Dr. KM George, President, Sustainable Development Forum, Think Tank& Director General ofGlobal Bamboo& Rattan Community
Integrated rural development is quite inevitable, among others, to achieve the SDGs of the UN. Ramamangalam Grama Panchayath (RMMGP) is a typical cluster of villages located in central Kerala. It has some 13 wards and the majority of the wards come from the scattered Ooramana village cluster. Ooramana is boarded by the Muvattupuzha River like a few other village clusters like Mammalassery, Kizhumury, and Ramamangalam. The river runs some 14 km distance through this Panchayath. RMMGP is home to a few historic monuments like the 1500-year-old Ooramana temple classified under the national heritage, the world-famous singer Shaddkkaal Govinda Marar’s memorial, and the famous Kodikutthy mala-hills -as tourist attractions. Water bodies abound in the RRMGP offering both excellent opportunities for fishing and tourism. Vast paddy fields are a rare sight in this village even now under regular cultivation offering great sights for any urban tourist. It has got 13 wards to elect its local government representatives. The total area of the RMMGP is estimated at 23.4 sq. km. The panchayath accounts for 14 km of the Muvattupuzha river running downward and the total length of the river is 121 km.
The road map for sustainable development of the RRMGP includes among others, the focus on the primary sector namely agriculture, livestock rearing, pisciculture; food security, health, education, infrastructure, appropriate technology-based industrialization, environment protection, women empowerment, tourism, law, and order, drinking water, containment of pollutions, carbon emission and the like. Having seen the background of the RRMGP, it is good to go to the details now.
The primary sector in RRMGP is much tradition-bound operation. The major crops grown include paddy rice, cassava, vegetables among other food crops. The tree crops include rubber, coconut, nutmeg, etc. Rubber came to the scene only in the latter half of the last century. It was planted very indiscriminately in all types of soils. The same is the case with oil palm. It was planted in the once-famous water-logged paddy fields resulting in the shrinkage of rice paddy fields considerably. There is a need for an agricultural revolution in our thinking with regard to the selection of appropriate cropping patterns to make agriculture cost-effective and remunerative so that at least marginal cost and marginal returns result in some semblance of profit tradeoffs.
Crop insurance and animal insurance, both must be seen as a helping hand to the poor, unlike the big joke we played on the poor smallholder farmers during the 2018 deluge. One fully yielding nutmeg tree gets a big insurance payment and or government compensation of Rs 1000 at best is the biggest cruel joke on the voiceless farmers! It is like the hangman’s rope supporting the hanged!
There is a need for farmer-friendly Agricultural Offices in each Panchayath. The officers must be interacting with the farmers and must be available at the stakeholder doorsteps, instead of asking them to visit the offices for getting farming tips. They must be rendering help and as facilitators to augment the process of rural development. Every village must have weekly farmer produce selling markets to ensure fair price instead of the middlemen harvesting –looting- the cream of the farmer’s hard work by exploitative tactics.
Cold storage may be set up with the help of agencies like NABARD in each panchayath. Agriculture inputs like quality seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, manures, etc. may be readily available to the farmers at a reasonable price. Agriculture officers must be attending Gram Sabha’s – village assemblies- and must submit the progress reports in each assembly to make the public to be aware of the good work done by them. The same logic holds good for the veterinary officers too. They must be farmer-friendly and animal-friendly and should not shy away from visiting farmer households on-demand without expecting additional pocket money. Irrigation water must be made available to the crops as per the needs of the season and as suggested by the Paddy Rice Field Committees.
It is the non-negotiable right of every citizen to have food security. The basic needs like food, shelter, and clothing must be ensured by the government as guiding principles of good governance. Farmers must be encouraged to take up fish farming and poultry farming along with assured buy-back arrangements. Thus, agricultural ventures become viable and the entrepreneurs become success stories. Women empowerment is thus possible if we make them joint owners of such enterprises. Protein food is thus made available to the families as well. Public distribution systems under the PDS and Maveli/ Supply Co stores must be made more efficient with all food items available at all the time.
