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Ground realities and impracticalities

On Sun, 29 Nov 1998, Shashi Shekhar wrote:

> - What kind of a Virtual Community do I have in mind    There are 100s
> of Developmental Agencies/NGOs/Social-Workers     working in far flung
> areas of the country. They work with minimal    resources at their
> disposal and have an uphill task on their hands.    These are the people
> who working at grassroots. These are the     people who have their ears
> to the ground and know whats like to    live in the reality thats India.


We have had the model of community development since over 40 years in
India now. We have one of the largest network of NGOs in the world.

So far so good.

>  What good is a policy which looks
> great on paper and on web-sites    frequented by urban academics and
> intellectuals if it
>     - is not physically accessible to the millions that make up
>         India.

Paper still retains a tremendous cost-effective advantage in making a
20-30 page document easily available to all corners of the country. It
is easy to supplement it through language translations made freely
available on the web.

>      - cannot be communicated in lay man's terms in a language best
>        understood by them.

The focus of our manifesto, if you check out the web site, is to make it
v.easy and clear for everyone to understand. Lay man's language.

>      - finally if the policy doesnt reflect the reality thats India
>        its no good a policy. Its as wishful and impractical as a
>        "Network of T1 Lines" :) . (no offense meant).

The people who have written this document have been fully immersed in
the 'reality' of India for decades. Many, including me, have lived in
villages, worked in rural areas for years, opened and operated non-gov.
organizations in rural areas. That is one claim that can never be made
about the policy we are working out.

>    The point that I am trying to make is that - the policy gains in
>    credibility, value and its content gets enriched not by endorsement
>    by Milton Friedman but if it receives the active feedback and
>    inputs of these millions of people who it intends to serve. 

Precisely. We are therefore going to, in the next stage, get feedback
from about 10,000 people across India. The stage after that would be to
publish the document and to get feedback across each corner of India, as
well as to continuously update the document till it takes care of all
possible objections. All this is stated in the "Action" plan on the web
site if you will be kind enough to please check it out.

>    Whats the best way to tap the pulse of the grassroots - the pulse
>    of the grassroots are these 1000s of development workers. It is
>    they who shall make up this virtual community to begin with.

There is no doubt that we need to get in touch with labor and farmer
organizations, NGOs and others, and we have been working with many, on
this list itself. E.g., the MV Foundation which works on child labor,
has members on this list; now we have India's largest farmers'
organization on this list. We were waiting for Sharad Joshi to get
network connectivity. He now has an e-mail. I hope he will soon join.
Bunker Roy and many others, I know them personally, and as soon as I
hear they have an e-mail, I will request them to join. Development
Alternatives was contacted but they have not yet cared to reply. The
Humanist movement of India, and the feminist radical movement (Manushi)
is associated with this list. The movement against corruption
(Transparency International) is associated in the debates. And many
others. You are most welcome to write to all organizations that you know
of to join these debates. Lok Satta has been contacted twice by me but
no response yet. I am trying my best to get grassroots feedback. Dr. V.
Kurien was contacted and he said he is v. busy. My fingers ache and my
mind races with eachnew person whom I find on the internet working in
the positive direction. Unfortunately, not everyone has decided to spend
time with us. 

About govt. machinery at the 'grassroots' level, I advocate abolishing
it completely, except for a minor subset. We have completely sqaundered
resources on lining the pockets of people in the field. I have spoken on
this at length based on my experience in managing the rural development
progarams for about 8 years in Assam, including at the state level as
Director, Rural and Panchayts. Please check archives.
> How do we go about deploying such a network, I discuss in my next mail.

You have a v.good understanding of India's telephony and communication
needs. Thanks for the info.

> We need to co-ordinate efforts and draw up an action plan to test and
> see how Linking Developemental Activists through a Virtual Community can
> be effective.

In my opinion, there is no need for more than what we are already doing.
Many of us are either writing to those we know of, or are searching the
web and contacting those who have opened up to the rest of the world.
Private enterprise has brought IPI to this stage where nearly 20
organizations are working together now. It will continue to draw in the
concerned people across India. 

It does not need "planning" but action. Take up an email and write to
those whom you know to join us. That is all. We are 140 of us. We have
to use the exponential laws of networks to attract this virtual
community. If we are good they will come. If we are a waste of time,
they will go away. Let there be no plans. Let us act.
> I think a good test would be to see how it can help disseminate a draft
> policy initiative, build up public opinion and debate and momentum to
> see it translate into legislation.

We are already going to do it thro' the strategy outlined above,
including dissemination thro' the web.

> The action plan should be on the following lines
>    - Identifying as  many grassroots Development Agenices as possible.

There is no need to do that. Those who are competent are already getting
on the web. It is in their interest to get themselves listed and
networked. That is already happening.

>    - Obtaining from them a data bank of grassroots workers and the
>      profile of the areas in which they work and the activities they
>      are involved in.

We do not wish to do costly things like this on this list. We are not
the big brother. Estimate the cost, find out the benefit. Tell me why
this is necessary.

>   - Collating all this data from multiple development agencies and
>     identifying identical development programs being undertaken by
>     different individuals in different parts of the country.

That is a worthwhile effort, but we are paying the Ministry of Rural
Development to do that. The fact that they spend thousands of crores
each year (as against Rs.1,400 spent by IPI per year so far) and have
prepared some such compilations, but these are not on the web. They
should do that. They are paid for that. However, this effort will soon
come up automatically on the web. In the USA, eg. central databasese are
not needed. The internet helps us find any info that we want since each
agency puts up its best info on the web.

>   - Choosing a development area as a test area and contacting workers
>     working in those areas. Initially we choose regions which are
>     are connected by telephones and the workers have access to a
>     private telephone.

This will automatically happen on its own. It does not need you or me to
"choose." If it is worthwhile to the actors of the NGOs, they will do
it. That is the because they have local knowledge of what is good for
them. Simply privatize all telephones and the internet and you don't
need to plan for them.

And so on.

I hope I have illustrated why it is best to go for good economic policy
(i.e., privatization of the telecom sector, and internet) rather than to
try to intervene within the confines of a completely messed up system.

If you have any doubts about the relevance of what I am saying, just
keep in mind that prescriptions like yours have been tried by
technocrats (who think they can plan) in all sectors of India's economy.
Millions of pages of detailed plans have been written by avid
bureaucrats and planners and technocrats. All to no avail. All they
needed was to get OUT OF THE WAY!

Read Sharad Joshi. He has lived with farmers (grassroots) for most of
his life. He talks as follows (from: http://www.angelfire.com/in/swatantra/

* Allow our cotton traders in other states to cross state

* Levy prices for sugar must be uniform all over the country.

* Allow joint stock companies of farmers and consumers to operate chain

* Essential commodities act be scraped.


Farmers and rural folks are badly crushed by bad policy. Just liberalize
the economy and you won't need any of this centralized networking or
planning from young folk fresh out of college who have never lived in
the rural areas, nor seen and implemented centralized plans and

Networking will take place AUTOMATICALLY! That is the sum and essence of
the argument. Just write to 10 agencies whom you know of. Act. Don't
just plan. Do it!


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