Tuesday, April 29, 2014

PRI Capacity Building & Training

The 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments ushered in the Panchayati Raj in India. Panchayati Raj Institution(PRI) is a three-tier system in the state with elected bodies at the village, block and district levels. The rural mathematics of the vote in the Panchayat election has become highly political in the nature due to channeling of  government scheme fund through PRI. There are voices emerging on the corruption at this basic level. Budget expenditure for Panchayat elections runs in lakhs for no other reason. Many gram pradhans are becoming powerful by grabbing resources meant for the welfare of the people whom they represent. In my opinion, PRI has embarked one thing for sure i.e. decentralised benefits of corruption. Looking on the positive side, there is infrastructure development and money returning back to the village economy through this arrangement. PRI has brought more a sense of local governance to the rural India.

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” - Lord Acton, English historian and moralist of the 19th century

“All power corrupts, but some must govern.” - John le Carre, British ex-intelligence officer and novelist of the 20th century

Gram Panchayat is getting involved in planning and execution and monitoring of the various public schemes. There is lot of fund available at level with the decentralization of the power through PRI. Barely educated Gram Pradhan is dealing with huge money under social security schemes namely MGNREGS, BRGF, TFC, SFC, Indira Awas Yojna, etc. PRI representatives are not professionals but only voice of the people. Management takes money and people. With such amount of cash flow, processes can't be left on the shoulders of either overburdened representatives or volunteer in the committees. It is more necessary in investing human resources with knowledge and raising amount of operational expenses (salary). A Nayab Sarpanch gets less than thousand rupee per month as an honorarium in Odisha. How can such person give full attention to the responsibilities ?

The idea of a managed transition of power in Panchayati raj is still a delusion unless leaders of the community don't emerge by breaking conservative, male-supporting, social structures. Most of the elected representatives of PRIs are illiterate and semi-literate. They have negligible knowledge about PRIs and no operational skills required for local governance. Capacity building and training (CB&T), particularly in an on-going process that focuses on creating new leaders especially women and knowledge transfer at the grassroot level of democracy

I have attended few training sessions in conference halls given to PRI members. Most of training focuses largely on content and has a minimal focus on the mode of delivery. Lectures/ Powerpoint Presentation mode of training is theoretically sound, but may not be absorbed well by an audience with bare minimum literacy amid rural backgrounds. Research has demonstrated that adults learn six to seven times more through practice and feedback than through lectures, yet far too many capacity building programs consist of classroom sessions or self-study modules. I don't have backing on any conclusive study but exposure visits and study tours conducted have more receiptance in rural India.

There is growing focus on the development of a two tier cadre of resource persons i.e. the master resource persons and district/ block resource persons. Most of the states do provide short duration inputs (5-15 days) with the help State Institutes of Rural Development (SIRD). Training sessions in government workshops have created a pool of trainers but the quality is lacking in the human resources. There is no long term systematic strategy employed by the government. The lack of a strong monitoring and evaluation system for training doesn't help in seeking impact of such training. The effective establishment of PRIs as a strong node for local governance remains a distant reality until these gaps are not filled properly. Organisations (NROs) such as Tripti(Odisha), SERP (AP), Jeevika (Bihar), and Kudumbashree (Kerala) are slowly grooming the leaders through Livelihood Mission who has sufficient knowledge of PRI & various other schemes.

Kaushik Basu (in October 2013): "Overall economic growth is important, but the poor should not have to wait until its benefits trickle down to them; with the right anti-poverty policies, governments can encourage trickle-up growth as well." Building public institutions is a slow process, with frequent regression, but over time PRI will become strong, inclusive and democratic institution in the spirit of the constitutional amendment. Progress is a painstaking task and we have long way to go!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Drudgery Reduction for Women

It is time to invest in agriculture, rural development and food security. That's where the future of India lies.There is lot of women's participation in agriculture and allied activities in addition to the household work. Manually women were not able to increase the productivity and some of the health problem occurs. Simple Machine and tools like Coconut peeler, fishinh net, sugarcane stripper always act in drudgery reducing technologies and help to reduce the incidence of the health issues.

Odisha government launched an innovative scheme, “Women SHGs for Drudgery Reduction". The vision behind is to make a positive impact on the health of women folk of the state by reducing their physical exertion. As per the scheme, each SHG would get Rs. 10,000 as financial assistance through which they can buy different types of technical equipments and enhance their productivity. Mahila Vikas Samabaya Nigam, the Women’s Development Corporation, was established as the Nodal Agency for implementing Schemes and Programmes for the welfare, development and empowerment of women.

There was planned disbursement of funds to SHG accounts in e-transfer mode. The project involved District level committee entrusted with the responsibility of transparent selection of SHGs and identifying the main activities that are undertaken in the district. Priority was given to SHGs with SC/ST/PWD/BPL families. Monitoring and random field verification was the guideline provided by the government for the proper implementation. On receipt of funds, SHG members will procure in a transparent involved in at the lowest possible market price.

Physical Target for DRDA was nearly 245 SHGs while financial was 232.75 Lakh in Ganjam district. Manual operated Pulse Thresher, Manual Weeder, Smokeless cook stoves and Paddy Ripping Sickle were the main procured items. This scheme must be evolved for workers involved in MSME. There is a cashew processing cluster employing mostly women in Ganjam district along coastal belt. Workers require gloves but the employers are apprehensive that output would reduce if gloves are used. Small machines enhance the efficiency of their work of shelling, peeling, and grading.

