The Aspirational Story of Rampura
A fascinating facilitation framework has been provided by NITI Aayog’s Aspirational Districts Programme (ADP), which ensures that development initiatives reach the grassroots level. ADP enables cooperation and coordination between the district, state and Union government to aid the community’s well-being across developmental sectors of agriculture, education, financial inclusion, health and infrastructure.
As part of my field visit for NITI Aayog, I visited Khagaria district in Bihar. A fascinating experience followed with the community in Rampura Village of this district. Rampura exemplifies how a congruence between social capital and outcome-oriented administrative federalism can be a springboard for development.
Social capital can be understood as a web of trust, reciprocity and fellowship. Let’s begin with trust. Across multiple interactions with children, district officials, elderly people, farmers, panchayat officials and women, there didn’t seem to be any expression of resentment.
Does this mean Rampura doesn’t face any challenges? Certainly not. There are ongoing efforts with respect to road and internet connectivity, introducing farmers to technical expertise, providing everyone with a pucca house and piped water supply. Yet, a sense of optimism prevailed in every individual I met in Rampura. They were aware and had faith in the Union and state government programmes. This wasn’t a blind, ill-informed or unreasoned faith. It was the faith of an informed citizenry, which had trust in the government based on the ongoing transformation of their village.
Moving on to reciprocity. District Magistrate Anirudhh Kumar spoke with aplomb about some of the completed work and had a visionary determination to address the challenges that remain. Block Development Officer Ajay Kumar Das was well acquainted with the farmers and panchayat officials on a first name basis. He asked them to fearlessly elucidate the challenges they faced when I was conducting interviews. The respondents were well at ease in both praising the officials as well as enlisting the challenges in front of the officials.
The many farmers I interacted with (Mohammad Ulfad, Shamsher Alam and Haider Ali to name a few) elucidated on the risk from the attack of an invasive species, fall army worm (locally called pillu) on their fields. They informed me about some relief due to the remedial measures suggested by Krishi Vigyan Kendra of Khagaria, headed by scientist Anita Kumari. The mutual understanding and reciprocal respect between the community and officials was insightful.
Finally coming to fellowship. Not only did I observe compassion for fellow residents in Rampura but also serendipitously stumbled upon a model of state–state collaboration. I ran into heaps of stubble being collected in a corner of the village. On being asked what the farmers planned to do with the stubble, quick came the reply from Rampura’s Kisan Salahakar Neeraj Kumar, “Don’t worry. We are aware of the health challenges people face from burning stubble. Therefore, we mix it with jaggery and use it as cattle feed [locally called dhaan ka puaal].”
The farmers were enthusiastic about their recent venture into organic farming (jaivik kheti). They informed me about a recently concluded workshop by the Sikkim Government in Rampura to build their expertise in organic farming. The presence of Sikkim Government officials (Sikkim was declared the first organic state of India in 2016) in Rampura demonstrates how good practices in particular states can be a plank for state–state collaboration across India.
Outcome-Oriented Administrative Federalism
Rampura’s experience of federal governance through the Aspirational Districts Programme is the three-pronged approach of convergence (of Central and state schemes), collaboration (of Central, state and district officials) and finally, competition amongst districts. This is complemented by real-time monitoring of 49 indicators on the Champions of Change dashboard on which its parent district, Khagaria, has risen from a ranking of 105th in October 2018 to 71st in November 2019.
Krishnanand Yadav is the astutely bright mukhya of Rampura. He enthusiastically showcased the multidimensional work being done in Rampura. As he sat in Panchayat Bhawan, using a computer facilitated with internet provided under the Bharat Net programme, he spoke eagerly about gaining valuable information through the internet. This related to government schemes, social and economic news, which he regularly shared with the rest of his community.
Khagaria’s Deputy Development Commissioner Ram Niranjan Singh proudly informed me that Rampura was the first village in Khagaria to gain ODF status under the Union Government’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. His ambition for making an ideal out of Rampura wasn’t yet fulfilled. Hence, he animatedly spoke about the plan of action on the upcoming waste-treatment infrastructure.
Rampura’s residents were ambitiously optimistic about the Bihar State Government programme called Saat Nischay. Under this programme, the state government is committed to better seven development indicators—skill development for youth; employment for women; electricity provision; clean drinking water supply; rural road connectivity; toilet construction; and higher education infrastructure. During my visit, people showed me the swift ongoing construction of piped water supply for their houses. Proactivity under Saat Nischay has led to significant improvement in the quality of life for Rampura’s residents.
The Union Government also has a tangible presence in Rampura. I experienced the objective Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Gramin) to provide a sense of identity and security to rural poor being fulfilled through my interaction with several women (Lalita Devi, Meena Devi to name a few) who were the proud owners of pucca houses under this scheme. Delightfully, every house had functional toilets via Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and gas cylinders via PM Ujjwala Scheme.
At the beginning of this millennium, American political scientist Robert Putnam had written on the decline of communities in his book Bowling Alone. He had mentioned that even though more people were taking up bowling, fewer were playing the game in teams. People were “bowling alone”. The story of Rampura in Khagaria would bring much cheer to Putnam. The Aspirational Districts Programme is augmenting administrative, communitarian and federal partnerships to measurably and successfully enhance community welfare.
Satwik Mishra is a Young Professional at NITI Aayog. Views are personal.