A Man With Bag Full Of Money Is No Match For A Person On A Mission

Dear Prime Minister,

Congratulations on your victory and becoming Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy, which is India.

I write this letter consolidating my thoughts on what development means and what should be the road forward. Although the letter mentions rural development, but the letter details meaning of development as a whole and my perspective to the it.

A Man With Bag Full Of Money Is No Match For A Person On A Mission

To achieve a goal, there are two parts to it: planning and implementation.

Taking the later point first, an efficient implementation of polices impacts one and all. What I believe you have achieved fabulously well is Gujarat is an efficient system that is implementing policies and procedures to the T. And people are so impressed with this efficient implementation that they have chosen your over and over again.

On the other hand, plans are conditional — meaning, they need to be set, based on circumstances and need of the hour. In a large country like ours, with the spectrum of society spanning right from the ultra rich to people who cannot even afford a day’s meal, one size plan cannot fit all. So, it is important that plans are created to cater to specific groups of people.

Rural development, or for that matter any development, generally refers to the process of improving the quality of life and economic well-being of people. So, why is there an exclusive emphasis on rural development? In the Indian context, it may be because a huge population base (in excess of 70%) reside in rural areas, which by a typical sociological definition means it has more space between structures, where population density is low, and population levels are low. Going by the description of a rural area, does it not look enticing? Wouldn’t an individual aspire to live in such an environment? Every other real estate advertisement in newspaper has the words!

Governments around the globe, including India, have taken an active interest in trying to urbanize more and more rural areas. Put other way round, governments have been putting in place processes and practices that will make a place more congested than what it is, increase the population, and compress all the population into least available space! This in other words is development from a rural to a urban environment!!!

Sounds very contradictory and ill formed thoughts, right?

I just brought this kind of contradictions only to highlight the fact that rural development is not about creating a urban space within a rural context. Development, irrespective of the categorization, must be looked at as a set of processes that is set in motion to initiate a change in the society. The moment development is tagged with a category, it means we already have a benchmark and are trying to bring other categories to meet that benchmark.

The needs of the different sections of society vary from each other; and just to have policies and departments such as rural development or urban development does not cater to the underlying diversity. A psychologist named Albert Maslow suggested that human mind is motivated by different aspects depending on the stage one sees oneself within the framework of society. According to him, there are five levels of hierarchy of needs, which are the following:

  • Physiological
  • Safety
  • Love/Belonging
  • Esteem
  • Self-actualization

I firmly believe policies too must map more-or-less to this fundamental human psychological principle.  What do I mean by this?

Irrespective of the section of society, all development programs or initiatives must revolve around the following three fundamental categories:

  • Livelihood development
  • Employment generation
  • Self help program

The flagship scheme of GoI for rural development is the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005, which aims at enhancing the livelihood security of people in rural areas by guaranteeing hundred days of wage-employment in a financial year to a rural household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work.

As the note from the Principal Secretary, which is put up on the website, says that there are major concerns on quality of planning, quality of assets created, and delays in payment of wages. The proposal shortlists some suggestions to address the issues. I do agree there are couple of suggestions that would certainly improve the quality of the program.

However, I still question the basic premise of the program.

Going by the vision statement of the Act, it is clear that the aim is to provide 100 days of unskilled manual labor in a year. Can one really call this livelihood security? For a family that lives on daily wages, including IT folks who by the way are paid monthly, being employed every single day in a year is important and paramount. The scheme does not cover 265 days of a year, which by the way accounts for 72.6% of the year!!! Although one could argue that for the remaining days, people may employee themselves in other agrarian activities; is it really a fair thought? If a person can find a suitable employment for 265 days in a year, will they not be able find employment for another 100 days in a year?

To me, the scheme just fails to meet even the basic physiological needs of a person, forget any other aspects of human needs.

In a village set up typically, there are two kinds of folks: one that owns lands and other landless agricultural labors. A third category can be added for a village with reasonable population size, which is traders.

For folks who own land, their livelihood is dependent on their ability to get a price for the product that covers both the invested amount and a profit over it. To do that what are the enablers? A smooth supply of inputs, including loans and expert advice, quality inputs, in terms of seeds, water and electricity, access to yield enhancing tools/methods, and finally a fair market to sell their goods. Does the Act provide for any of these?

For folks who do not own land, their livelihood is dependent on their ability to be employable on every day in a year. The primary avenues include working as agricultural labors or work as manual labors in semi-urban or urban places. By basically providing unskilled labor for 100 days in a year, what one is doing is making that person dependent on that unskilled labor work for the year and life. In other words, it is like catching a fish for the man every day thus making him eternally dependent on such a program, while the approach must be teaching a man to fish so that he can fend for himself and his family.

Here is a sample difference between bringing in efficiency to a system versus taking a quantum leap in addressing the root cause.

Processes Efficient implementation Innovative implementation
Reimbursement of say medical or travel costs. Problem statement: Minimize delay and streamline the process of scrutinizing and submission of reimbursement of medical claims.What it means: Each submission must be scrutinized for its correctness and validity. People tend to make false claims, and over quote an expense. So, scrutiny is important. However, it is good to make an efficient scrutiny so that the claim cycle time can be reduced.Solution: Have a set of processes to ensure that an employee is made aware of the process; add a few checklist so that the employee can do a self check before submitting the claim. Also, train the claim processor to do their job more efficiently.End result: Cycle time for claim reimbursement reduced to 6 days from 8 days. An incremental improvement of 2 days. Problem statement: Enable an employee to avail medical treatment.What it means: Employees are eligible for a certain amount to meet their medical needs; facilitate the employee to avail this facility in an effortless manner.Solution: Use pre paid cards. Issue each person with a card that is loaded with the limit the person is entitled to.End result: It completely removes the cycle of collecting the bills and forms, validating each of the submission, and rejecting or accepting them. The whole cycle time is brought down to 1 to 2 days, which is required to issue cards.  A quantum improvement of 6 days in addition to using people’s (both the claimant and reviewer) time more efficiently.

In short, the policies that are in place if implemented efficiently, which I believe you will, can bring in incremental improvements. However, if we want to bring in a quantum improvement, we need to take giant strides, which certainly cannot be taken with the kind of focus current policies have.

And there are people, who are ready to join hands to build a strong and vibrant country.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

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