Empowering the Voiceless: Time to Take Sides to Make a Difference to Millions in the Third Millennium through Rural Coops.
There is a need for a holistic approach with location specific and realism based safeguards to insulate the coops from the reckless politicians who run amuck in the cooperative arena. Self Help Groups (SHGs), Neighborhood Help Groups (NHGs) Grameen Banks (Village level banks), Anand Pattern Coops and the like are the institutional innovations posing as inspiration cum challenges in the revival of rural coops. In fact, the money lender efficiency coupled with the Grameen Bank transparency, Self Help Group cohesion and warmth as well as the Anand Pattern sincerity is the key word in the revamping of any rural coops worth its name in the third millennium. This will, among others, ensure peoples’ participation as the institution is working with them and not merely for them alone. What is required is a detailed diagnostic empirical study on the lessons learned and to spell out the challenges faced by the rural coops in the third millennium. Accordingly a field work was conducted in the state of Kerala in India, spread over two districts. In both the study areas there was a preponderance of respondents with primary education. Both areas had opined that the office bearers of coops should be honest to the core. It was uniformly suggested to elect only actual stake holders as office bearers of coops. Elections must be both fair and democratic. The moot question was as how to persuade honest people of standing in the rural areas to lead village coops. In the same way all respondents had demanded the summary dismissal of corrupt and stained office bearers and members from coop fold. Mandatory social auditing may be introduced in coops. In the new millennium, rural coops must have a new image, message and delivery pattern to make it vibrant, result oriented and member friendly as well as society oriented. As a balancing act, rural coops among others may think of embracing the domain of micro finance effectively and efficiently. In order to render rural coops efficient and to reach out to the grass roots at least cost, deliberate and conscious, efforts are required to make coops tied up with Self Help Groups and institutions like India Post in countries like India. All the respondents had suggested for coops to commence value addition process like the AMUL Coops in the milk sector. It is common knowledge that those with resources are included and those with out are excluded. Thus income inequality is the major issue facing coops in particular and the developing economies in general. To counter that we need a culture of integrated and inclusive growth as the non- tradable plan objective. Here comes the unequivocal role of the society in facilitating equalitarian culture for inclusion.
It is worth to recall that out of eight MDG’s of the United Nations, the first one is of direct relevance to the theme of this paper, namely to eliminate extreme poverty and hunger. Rural coops with spread effects have a critical role to play in this context. Other goals like to ensure environmental sustainability, to improve maternal health, to reduce child mortality, to promote gender equality and women employment and to achieve universal primary education have indirect bearing as well. As innovation is taking a centre stage these days, a paradigm shift must be seen in the rural coop sector as well. This means efforts must be there to rope in with sensitisation programmes, people with positive mindset, confidence and with the right attitude as coop members.
Representative micro studies are required to theorise and conceptualise many a hunch. In fact, the present study is not an attempt to generalise the study findings. Instead, this study is only a test case pointing a finger at the pulse of the general trend, suggesting that country wide studies may be commissioned to identify the magnitude to comprehend it comprehensively. These studies must cover the length and breadth of a given country to make it representative and credible. May be the central banks like the Nepal Rashtra Bank (NRB) or the apex planning body of the country must commission such studies to lend credibility to the whole exercise.
Inequalities and asymmetries do at times render the rural coops a cry over spilt milk. Here the bold initiatives taken up by the Anand Pattern of Coops must come to the rescue of policy makers in making coops as an instrument of socio- economic change. Under this pattern of rural coops, the government role is minimal as a facilitator, not an arbitrator or a controller.
It is an un-substantiated folklore that rural coops were great success stories all over the world. There are millions of coops, which failed miserably and made its members frustrated ones. Much depends on the leadership and the stake holders too. In the case of the “Anand Pattern”, the harmonious blend of leadership of the late Thribhuven Das Patel and the dedicated, self less team of local farmers along with the techno- managerial skills of Dr. V Kurien did the trick in its holistic environment with spread effects and linkages. Incidentally Dr Kurien at the full blossom of his 90 th birthday in Nov 2011 believes that the dialectical dimensions of rural coops were absorbed easily by the stake holders in the milk coops of Gujarat.
