“India is not Calcutta and Bombay; India lives in her seven hundred thousand villages.”

Mahatma Gandhi mentioned the above statement more than half a century ago. Even today, the statement holds true. As per the Census of 2011, nearly 70% of the country’s population still resides in rural areas. Hence, it becomes obvious that for developmental efforts to materialize into socio-economic growth, our efforts must cater to the needs and aspirations of this large populace.

As SPARC Associates, we at Swaniti Initiative are trying to plug the developmental gaps that exist in governance mechanisms and ensure that India’s rural population walks hand-in-hand with the rest of the country. In Hon’ble Member of Parliament A.P. Jithender Reddy’s Mahbubnagar Lok Sabha constituency, nearly 90% of the population lives in rural areas. Unlike the case in big cities and towns, where one doesn’t give much credit to government schemes and policies, in the rural district of Mahbubnagar, every single central or state government scheme makes a big difference in people’s lives.

For instance, just last week, when I visited the adopted village of Mr. Reddy’s, Mogala Madaka in Damaragidda Mandal, I interacted with approximately 20 people working under as part of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). Based on my conversations, I realized how MGNREGA guaranteed them the fundamental human right of employment and helped them become economically secure. I also met 7 pensioners, including 3 widows and 4 elderly people. These people were very satisfied with the pension amount they received and reported no glitches, except for sometimes when their thumb impressions did not match with the biometric system. Having said that, not all villages are as efficient in providing governance as Mogala Madaka, which having been adopted by an MP, is an outlier. For most villages with local social structures and underdeveloped market forces, the established mechanisms of governance play a huge role in day-to-day activities and the schemes guaranteed by the state form the foundation of the society. Hence, it becomes essential to renew focus on the reach and efficiency of established government schemes in rural India. Softer aspects such as awareness and attitude change need to go hand-in-hand with every ambitious program of the government. As part of the SPARC Program, I hope to do just that.

Case in Point: During my first visit to the village, I found that less than 5% of the houses had toilets. While the Government of India has been promoting and showcasing the success of the Swachh Bharat Mission, the people in Mogala Madaka village did not understand why open defecation was an issue. Targeting the behavioral understanding of the villagers, a visit and triggering session from the Collector & District Magistrate was organized to communicate the message. This, despite highly impactful, was not enough. Livelihood patterns are based on years of trends and a deep behavioural impact needs sustained impetus. Even as I write this blog piece, everybody in the district is working dedicatedly to continue the process of awareness generation for increased usage of toilets.

Another example is that of how anganwadi centres in villages operate. These centres must act as the single most important point of prevention of hunger and malnutrition. These centres are largely expected to have their own buildings. However, upon analyzing government data, we found that most of such buildings are rented. I was shocked to find, through my field visits, that till until recently the permissible rent for the centres was merely Rs 200 per month! Consequently, most of such centres were operating out of small spaces and sometimes the anganwadi workers paid rent out of their own pockets. There is a deep-rooted need to fix such issues at a policy level. This is where we at Swaniti Initiative can help make a difference – by highlighting such issues to the respective officials and helping formulate data backed effective policies and development planning.

The aforementioned examples shed light on a very small percentage of the problems afflicting India’s villages. While consecutive governments have tried to reach out to every nook and corner of our country, clearly the road ahead is still very long and full of unexpected speed-bumps. In an increasingly advancing world, for India to become a leader, such villages need an overhaul in their basic governance systems. It is time to ‘Spark the Change’ in rural India.

Harshvardhan Sharma is working as a SPARC Associate in Mahbubnagar Constituency with Honourable Member of Parliament, Mr. A. P. Jithender Reddy