citizens’ ownership of the projects and reduce the transaction cost. While technically an ideal small cluster would be a micro-watershed, the optimal small cluster size considering socioeconomic- political factors would be a Gram Panchayat, the lowest level of governance unit in the Indian context. Studies show that these basic governing units in India have the optimal number in terms of population, resource base, and capacity for minimum volume for production and consumption to be a self-reliant unit of a district. Similarly, the lowest level of governance in other countries includes county, council, commune, village, parish, GN, gewong, parishad council, union council, and such also seems to be the most effective unit of governance in their respective countries.

In our experience, the basic ecological unit of any habitat is a micro-watershed that consists of a small geographical and hydrological boundary. It is a compact patch of geography with interconnected underground water lines that help sustain life in the compact patch. Evert' geographical space on earth is interestingly part of a micro watershed. About 500 hectares of compact geography or habitat is taken as a micro-watershed in India. In other words, the basic ecological unit of our habitat is about five square kilometers of compact area.

On the other hand, human settlements are not always co-terminus to watershed units. Through satellites, the drainage lines of a micro-watershed can be obtained. Such satellite maps are today available across the world. Since water has been the basis of life, human settlements have always begun around a good water body. However, people living in any habitat may not be fully aware about the drainage lines in their habitat and the micro-watershed area where they live and hence human settlements are not fully coterminous with natural watersheds. However, as we map the basic unit of governance of people, we find that a Gram Panchayat/GP in the Indian context is about one to four micro watersheds. In hilly areas of India where the density of habitation is low, a GP consists of three to four micro watersheds (15-20 km2). In urban areas, where the density of habitation may vary from very' high to high, a Ward may consist of one to two micro watersheds (5-10 km2).

Traditionally, villages have been the main users and protectors of the natural resources viz., village forest, village pond, and more in a local ecosystem. People now need to visualize the whole local ecosystem and take care of the same. Given the technical-hydrological system and sociopolitical system of governance, the Gram Panchayat (GP) consisting of one to two micro-watersheds (5-10 km2) appears to be the optimal ecological unit for community management.

Interestingly, countries across the world are structured on similar primary' boundaries of their respective local communities. A case in point is neighboring South Asian countries. These are all structured and known as Gewong in Bhutan, Parishad Council in Bangladesh, GN in Sri Lanka, and Union Council in Pakistan. Countries of Africa have similar political/administrative governance structure. For instance, Tanzania has wards at the lowest level and district/municipality at the next upper level. The United Kingdom has had the traditional, informal institutional structure of Parish at the lowest level of community organizations. Several industrially advanced countries have Ward, County', Council, Communes, and others at the lowest level. In other words, as small community systems exist in countries around the world it would be prudent to facilitate holistic sustainability initiatives in such small communities in respective nations for gradual but overall sustainability of a district leading to sustainability of a nation.

Based on the community-level stakeholder consultative process, field research and experts’ views on each of these lowest levels of governance units (GP/Ward) can develop their annual plan of activities and budgets. Perhaps, they would need to be trained initially and invest in their capacity building. The district administration could aggregate and tabulate these local inputs and share the consolidated numbers by including them in their district plan and budget. When the district plans and budgets get compiled for the whole state it would result in the state plan and budget. Based on these inputs, each specialized department at the state level can plan and budget to get a macro perspective for the state. The state governments are to share these plans and budgets to the federal government indicating specific areas of support especially on areas that require interstate cooperation. The federal government based on its capacity and priority can accordingly allocate resources to different states.

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