By R S Tolia • Random Thoughts • 10 Nov 2015

Munsyari. Life after superannuation from an active civil service has long been a subject of animated debate, especially among those who for some reasons are not able to return back to their roots, or places they hail from. As far this writer is concerned he has been looking forward to it as it was not his fortune, being a second generation civil servant, to have spent much time in his ancestral village. Fortunately, as his entire span of career has always been full of 'rural-tourism' ( Robert Chambers ) allowing him innumerable visits to the rural areas of as large a state as Uttar Pradesh, home to vast regional diversities. Compare the life and culture of say Bundelkhand with Eastern UP, or Western UP with the Hill regions and add to it the heart of it all, te Awadh. Each region with its vast population and distinct culture was a world in itself, each of the five regions being much larger than any major European country. Indeed, the so-called UP Cadre for all practical purpose was a combination of so many sub-cadres. Many civil servants tended to egt attached to a particular region and went back to it again and again. 

Many Shades of Rural Life

It so happened that this writers career took him, time and again, to sectors that were very intimately conected with rural -life of Uttar Pradesh. Commencing with Co-operatives in mid-1970s, when India was going through a phase of consolidation of co-operative sector, making them self-reliant, from one village one cooperatives to multi-purpose co-ops, saw him getting involved with the rural populations from close quarters, especially their economic-development via the co-operative route. Engagement with this deeply rural sector even saw him visit the rural areas of Japan and an emerging South Korea. It was an eye-opener to find out that the biggest lobby in the Japanese Diet ( their Parliament ) was Co-operatives, next only to all-pervading Steel lobby ! Anything that had something to do with the rural people automatically was entrusted to the village co-operatives. So much so that even the Insurance sector was in the hands of the Co-operatives. South Korea was just coming up and it was strongly believed that South Korea would soon give its big neighbour Japan, a run for its Yen. Which it indeed did. This writer's early infatuation with the co-operative sector somehow never deserted him and even in this globalized economy his soft-corner remains reserved for the co-operatives. Rural sector, one after the other it was, agriculture co-ops, sugar cane- co-ops, dairy co-ops – you just name it. It remained a creer full of co-ops all through. As the colonial  model of co-ops was basically aimed at rural upliftment, as it was called way back in 1905, Lord Curzon's GG-ship, co-ops became synonymous with rural development. So, rural assignments kept following, one after the other, and that sub-consciously also ruled in favour of a post retirement life, a continutaion of the active career likes.   

Many Shades of Co-operatives

Co-operative , as they say, is the Third Sector, the other two being the Government and the Private Sector. Ideally speaking, the colonial brand of co-ops basically meant a regulated version of what later came to be known, in the rural development parlance, the Self Help Group ( SHG ) approach, or variants thereof. Exposure to various sectors within the co-operative fold also exposed you to a multi-layered rural-life. It surprized this writer no end, when he took charge of another co-op sector, that when in an earlier co-op sector, he had jardly been aware of this side of the rural life. Indeed, the complexities of Indian rural – life become clearer when one has seen te rural life from the glasses of different economic sectors. A simple looking farmer is in fact a farmer who wears so many hats and more you know of him, over the years, your respect for him grows and grows, when you get to know his resilience to survive against all kinds of odds. From the co-operative lenses an ordinary looking farmer appears nothing short of a great manager of rural resources. His real potentialities was best recognized and demonstrably leveraged by Verghese Kurien, the AMUL Man. He demonstrated the real capabilities of an average India farmer.This writer had a great fortune to work with this Savior of Indian farmer, for three plus long years, as a part of Operation Flood II Phase, handling UP's PARAG milk brand. His tenure with UP Co-operative and Dairy Development sector allowed him to experiment with the Women Dairy Co-operatives and Intensive Dairy Development projects, both pioneering efforts of their own genre. It only helped firm up his confidence in the capabilities of an ordinary Indian villager, in any part of the country.

Institutions are the Key

Like the AMUL co-operatives experience has demonstrated the secret of success in rural development lies in buildng institutions, nuturing them in several ways. One clear approach to sustainable development is that for each economic sector one has to figure out an appropriate institution, give it a 360 degree examination and systematically build it, making it system compliant, alwasy adding incrementally to its continuous growth. The main responsibility of the man at the helm of affairs is to ensure that the institutions that represent his sectors activity, or activities, are nurtured and all efforts are directed at their strengthening. As Uttarakhand moves forward one parameter of assessment of its forward march is to review the growth and development of various, village-level institutions, that in sum reflect the presence of the government of the day, through its activities carried out through its various institutions, with or even without the government /budgetary support.

