'Back to Village' Programme

The bankruptcy of governance and acumen of development administration is evident from widely publicized and media hyped, so-called “Back to Village’ programme. In its official website, the state government claims that,” In a first of its kind, the government of Jammu and Kashmir has embarked on an ambitious and extensive programme of reaching out to people at the grass-root level to create in the rural masses an earnest desire for decent standard of living” . The present development administration seems to be ignorant of its track record of planning and development history and also the commitment and selfless dedication of its predecessors.

 We were preoccupied with the preparation of Fifth Five Year Plan (1974-79) and first ever Tribal Sub-Plan for Gujjars and Bakerwalls and also Approach Paper of Fifth Five Year Plan in the Planning and Development department during 1972-73, while the then Commissioner for Planning and Development, a senior most officer in development administration hierarchy, prepared his schedule for “Back to Village” programme. The Secretary to Government, Commissioner for Planning and Development along with multi-disciplinary team of officers from all development sectors visited the areas identified in the district to quantify development-gaps, public feed-back and ensure public participation in the development process. In respect of Gurez Niabat, to quote report, “ I visited most of these areas and head of the teams of senior officers representing various disciplines of the departmental hierarchy in the State” ( Report of the Multi-Disciplinary Team on the Development- Gurez Niabat, 1974, P 2, Planning & Development Department, J&K Government). The Planning Commissioner visited Karnah Tehsil, Matchil Area, non-motorable areas of Poonch, Rajouri, and Doda, Mahore Tehsil, Dudu Basantgarh, Bani Niabat, Lohi-Malhar and Machhedi Patwar halqas of Billawar Tehsil and other areas of the districts in the state in routine discharge of the legitimate duties and functions. The Planning Department would then document reports district-wise and area-wise and these reports must be available in the archives of the said department. This practice was followed for long in routine and executed with supervision. There was no media hype nor the visits made with specifics. It used to be routine legitimate functions of the development administration in various hierarchies. Similarly the state is pioneer in the country in switching over to decentralized development process through the mechanism of what is referred to in administrative parlance, “single line administration’. The state had at that time acute scarcity of data and fragile data-base.

The sample crop cutting surveys carried out by revenue department in coordination with agriculture department and planning department would arrive at realistic estimate of farm production, productivity and acreage data which stands discarded since.

The state is trapped in acute economic crisis precisely due to disconnect between the gross-root/ masses and the governance, the development administration.

Agrarian crisis

Agrarian economy of state has shrunk and devoid of generating wage-employment and sustainable incomes so much so it emerges a losing venture. The structural change demonstrates the consistent decline of average size of holding from 1.07 hectare in 1976-77 to 0.62 hectare in 2011 (Agricultural Census 1971 to 2011) and in valley alone 72 percent holdings are of size less than 0.5 hectare, that is, destitute- farms, that cannot provide bare subsistence to cultivating households. There are 91 percent holdings less than 1 hectare which account for about 65 percent of cultivable area. The share of agrarian economy in state gross domestic product has steadily gone down from 48 percent in 1974-75 to 16.18 percent in 2017 (Economic Survey, 2017), while the employment from 68 percent to 41 percent (Census 2011) during 1961-2011. The food-grains production has registered an increase from 13 lac tons 1980-81 to 17 lac tons today with growth stagnancy in production and productivity. The government’s commitment to growth and development of farm-economy is stated in Economic Survey, 2017 in the following words: “National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture proposes to achieve various objectives to make agriculture more productive sustainable remunerative and climate resilient by promoting location specific integrated/composite Farming System to conserve natural resources through appropriate soil and moisture conservation measures, to adopt comprehensive soil health management practices based on soil fertility maps… judicious use of fertilizers etc…” (ES, 2017, p 89). Can super hyped “Back to Village” programme  retrieve farm economy through its sponsored schemes like National Mission of Agricultural Extension and Technology, National Food Security Mission, National Mission on Sustainable Agriculture, etc and change its existing structure.

Irrigated acreage

Irrigated acreage is claimed 3.56 lac hectares by the revenue department, the custodian of land records, while the area under fruits and vegetables 1.08 lac hectares. On the other hand, the department of horticulture claims area under fresh and dry fruits 3.37 lac hectares, that is, 67.40 lac Kanals as against the claim of revenue department of 60 thousand holdings and area under fruits and vegetables 21.62 lac Kanals. Which land data are correct remains a question for last several decades. The data base, a fundamental perquisite for efficient development planning particularly for rural development must be central focus in “Back to Village” programme and if the rural data base constitutes major fault lines in village economy landscape, how can the said programme ensure reliable and efficient feed-back.

Village economy

 Despite high potential with under-utilized capacity, the bovine economy continues to be an import substitution sector wherein “Back to Village”programme can pay dividend. While the annual milk production has touched 2357 thousand meteric tones in the state in 2017 and assuming the estimates are correct, the per capita production of milk is estimated about 500 grams per day which is a significant break-through in dairy development. But why is 50.9 thousand quintals milk powder imported annually?. It means that the state has high consumption of milk which does not appear to be realistic. Similarly availability eggs per capita per day stand 0.15, red meat 0.0074 Kgs and white meat 0.0014 Kgs (ES, 2017) far from the minimum consumption requirements. If “Back to Village” programme, a routine and legitimate function and duty of officials/officers, can ensure sustainability of village/rural economy by infusing measures of import substitution policy, its long term impact can be felt over the period in terms of income, wage-employment generation and towards self-sustainability. But it is essentially a political-economy issue not within the competence of district development administration.

Unemployment

While the state is preoccupied with quantitative expansion of higher education institutions, the employability of educated manpower produced in these institutions remains a pressing problem. The recent NSS report (2019) reveals a high rural and urban unemployment based on UPS (usual principal status), the structure of existing courses, programmes, course contents reduce pass-outs without degree of serviceability as these are neither market-driven nor industry-link based, hence generate huge unemployment with long term social and biological implications. The entrepreneurship promotion and training programmes hardly demonstrate physical outcomes visible on the ground. Therefore, chronic unemployment shall sustain a pressing issue in the state. The”Back to Village”initiative is expected to quantify the development schemes outcomes, shortfalls and requisite policy amendments through proper documentation. Does it happen?. 

(The author is Former Member, State Finance Commission, J&K Govt.)