On paper, the 'Swaympurna Gaon, Sampanna Goem' programme to be launched by the Goa government is being touted as a plan which will revive Goa economically and make it fairly self-sufficient through its 190-odd villages. Like all other government plans will it be a game-changer it aims to be or merely a ticket for the BJP to ride piggy-back on and beat the anti-incumbency for the 2022 polls?
On October 2, the State will commemorate the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. Nothing extraordinary. But the State government's plans to synch its agenda with the oft-quoted thought of the Mahatma -- India lives in its villages -- to revive the rural economy of the State through the 190-odd panchayats adds a peculiar edge to the celebrations this year.
Chief Minister Pramod Sawant has announced that his government will launch the ‘Swaympurna Gaon, Sampanna Goem’ the village economy revival programme aimed at helping Goa reduce its dependence on neighbouring States for daily essentials and other basic requirements. Also, at the same time, it reckons the programme will help, to an extent, the people whose jobs and livelihoods have been lost by the economic onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic, to earn their daily bread.
It involves government officials fanning out to the villages and motivating people to take up economic activities, traditional occupations and sustainable exploitation of locally available natural resources over the next one year.
The 'village economy revival' plan was formulated by the Directorate of Higher Education and the Goa Institute of Public Administration and Rural Development (GIPARD) after student-faculty teams from twenty-five Colleges in Goa conducted a ground-level survey in all the 191 village panchayats in May-June this year.
After the survey by the colleges, 'Sectors of Concern' for each panchayat were identified for intervention to revive the grassroot economy and meet aspirations of the local community.
Agriculture, animal husbandry, tourism, fisheries and natural resources are the areas that the programme focuses on for triggering economic activity. It also has identified the social sector where youth and adolescents, senior citizens and women are the sections which will be catered to.
HOW THE PLAN WAS PREPARED
Teams from 25 colleges fanned out to the 191 villages and conducted a data collection exercise. The data was then analysed and individual reports for each of the villages was prepared.
The data collected and the reports prepared for each panchayat were used to identify the sectors of concern which needed to be addressed to revive the local and grassroot economy.
Then, a core team of officers drawn from the DHE, GIPARD and the Colleges stepped in to draw the action plan and then outline the contours of its implementation.
TIME FRAME FOR IMPLEMENTATION
The activities which are listed under the Action Plan are divided into three time frames for implementation -- immediate goals (in the first year); short term goals (in the first three years) and long term goals (after 3 years).
Interestingly, the plan does not envisage any additional financial burden but is rooted in adapting all existing government schemes and convergence of the bureaucratic machinery involving multiple departments.
To start with, each of the villages will have awareness programmes on government schemes in sectors like agriculture, health, animal husbandry, tribal welfare, social welfare, rural development agency, Chief Minister's Rojgar Yojna (CMRY), skilling, handicrafts, Goa Energy Development Agency (GEDA) which deals with renewable energy, Women & Child Development department and fisheries.
Awareness sessions on services and other aspects including Right to Information, Time Bound Services, working of the electricity department, telecom services, filling up of forms under schemes such as Senior Citizens Card, Krishi Card, Aadhar Card and also for availing welfare schemes are part of the implementation process.
AGRICULTURE KEY AREA
Rural economics and agriculture go hand-in-hand and the plan recognises that this significant sector has been neglected and needs serious governmental intervention to revive it.
Some crucial issues and bottlenecks stifling the sector have been identified for immediate remedies within a year including the need to simplify or modify the Krishi Card process, formation of farmers clubs and associations, direct procurement of vegetables and produce from the farmers.
In the medium term (within three years) the plan has lined up at least a dozen governmental interventions including revival of water bodies, rain water harvesting, initiative to implement watershed projects, setting up of food processing units for jackfruit, kokum, atam, turmeric, chilly, muskmelon, mango and amla.
Some other measures involve reverting uncultivated land of the Communidade to the village, revising support price for agriculture produce, initiating cooperative /contract or community organic farming, encourage fodder cultivation on fallow lands, training programmes in piggery, goat rearing and rabbit farming, promoting vegetable cultivation and to create a supply chain.