Coops in the third millennium must be de- linked from politics and from the
intervention of political parties. For rural coops to achieve the declared end
Results of empowering the small and marginal enterprises as envisaged under
the MDG’s of the UN, purpose of the loan must be the sole criterion, not
physical security as collateral.
In India coops are under the department of cooperation and elsewhere it is under some government departments, leading at times to degeneration and corruption of untold magnitudes. Government controls must be done away with. They are to be freed from departmental clutches as done in the case of the Anand Pattern of Coops. Coops are doing shadow boxing for some one else in its day to day running .In fact, it was suggested by the sample that coops must be under an independent agency like Indian CBI or American FBI to render it totally free from the clutches of sordid vested interest groups.
Financial discipline is a totally non tradable pre-requisite for any coops to be result oriented and sustainable. It was felt by all the respondents, in both the study areas that coops must strive to have brand image like that of AMUL. It may be taken for granted that brand image and niche markets go hand in hand.
All the respondents had suggested for rural coops to commence value addition process like “Lijjat Papad” or the “AMUL” Coops.
It is suggested to take up on war footing targeted and well articulated awareness campaigns in the rural areas. The efficiency of funds management is yet another area demanding urgent attention at the policy makers’ level for rural coops in its revamping agenda. As a balancing act, rural coops among others may think of embracing the domain of micro finance effectively and efficiently. Nonetheless, rural credit coops at any time should not charge interest on crop loans more than the minimum rates charged by scheduled commercial banks. After all, these coops are designed exclusively targeting the small and marginal poor, who should not be exploited by sordid groups in the name of cooperation by imposing up on them dearer credit.
In the new millennium, rural coops must have a new image, message and delivery pattern to make it vibrant, result oriented and member friendly as well as society oriented. It must have forward thinking co-operators and planners as well.
The office bearers of coops must be honest to the core. It was uniformly suggested by all the respondents to elect only actual stake holders as office bearers of coops. Elections must be fair, democratic and non political. The million dollar suggestion was as how to persuade honest people of standing in the rural areas to lead village coops. In the same way all respondents had demanded the summary dismissal of corrupt and stained office bearers and members from coop fold. The magpie mind set of the paid staff and office bearers of the rural coops must under go a sea change for the good. It was a welcome suggestion that mandatory social auditing may be introduced in the rural coops. Half yearly accounting was recommended by many a respondent. May be it was not fully understood by the respondents in general as well as its implications as was the case with several other parameters. The coop lending rates must be lower than other financial institutions. It was a general practice to insist on multiple shares of membership in coops. A few coops have discontinued this system. But the voice of the field was to do away with multiple shares in coops. In several coop societies, it was pointed out by the respondents that even when staffs are not there, fans and lights were running. Same is the case with other utilities like phones, water, etc. This must be strictly contained.
In a way the foregoing sample study drives home the hard point that it is time to take sides in developmental dispensation of justice. We have to say emphatically, enough is enough and plunge into concerted action in empowering the rural coops and its millions of beneficiaries across the world. The policy makers can not shy away from this challenge, if they are really worth the name.
A well thought out strategy for a revamped rural coop system must be in place in the new millennium which among others should include empathy on the part of coop office bearers and staff towards ordinary members. Besides, coops must render advice to farmers and such other members on a wide variety of agro- eco- environment issues.
Rural coops must play the role to facilitate the dynamics and development policies of rural economies during the twenty first century. Rural infrastructure has been very weak in many a developing country and needs urgent attention to improve it taking into account the development vision of the new millennium as well as the MDGs. The increase in farmer incomes has been very slow as compared to their urban counter parts and this need to be attended to expeditiously on a mission mode under the rural coops as it has a mass base in many a developing country.
After considerable field exposure to 1200 respondents of rural cooperation spread over 48 villages and settlements from a backward and advanced district of a highly literate state of India, it was felt that more representative micro studies are required to theorise and conceptualise many a hunch. Besides, these studies must cover the length and breadth of a given country to make it representative and credible. May be the central bank or the apex planning body of the country must commission such studies to lend credibility to the whole exercise. A SWOT analysis of coops: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats also may be done along with such studies to base the New Deal of the rural coops in the third millennium. In fact, this demands focus group discussions to draw up any meaningful policy decisions as well.