J&K: BACK TO THE GRASSROOTS
The government’s ‘back to village’ programme has been received with cautious optimism
On June 22, a team of government officials from Jammu and Kashmir’s ‘Back to Village’ programme were surrounded by a group of angry women at Surnhall village in the state’s Budgam district. The village’s only source of water, in the absence of a piped connection, has been a stream, from which women lug back untreated, unsafe water each day. Repeated pleas to officials for a safe water source have fallen on deaf ears.
During the week-long programme, that began on June 20, thousands of villagers lamented the lack of roads, electricity and water. The grievances were noted by officials, who also carried out inspections of anganwadis, schools and health centres. The exercise has seen massive public participation, including
in places in South Kashmir that are a hotbed of militancy and had remained largely inaccessible to politicians since the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in 2016.
An officer, who conducted the exercise in Baramulla, says the programme has generated hope among people. The hectic exercise, officials say, is a strategically designed programme to ensure that rural needs are met. It includes interactions with the gram sabha and the villagers. There is also a reading of a letter by PM Narendra Modi and discussion on issues like healthcare, education, livelihood, etc.
The officials have asked villagers to form three-member audit panels to take responsibility for achieving longterm objectives. A 32-year-old in Shopian, however, says that he’s cautiously optimistic and hopes that the exercise is not just a photo-op. “Past experiences have discouraged us from taking up any issue with our legislators,” he says. “We hope the government sticks to the purpose of the programme.” That might be for the best, since the officials have been instructed to not make commitments on behalf of the government.
Sheetal Nanda, secretary, department of rural development and panchayati raj, says that the programme will help in tailoring rural schemes. In the face of the devolution of Rs 3,000 crore to the J&K gram panchayats under the 14th finance commission, the programme is expected to significantly improve the rural infrastructure and energise panchayats.
SYLVAN DEAL Chief secretary B.V.R. Subrahmanyam (in khaki jacket) at a ‘Back to Village’ programme in Gurez, Jun. 24