This is one of the better scheme launched by the government. Such initiative will help in increasing production and productivity besides reducing drudgery of labour associated with farm activities. Only time and project management can give us the result of this scheme. But there has been no baseline study before implementation of this scheme. Hence, questions such as - " Has drudgery / no of hours of work/ been reduced by technological improvements?" will remain unanswered. I saw this scheme as an extension of Conditional Cash Transfer(CCT). There is a good article on cash transfers at World Bank blog. Please read Cash Transfers: Sorting Through the Hype.

Indian Government had started the ambitious direct benefit transfer (DBT) scheme on January 1, 2013. Direct Cash Transfer can work wonders when the beneficiary is identified correctly. Who are these beneficiaries and how to identify them ? A pretty useless and a stupid question to ask if it was pertaining to India. Identification is not a statistical exercise, but is a major political activity at ground level. Hence, even with either conditional or unconditional cash transfer, nothing can work with money going through non existing beneficiaries into corrupt bureaucracy and political leaders. Cash in the hands of sensible people does more than in the hands of corrupt state or senseless aid agencies;

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

SHG Bank Linkage

There is a lot of talk about inclusive growth through financial inclusion. The competition between banks has never brought credit to the poor; it only took new financial products to richer people. RBI policy has forced banks for priority sector lending and opening of branches in rural areas. SHG Bank linkage model was developed by NABARD under the strategy to reach poor in a sustainable way. I have written on this issue in previous post.

SHGs are linked to the formal banking system or microfinance institutions for accessing credit. Self-help groups minimize the bank's transaction costs and generate an attractive volume of deposits. While bankers have to handle only a single SHG account instead of a large number of small-sized individual accounts, borrowers as part of an SHG cut down expenses on travel (to & from the branch and other places) for completing paper work and on the loss of workdays in canvassing for loans. There are many practical issues in this scheme faced by all three stakeholders: SHG, Banks and Government.

Bank readily opens account of SHG but treat them as an extra workload on the employees. One major reason cited for this is the staff shortage at the bank level as well as liquidity crunch at rural branches, leading to delays in cash transfers to SHGs. Transaction time and Cheque clearance time at RRB can be very long. Any new and non routine applications of SHG bank account takes a lot of time but the returns in Bank portfolio are abysmally low. There have been cases where the account holder has to run repeatedly to withdraw money from her SHGs bank account!

A SHG decides to seek loan from the bank. SHG submits the application that takes into account the activity proposed, the amount of loan required, duration of loan requirement, purpose of loan and the number of installment in which the loan can be repaid. The procedural issue is that the field officer from the bank needs to check the existence, record books and proper functioning of the SHG. This poses the problem where the field officer is often overburdened with large amount of work. Even interaction of bank officials is limited to President and Secretary of the group hence decision making process often escapes rest of the members.

There is huge rise in NPAs (non-performing assets) to poorer supervision of loans. RRBs are doing worst in all the banks. Task of recovering money from the people is politically volatile. Hence, Banks try to even deny the loan services to the SHGs for the most arbitrary of the reasons. Banks can't randomly choose genuine group among the hundreds of SHGs. Discrepancy in the paperwork is given reason and SHG members have to approach bank repeatedly.

Even lending norms for SHGs are suited to poor members of SHGs. There are many issues even in this arrangement like poor member taking the loan and used by other prosperous members. This practice is equivalent to a ghost loan. This actually prevents credit risk, but the purpose of solving poverty is lost as the actual borrowing member will not be using it. Other member using the loan may not give priority for repayment as the loan is not in their name and the group became defunct.

Political desire triumph over economic reality - That is the summary of my experience in the field of SHG loan recovery. The loan waiver scheme had become major deterrent in repayment of any type of bank loans in Odisha. Loan waiver scheme has dis-incentivized those SHGs who repay on time. Such type of Government intervention changes behaviour of the both rural and urban population. Giving people (APL or BPL) handouts with no strings attached is not a panacea. Such freebies offering destroy the Micro-credit institution especially in rural areas. It can be easily concluded that state aid almost always brings in its wake political favoritism and corruption.

Role of government is not only limited to loan recovery. There are targets of SHG ‘linkage’for each public sector banks by State Level Bankers Committee (SLBC) and Panchayati Raj Department, resulting in the supply driven approach of pushing external loans on SHGs. The amount and timing of such loans must depend on member capacities and merely the fact of repayment of a previous loan (a weak but essential indicator of future credit absorption capacity). The whole SHG Bank scheme of demand driven credit availability becomes converted into credit distribution exercise.

Public sector banks have been able to grow despite offering poorer customer service by simply expanding their reach. When a private bank sees a loan turning doubtful, it is able to quickly exit, even if needed by taking a haircut. Public sector banks needs to engage with either NGOs or any agency who can build capacity of SHGs . The mismatch between the expectations of the poor and capabilities of the formal banking system still today needs to be minimised. Till then, Bankers relation with the Government and SHGs will always be strained.

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This Blog is meant purely as a personal diary of a rural manager in making. It exists to record information, experiences and opinions about various issues encountered in the line of duty. Any person, institution and organization mentioned here doesn't assume any liability for its contents. This is not a deliberate attempt to defame anyone. And if you have actually read all that is written in the blog and aren't mad at me, then thanks for your time and patience !

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