Under the RMMGP, the health sector is doing a commendable job taking into consideration the covid-19 pandemic. But Asha Workers must gear up the household visits. They must visit all households once a fortnight to educate the people and to disseminate the latest developments pertaining to hygiene and safe drinking water. Chlorination of drinking water sources and mosquitos’ eradication techniques including observance of dry days, etc. must be followed up. Social health must be accorded topmost importance to achieve herd immunity among others. Asha workers to present the reports in every grama Sabha for the it’s social audit as being done by the Vet Officers and Agri Officers.
It is appreciated by all that our schools from Manganapatites— preprimary— to plus 2 must be made smart and pupil friendly. They must become centers of excellence. The playgrounds must be smart too. We must welcome the new era of digitalization in our schools without any hesitation. Our aim is to mold future generations as value-based citizens. They must be educated, literate and cultured with qualities of head and heart alike.
Basic Infrastructure Facilities
There is one major road passing through the RRMGP. There are other feeder roads too. From Paravoor to Pervauvammuzhy, the road is yet to be made motorist and pedestrian-friendly. At the moment the roads are in a bad condition. It must be taken up on war footing to make it safe for all. The bottlenecks of various roads particularly the ward roads to be attended to urgently and many such roads in the wards must be widened with people’s participation. The construction materials lying on such roads meant for private individuals must be cleared within a weeks’ time. Otherwise, the local bodies must confiscate it without any sympathy. There are some roads where trees and cut-down woods are lying for months obstructing safe motor driving. The roadsides with huge concrete pillars as protection pillars must be proportional to the road width. Green signboards inroads must be there in all junctions including main lines and sidelines. Once anyone gets into the RRMGP, he must get the feeling of the green and clean village. Our pocket roads must have well -mouths to make them safe for people and motorists. Road tarring must be taken up as a quality exercise not to fulfill the mere physical statistics.
We must have a clear plan for waste management– biodegradable waste and solid waste. Plastic is a major threat to the environment. One can see tones of plastic dumped into the river from upstream. Locals also use it liberally without understanding the damage we are causing to the soil and its burning is most harmful to human beings. Efforts must be taken as early as possible to contain its ill effects.
Plans must be in place to contain soil erosion in the river banks, hilly areas, etc. Tree planting must be taken up with the help of NGOs to help the green and clean RRMGP project. Carbon emission to be contained. Tree planting must be taken up seriously. While rainwater harvesting is being taken up, solar rooftop power generation may be accorded top priority. A green plan must be prepared on war footing to achieve the SDGs of the UN in RRMGP.
Women’s education must be our priority for making them technology savvy in handling soft skills. As women constitute more than 50 percent of the population, they must be given decision-making roles everywhere. They are not meant to be for rearing children and looking after the kitchen anymore. They are all partners in nation-building. We must have another Kerala model in this sphere too like the world-famous Kerala Health model. SHGs of women may be encouraged to take up fish farming in the abandoned and or water-logged rice paddy fields and other water bodies like our Sivali, Chaal, etc.
We have huge water bodies in the RRMGP like rivers, open water bodies like Sivali Chaal, etc. They must be got cleaned up and appropriately refurbished to make it as small centers of tourism attractions with game fishing and paddle boats. The other national heritage places like the Ooramana temple may be marketed well to attract tourists along with the famous Kadamattom Church etc. The Kodikutti mala is another tourist attraction like the world-famous Shaddakkal Govinda Marar Memorial in Ramamangalam. A statue of this legendry musician must find a place in the RMMGP as a tribute to honor such luminaries will be a tribute to our own cultural ethos.
The rural banking system has created a positive effect on rural farm and non-farm output, income, and employment. It helps farmers to avail themselves services and credit facilities and a variety of loans for meeting their production needs. There are two branches of public sector banks in RRMGP. Rural banks play a pivotal role in promoting inclusive development, especially in the countryside by providing credit to primary food producers such as farmers, fisherfolk, and small businesses that commonly belong to the most marginalized sectors of the economy. Here the moot question is whether banks facilitate themselves as agents of inclusive development! One must make an exhaustive soul-searching exercise to find the answer to it. The bank must identify themselves with the villagers and must stay in the same villages for better interactions. They must realize that they are not shylocks, but agents of inclusive development.
