Dying cooperative movement in J&K needs friend, philosopher and guide. That is the way it can go ahead on the path of progress and prosperity
Celebration of Cooperative week in J&K has raised many eyebrows. What is being celebrated? A billion dollar question haunting everybody’s mind. Because, when we assess the activities of the cooperative sector in the State, we are disappointed to come across death of the cooperative movement as on date in sub-tropical region of Jammu, temperate region of Kashmir and cold desert of Ladakh region.
Cooperatives are entirely voluntary organizations to derive economic benefits for its members through common enterprise on the basis of mutual cooperation and self help. By way of association and mutual support individuals can improve their economic conditions at all levels. Cooperation also acknowledges the interaction between socio-economic and political power. Thus recognizes the frequent need either for structural change or for political mobilization for cooperatives to be able to benefit their members, especially the poor. In this context, paternalism and external assistance in the form of leadership, management and finances is considered inevitable as a step towards more voluntary vibrant and self-reliant cooperatives.
Cooperatives serve as an effective vehicle for delivery of agriculture inputs and credit to the agriculturists, marketing of their surplus produce, making available consumer goods for maintaining price-line in the far flung areas and above all instilling basic values which serve as microcosm of democracy. Before independence, it was rural credit movement and after 1947, it was named as consumer movement. Then rechristened as Cooperative Movement. The main principle of the movement is voluntary and open membership, democratic member control, member economic participation, autonomy and independence, education training and information, cooperation among cooperators and above all concern for community.
But these principles as on date have lost their sanctity. Once upon a time, the Movement was pious in the State of Jammu and Kashmir. There have been instances in the past that whenever there was any death in a village, cooperative use d to take care of the rituals. Today no one comes forward to join cooperative, as they visualize their bleak future as far as their economic prosperity is concerned. There no democratic control of cooperatives societies, as the members are not elected. The cooperative department nominates its own board of officers to control a society. It is of utmost importance that peoples’ involvement in the movement is ensured by conducting awareness programmes. But this aspect of the cooperative movement is not being taken care of. No such camps or programmes are being organized anywhere in the State and this too has contributed to the failure of the movement.
Take the case of Public Distribution system (PDS). Gone are the days when cooperative societies were there to provide various consumer items, like sugar, kerosene oil, fertilizers, cloth etc. to the general public and had earned the trust of the people for supply of quality goods. But this system was snatched from the cooperative and privatized where quality has suffered.
The story of cooperative banks is pathetic. Being established primarily for giving agriculture loans, these banks have diverted from their main objective and have ventured into commercial banking. There are instances where these banks have denied a loan to a productive agricultural activity and ensured its death and frustration to the farmers. While past activities of these banks show that miserable recovery, swelling non performing assets, high cost of management, reckless and faulty loaning have incapacitated these banks.
Experts have been pointing out that there is a state created environment In J&K state for cooperative movement. This means they are virtually operating in an environment which insulated them from any real competition and ensured market stability, easy access to capital and a reasonable margin of profits. However, this situation in due course bred a high degree of complacency among the cooperatives and created a culture of indifferences towards the market. Cooperative leaders and managers gradually became oblivious of their obligations to the cooperative members and the latter’s role and place in governance, management and working of the cooperatives. The problem further compounded that the cooperators lacked coordination with each other and they operated not in tandem with each other. As a result their operations are today in disarray. It is worth mentioning that the political will on the part of ruling parties all along had been lacking and instead of giving the cooperative credit structure to function on commercial and professional lines they had been using these institutions as their political tool to meet their political needs. The process of accountability has been virtually non existent resulting into misappropriation, embezzlements and all types of irregularities having a long term affect ion the financial strength of cooperative societies.
