J&K: BACK TO THE GRASS­ROOTS

The gov­ern­ment’s ‘back to vil­lage’ pro­gramme has been re­ceived with cau­tious op­ti­mism

India Today - - STATES - By Moazum Mo­ham­mad

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

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