By: Satyakam Bharti
Shimla: In the remoteness of Spiti Valley everything appears to be in eternal stillness except for the biting cold eating away the cold desert. Beating initial winter chill, Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal made a brave attempt to break the monotony of the landscape by declaring a special project for development of model villages in the tribal valley. Officials accompanying him proudly announced that villages of Kibbar, Kaza and Tabo would be the first ones to be developed for “convenience of outsiders visiting the valley as tourists”. The reference of locals came much later, as if an apology.
Efforts have been made by administrations across the country for decades to come up with model villages, but these remained ‘showcase villages’ – not for the benefit of commoners, but guest visitors, donors and those involved in developmental academics. The model village itself never could become sustainable, a basic requirement for it to be called so, and thus a ripple effect always remained a far-fetched idea. The Spiti villages promise to be no different.
Mahatma Gandhi had a great vision about an ideal village, which became the basis of his Gram Swaraj movement, but the idea first fell victim to greater nationalism and then shortsightedness of the later generation of leaders. The nation one again woke up to decentralized governance through the Panchayati Raj Act, but nearly two decades after the Act came into force it is yet to make an impact as leaders are still selling the idea as something very original.
About 40% of India’s villagers do not have proper roads, 1.8 lakh villages do not have primary schools, 4.5 lakh villages have inadequate drinking water supply, and the governments are still talking about developing islands of development six decades after independence. The problem perhaps lies in our feudalistic setup that does not allow governance as an all-inclusive activity. Democracy, afterall, cannot be either socialist or capitalist. It has to be egalitarian, but our leaders want to maintain the status quo by demonstrating what they can do but will never do.
The Chief Minister very proudly announced Rs 3 crore for the Kibbar Model Village Development Project to create infrastructure standardized as basic parameters of development. But to what extend this model may be replicated in villages across the state is doubtful, considering that every panchayat in a way is unique. And above all, is the government committed to invest so heavily in each panchayat.
Anna Hazare’s Ralegaon Siddhi did not come up on generous grants nor did Baba Amte’s Anandwan or R Elango’s Kuthampakkam, and yet today these villages have inspired grassroots development as no other government-sponsored scheme. The state government should understand that a model village has to be sustainable in its own environment and not in a superimposed economic scenario that collapses once the clutches are removed. Infrastructure building at village level should come up from within and not above so that resources too are generated from within.
A model village is one where decision makers, partners and beneficiaries are the same and they follow a multifunctional approach for integrated development to achieve holistic and sustainable development that is reflected in improved productivity and also overall quality of life. And Kibbar village certainly has a lot to go before reaching these milestones.