A serious thought is needed to ensure revival of cooperative movement in the J&K State. First of all bottle necks should be identified. For example the majority of societies lack financial resources to take up diverse business activities. In other words what we have seen that the capital base of the cooperative societies is weak and they are exclusively dependent on financial assistance from external resources. There is negligible generation of internal resources. Experts have identified low volume of funds flow from NCDC and cooperative banks and have put it negligible. The societies are registered without taking into account credibility or viability report and most of them fail to survive beyond a few months. Most of the time societies are got registered by wealthy and elite class enjoying political power. This has shaken the confidence of people and they doubt the role, relevance and usefulness of cooperatives.
One of the bottlenecks is that the movement is always hijacked by political parties in power and it has been seen that the funds of cooperatives and other resources are misused and diverted for vested interests. There is lack of accountability in the cooperative which has resulted in inefficiency, nepotism, etc. J&K cooperative union as an apex educational institution has failed to instill basic values among members such as members’ involvement and participation, self-help and mutual help, broad based and diffused leadership education, built in process of development, self reliance for development of cooperative autonomy. There is dearth of professionals or skilled persons at various levels in the cooperatives. Even auditors and supervisors are ignorant of their job.
Since cooperatives have a potential to provide unlimited possibilities in the process of socio-economic development of the state, in light of the emerging economic environment, they have to face many challenges to survive and sustain. There is need to restore basic principles of cooperative movement so that it is developed as autonomous, self reliant and democratic movement of the people free from vested interests. The restrictive features of the State laws which tend to inhibit the growth of cooperatives as voluntary and democratic institutions are to be removed. There has to be increased and effective cooperation among cooperative in order to serve more to their affiliates and to develop horizontal and vertical linkages among the societies so as to make the system more integrative to face the emerging challenges. Emphasis should be on diversification of their business activities as it will help them to come out of crisis and become economically viable cooperatives. Need is to go for micro level planning at society level so that each cooperative may function systematically and with some purposes. Even leadership should be effective and responsive.
The consumer cooperative is one of the main sectors where cooperative has to lay emphasis. Consumer cooperative like other business organization needs managerial skills, capital, knowledge leadership etc. which are the main ingredients in such business organizations. It could have lead to prevent exploitation by private traders and to keep check on the price; provide quality consumer commodities to the consumers at reasonable rates; safe guard and protect the interests of consumers and restore better balance between buyer and seller.
Even as role and objective of consumer cooperatives is well defined, it has failed to come up to the expectations of the masses in achieving its goal. These societies suffered heavy losses, the lapses are on the part of planning, organizational and implementation and other internal and external factors like: Lack of managerial skills/ professional management, Lack of security, honesty, dedication and confidence
Embezzlements and shortages, defective working hours., overstaffing, Inadequate resources and political interferences. In order to revive this segment, there should be business planning based on in-depth research only. First priority should be given to augmentation and development of professional management.
Quality of goods should be maintained and better services/facilities given to the consumers. It is critical to have an effective monitoring system in place so that progress of these consumer societies is watched with an eagle’s eye.
Basically the rural farmers are poor, illiterate and are facing socio-economic dualism. There is urgent need to restructure the cooperative system from the grassroots level by involving maximum agricultural households and inculcating social responsibility and credit worthiness among farmers. Micro level planning at society level needs to be initiated effectively and at the same time utilize human and natural resources in an effective and efficient manner. It should be kept in mind that rejuvenation of primary agriculture cooperative societies, cost effectiveness, thrust on recovery, audit rectification and compliance, optimum utilization of manpower, technical evaluation and above effective monitoring are basis for the survival of cooperative movement, which at present is lacking in our system. The times are changing fast and the Movement will have to build innate strengths and resilience. The cooperatives have to stretch themselves to the full and stand up on their own strength. One should not ignore the fact that a cooperative is the creation of its environments and tend to take their characters and features from the general environment in which they exist. Every cooperative is in some way or another a reflection of a certain cultural and political background and indeed must fit into its own society. Proactive cooperatives have to seek to change and adjust and strike new relationships with the external environments.