RRMGP may become a digital hub soon to attract the unemployed educated to stay back in villages instead of migrating to urban areas or going abroad. We must set up IT parks –lodges in the villages for effecting the economies of scale as villagers are cost-effective and pollution-free. Outsourcing works may be the major activity of such units.
Our police are yet to become people-friendly in practice despite calling themselves Jana Mastery Police—people-friendly police. They must be refined in their outlook, approach, and even in talking to people particularly senior citizens. The old habit of asking people to buy stationary for the police must be done away with. They do not know the essence of the court observations or the circulars of the DGP etc. They are a lot of uninitiated and unscrupulous men in uniform! They are a sort of ruffians as they psychologically intimidate the ordinary men and women in the rural areas.
River Bank protection
We must take up the river bank and roadsides under social forestry to plant appropriate varieties of Bamboo, etc. to protect the soil from erosion as well as to contain carbon emission to protect the environment. The NSS units of the Stella Meris College of our Panchayath and even other such units form Kolenchery College and other schools may be roped in for such massive tree planting and the local SGHs may be given the maintenance of such trees from premature mortality.
We must take up a socio-economic survey with the help of the Ave Stella Maris College NSS, to find out our baseline—benchmark- based on SWOT analysis (strengths, weakness—opportunities, and Threats). These survey results must be discussed in the Grama Sahab meetings and must be monitored and evaluated regularly.
Corruption must be wiped out from the RRMGP. It must be done away with from local police station, schools, Vet hospitals, Agri office, Minor Irrigation office, hospitals, and schools, etc., in any form. The time span from decision-making to delivery of services must be clearly spelled out objectively. RRMGP to become a proactive local government institution with job enrichment and job enlargement, with goodwill to all and malice to none.
There is a need for a new work culture in all the people contact offices. Offices like banks, Village, Krishi Bhavan, Vet offices, Panchayath, minor irrigation, police, and the like must endeavor to change their image as facilitators, not agents of obstruction.
Happiness Index Challenge
It has become of late a major thrust area to focus on. Taking into account the recent pandemic of covid-19, the happiness index of the people around has assumed a greater relevance. It is reported that the Scandinavian countries are the happiest people in the world. Near home, Bhutan has achieved a remarkable rank with regard to the happiness index. India’s rank is 144. We are lower than Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Bhutan. Finland is ranked as the world’s happiest nation for the third consecutive year.Nordic states dominated the top 10, along with countries such as Switzerland, New Zealand, and Austria. Luxembourg edged into the 10th spot for the first time this year. The countries at the bottom are those afflicted byviolent conflicts and extreme poverty, with Zimbabwe, South Sudan, and Afghanistan classified as the world’s least happy nations. The rankings of national happiness are based on a Central ladder survey. Nationally representative samples of respondents are asked to think of a ladder, with the best possible life for them being a 10, and the worst possible life being a 0. They are then asked to rate their own current lives on that 0 to 10 scale. What are the parameters for the happiness index?
It considers six characteristics to rank countries on overall happiness: GDP per capita, social support, life expectancy, freedom to make choices, generosity, and perception of corruption.
RRMGP must undertake such a study to know where we stand as per the happiness Index as well.
- While concentrating on one Panchayat, we must take note of interlacing adjoining areas under other panchayats.
- River (clean water) management has to be done in cooperation with all panchayats in whose area the river is flowing.
- Wastewater should be treated, filtered, and processed and if possible, this wastewater should not be allowed to flow to the river.
- Children’s parks, seniors’ walkways, etc can be included in the rural development road map in each ward.
- Currently, only representatives of political parties are included in all committees. In fact, its important to include experts from non-political forums.
- Sound pollution of all types should be curtailed. There is a menace of public address system, religious festivals, and the indiscriminate use of loudspeakers, etc must be within the limits of strict control so that sick people and students can be spared mercifully from this sound pollution.
- Ramamangalam Grama Panchayath must give a chance to hope. Yes, the hope for posterity enthused by SDGs of the UN.
I wouldlike to placeon record my sincerethanks to Dr. Mohan Ipe, (Rural Health Activist), Dr. A. C. Peter(Charity Activist), Mr. Sumit Surenderan (Former Block President of Pampakuda , Miss Pavithra Acharya and Mr. E P George (President of RMMGP) for their valuable suggestions while formulating this thought process.