To paraphrase this approach of assessing the performance f the Government through the health of its various institutions, that interface with the common mant. It means, the health of primary and other tiers of  education, health, Gram Panchayats, Van Panchayats, Self Help Groups, Federations, primary Co-operaives, and so on. Departments thus are to be assessed for their performance ONLY THROUH THE HEALTH AND PROGRESS OF ITS INSTITUTIONS AT THE CUTTING EDGE LEVEL.  

Government, Co-operatives and Private

As government alone cannot be expected to do every thing it follows that the State has to take on board all players who constribute to socio-economic development. This brings in very strongly the rle that gets performed by the Co-operative, representing the stake-holders at large who get together and for m co-operative to do so,as share-holders. Globalisationd increased opening of the Indian policty has brought in the Privae setors much more strongly and ona much larger canvas of activities. In short, it is not only that the senior civil servants should be worried about that gets done though the government bugdgetary support, but through any channel, be it co-ops or the private sector. Departmental perspective remains just focussed to what gets done through the government budget and what else is being done, whcih may be on a far bigger sacle by say either the private sctor or the co-ops does not get even noticed and acknowledged by the officials cncerned. This change in the persepective to look at the development action in the field that has to be officailly changed and encouraged, through several processes, including a mandatory reporting of such non-government efforts, in each and every field..

If nothing else, this would bring in efficiencies in performance of tasks, any sector, when the same work being done by another sector gets compared.

Institutions as Competitive Platforms

When development activities, inclusive of every activity that today gets performedd by a pubic sector, get performed by more than one sector the need to compare and contrast is natural and its imperative that the ultimate judgement is left to the public who is allowed an opportunity to compare the performance of various sectors on a single platform. Competitive and transparent performance of tasks brings in yet another role for institutions, namely a periodical exhibition where all are expected to share with the public at large what all they are doing, as per their allotted tasks, and with what efficiencies ? Annual Exhibitions, organized offically or by the civil society, serve such a purpose. Why these should be favoured over the government organised Exhibitions is that the periodicity of the latter is nor certain, while that of the former is far more certain. Further as such exhibition is being held by a neutral aganecy, a civil society organiztion, any comparaion of task performed would be more objective and proven. What is the state of development exhibitions periodically held in the state as also at the dvelopment block level ? No, definite information seems to be available. Records woud show that since time immemorial such publicly organized Exhibitions were quite regular, very often linked to some major religious day of the annual Calendar. the  there were famous Trade Fairs, that served a dual purpose of being an exchange platform of good and services, and served the purpose of introduction and awareness building of various government schemes. As Exhibitions have also served a major cultural purpose, preservation and nurturing of local culture, though fine arts performance etc; which is also a namajor official activity these days.     

Rural Exhibitions and Trade Fairs

Uttarakhand hilly region's earliest efforts at accelerated developent soon after its take over fro the Gorkhas in 1815 were consciously ruted through three Great Trade Fairs that followed a natural cycle of movement of the traders, in symbiotic harmony with the agricultural operations. Jauljibi Fair at the confluence of the Gori and Kali, at Jauljibi, an Indo-Nepal border confluence, followed by Bagehswar, along the Sarda or Saryu, and Thal, along the Ramganaga in Kumaon division, and similarly at Gauchar, in Garhwal, are testimony of this most significant role of an institution called Exhibition and Trade Fair. Early British officers saw in it a major economic intervention between the agri-surplus cis Himalayan regions of Kumaon and Garhwal, and mineral and wool-surplus regions of the Nari Khorsummregion, across the High Himalayan Passes. These four Trade Fairs were out and out an economic exchange activity, which also help bond the people, who so closely depended on each other. These activities also supported varous banking, whe asale and retail trade, processing industries in suitable places and support of live-stock wealth. While there is adequate evidence of this trade exchange remaining a mahjor fulcrum around which the depressed hill economy was revived till it got linked with the Gangetic plains ( including Calcutta and Sikkim ) and the Punjab do-abaa ( Lahore-Karachi ).  

Cessation of Indo-Tibetan trade since 1960s and better road and other links has completely altered the context, size and nature of these Annual Trade and Exhibitions, which are now reduced to a show of officailly aided and archestrated events, with a hevy dose of commercially driven cultural exvaganzas. It is here a major revamping seems called for, as with better connectivity having become the order of the day the very same events can be suitably tailored to revive socio-economic interventions, not only y the state agencies, but by a whole range of stake-holders. This could, in the long run, also lead to arrest of out-migration from some of the hinterland regions, wost affected by the globalisation phenomenon.