Some key animal husbandry occupations identified for active promotion in the plan include dairy and poultry farming.
In the longer term, the plan enumerates preservation & propagation of traditional seeds and advocates a contract farming law to simplify and motivate agriculture activities and develop organic farming clusters.
HUMAN DEVELOPMENT: YOUTH, WOMEN & SENIORS
It's not all about the economy and the plan does take into account the need to intervene in the social sector, particularly youth development and caring for the seniors besides women.
In the immediate term, the plan identifies substance abuse & alcoholism as serious ills affecting the youth and advocates awareness among youth through educational institutes, restriction on the number of liquor shops in each panchayat, licencing under the Excise Act to be routed through the panchayat among others.
Under the broad 'youth development' goal, the plan also envisages encouraging them to take up agriculture related activities, holding of workshop and training sessions to enhance skills including vocational as well as non-vocational areas like drama, acting, and dance.
For the seniors, it recommends 'senior citizen-friendly' villages with seating arrangement at regular geographical locations, separate queues for seniors with drinking water facility with priority for them, tapping traditional knowledge from them and creating a database, counselling centre and recreational centres.
Longer term goals for the seniors involve providing geriatric services through health camps, day care centers and Counselling centres.
For the women, apart from social activities and skill training, the plan envisages economic activity including branding, packaging and marketing / e-marketing of rural produce, both agriculture as well as non agriculture.
It also includes a module for improving financial literacy among women and mentions educating them on banking, use of ATM card, mobile / net banking and maintaining business accounts.
Developing heritage/ village walk circuits, maintaining archaeological sites, promoting home stay tourism and B&B in hinterland & private forest areas without creating big resort /hotel type structures are some of the key focus areas the plan enumerates to promote tourism as an economic avenue in the villages.
At the larger community level, the plan calls for organising taluka festivals and providing soft loans for adventure tourism, heritage tourism, salt extraction, beautification of caves, lakes and other water bodies.
In the fisheries sector, already a serious economic avenue in rural Goa, crab farming, prawn farming, cage farming, mussel & oyster farming and artificial ponds for fish breeding are some organised areas listed in the plan.
It also lists out government interventions in the sector, including de-silting of fish rearing farms, increasing subsidies for fishing nets and encouraging use of the low-lying paddy fields for fishing by constructing sluice gates.
IMPLEMENTATION IS THE KEY
All in all, the “Village Economy Revival Plan” looks like a well thought out plan.
But like all government planning it is still only on paper and taking it on the road to success will involve sincerity of intent, political will on the part of State-level politicos to give up a share of their power and devolve it to the panchayats and finally timely infusion of funds.
The plan itself calls for reforms in the administration, including streamlining of government procedures, people-friendly governance and most importantly strengthening the panchayats.
As of now, there are no visible signs that the Pramod Sawant-led dispensation has it to ensure these three basic requirements to take the plan to success will be accomplished.
For instance, devolving powers to the panchayats is mandated by the constitution. It hardly happens and if recent circulars and proposed amendments to panchayat laws is any indication, the Sawant government has acted more in the interest of the powers remaining in the hands of State-level politicians and bureaucrats rather than with the elected panchayats and their setups.
Also, as has been the case always with government intervention for welfare, economic or otherwise, the political bias of the administration to bestow favour on sections aligned to the political party in power threatens to mar the efficacy or success of every well thought out plan. The Sawant-led government in its eighteen months in office has provided no evidence that it treats every citizen equal in terms of sanctioning aid or support under any of the existing schemes.
It may be too early to judge whether the 'village revival plan' will walk the same politically biased path. But it is more likely than not that Sawant's BJP will ride piggy-back on the State machinery and resources through this programme which his government has named 'Swaympurna Gaon, Sampanna Goem' to buy itself a winning ticket to the challenge of the 2022 polls, anti-incumbency and all.
Sawant has time on his hands, precisely a little over a year, to prove otherwise and ensure this 'Village Economic Revival Plan' does what it is set out to do -- revive Goa's rural economy and not remain merely a poll gimmick for 2022.