Shri Hari Pradarshini 2015

The just concluded 62nd edition of a small local Annual Exhibition, held every year during the first week of November, known as Sri Hari Exhibition, is a case in point where for the last few years this Exhibition is being organized in a manner, that addresses manty of the issues mentioned above. Village Malla Dummar, sonme 14 kms away from the sub-divisional headquarters, had been continuiing but it was evident that slowly the out-migration of the two communities of Jangpangis and Brijwals, two Johari Shaka tribal sub-groups, was affecting its size, in terms of people attending it, and its original objective of being an annual exchage depot of agricultural,and woollen products, as well as local competition, was no more its main attraction. Worst, the oocal authorities evidenced almost no interest in its activities and drastically reduced youth man-power was about to prove its nemesis.

To cut a long story short, this Annual Exhibition, once a major attraction for all agriculturists, return transhumance populations and woollen handicraft practioners, is now being revamped via several new interventions . both by the Organizing Committee, as well as with the support of several other civil society organisations, which also have common interests.

The three days events this year have resultantly ended with a large number of cultivators, who engage in cultivation activities, both agriculture and medicinal plants, in the 14 higher Himalayan villages, being taken to a training visit to a locally established Herbal Nursery and also a visit to recently set up innovative Herbal Garden. Bot nurseries ae aimed at improving herbal cultivation at both the places, in the 14 upper Himalayan villages, as well as am equal number of villagers, to which they resort during the winer months. Past two years sustained efforts had also led to preparation fo a relevant herbal project, that specilises in local or endemic herbal production of economic value plants. The Exhibition this year was used to firm up past two years efforts, clection of seeds and training of woemn herbs growers, soon after the annual event, which has also been integrated via another institutions, Mall Johar Viakas Samiti, the latter establisged 9 years back to tarck the problem that these tribal villagers encounter. 

Hill agriculture received another boost this year when the Director of the Almora based ICAR instituton personally participated in the second day programme, along with senior scientists of this organization. His personal visit not only catalysed the spirits of the organizers bu also made the ICAR scientists of the extra ordinary difficulties that these villagers face in high Himalayan villages. Certainly, this year's development s in Herbala nd Hill agriculture sectors, has linked farmers, farmers institutons with two state level centres of excellence in the fields of Herbal development and Hill agriculture. Publications brought out by the state herbal Institute has considerably improved the confidence of the farmers as well as the local functionaries. To cap all this, major private sector companies have been introduced into the region, thanks primarily to the revamping of this ancient Exhibition.

Increased socio-economic activities have naturally led to resurgence of cultural conscieouness of the various village groups, which have been participating in thie old Exhibition, all these years. Traditional dresses and traditiona folk songs and dances have now made apperances, which is so very evident, and a result of this interest in the Exhibition.

Increased activities and resultant publicity has also attracted the village disapora who now take mucjh more interest in the devlopment and promtion of this annual Exhibition. Financial support has also started pouring in, both from the public as well as some government departments. Sustained efforts in reviving this annual exhibition has now encouraged the organising committee to make this annual event as the major event of the entire Munsyari block. This was reflected both in the visit of the Disatrict Magistrate and other officials, and presentation of several demands for local development by the organisers and the public men who were at hand, thus paving the way of officail support for sebveral new events and development activities.

Sri Hari Pradarshini is a good example how even a small event as a local exhibition can be turned into a platform for awareness generation, return of migrants populations even for a brief period, revival of villages that had started showing signs of being abandoned by its residents and more importantly, with improved image of the event and resultanat facilities, have made the elders and some youngsters to think in terms of turning round the village, re-populate it via new and economically beneficial activities, now tha year after year they see that with better connectivity and improved attenton the life in the village may be far better than a shifting to a hot, sultry and uncertain destination, some 300 kms away in the plains ! 

Gaon Banao vs Gaon Bachao

Shri Hari Pradarshini is like what is known in development parlance as a an 'entry-point' for state intervention in its fight against out-migration from remote hilly villages, of which Malla Dummar is a good example. What is required is a conscious state policy to re-activate all such institutional innovations, especially those controlled, regulated and managed by the local populations. Selectively, every block and group of Gram Panchayats could be helped to select Annual Exhibitions, which are not anchred in any religious-event, as that may be sligjhly off the mark, in terms of objectives of such revivals. Constitutionally also its arguable whether events which are essentially of religious nature could be supported by the State ? It may not be a bad idea where no such development events, held annually, are in place consider commencing one with the help of some well known civil society organisation.

Tail-piece : Going by his personal experience of being involved in re-designing of this 62 year old annual fair, for some years now, he could safely say that this has proved to be a most educative and challenging experience of rural development in his entire career. Uttarakhand reknowned for its cultural traditiona thus has several challenges for all retired persons like him who could back-stop Gaon Bachao campaign via revival of such fast vanishing village events.



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Pics by Ajay Kanyal from neighbouring Berinag.

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