January 19, 2018

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TS Heading For A Social Change Through Small Districts And Strong Villages

By Dr Dasari Srinivasulu

True to British Economist E. F. Schumacher’s maxim, ‘small is beautiful’, 21 new districts have been carved out of the 10 existing districts in Telangana, making the total number in the new State to 31. It was aptly done on October 11, 2016, coinciding with the Dussehra (meaning: destroying the evil) festival; that amounted to ending the evil of peoples’ inaccessibility to the administration. The people-centric approaches are the core tenet of Schumacher’s philosophy; his collection of essays is thus named, “Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered”.

I wholeheartedly welcome this emergence of small districts, since I have personally witnessed the woes of people in the large districts. When I worked as the district head of Adilabad and Medak, I observed the people living in the far-flung villages of Bejjur, Dehgam and Tiryani Mandals of Adilabad and Jagdevpur and Dubbaka of Medak travelling hundreds of miles to reach the district headquarters.

People’s Woes

I used to often wonder – rather with tear-filled eyes, to put it honestly – if their problem of accessibility could ever be abated. This occurred to me every time I watched the crowds waiting in anxiety to meet me outside my ‘camp office’, meaning the office at my residence, a British vestige in nomenclature continuing to this day. They required to travel, may be overnight, without regard to the condition of roads and means for transport.  There was no guarantee, even after all this and after hours of wait, that they could meet the officials who are always ‘busy’; they had plenty of meetings to attend and Dauraas (tours) to undertake, of course, putting the responsibility of receiving the appeals of people on the backburner. Then, they had left with no choice but to wait another night and day and try their luck.

It used to occur if I could at least arrange to build some cottages in the collector’s premises for their overnight stay, like the ones built in temple precincts for the benefit of pilgrims. I couldn’t give a practical shape to the idea, however strong was my desire to do, but could somehow arrange it in the social welfare hostels and residential schools. This kind of arrangement, I am happy, would now turn redundant with the small districts coming into being and the distance between the people and the headquarters reduced.

Naturally, people will be happy as it wouldn’t require that much time and labour as before to meet the district officials. But a Caveat: the benefit of small districts percolate to the people only if the officials stay in headquarters, be alive to their problems and dispose of the issues with sympathy; otherwise, all this would turn chimerical and people are not going be the real beneficiaries of the scheme of new districts, painstakingly undertaken.

The average area of the old districts of Telangana was 11,000 square km against all India’s 4,000. The population density of these districts was equal to two times the national average. Another justification: Punjab and Haryana which occupy an area equal to just 40% each of Telangana have 40 and 50 districts respectively.  Telangana ranks 9th among the Indian states with small districts and 12th in terms of population which lent added support for raising its number of districts to 31. 

However, the matters, like the rationale for determining the number of districts ideal for the administrative convenience, the selection of headquarters of each district, optimum number of revenue divisions and mandalas, cannot escape a    continued debate and analysis.  The officials and employees should better leave these things for the political decision and play their assigned role with all the sincerity and dedication in pursuit of achieving the real goals of establishing small districts, the people’s welfare.

Evolution of the administrative system

It will be useful to touch upon, though briefly, on the evolution of administration over time. The structure and functions of administration have naturally been reflective of the ruling class character and interest of the given time. The slave and feudal societies had their own means of controlling the people and keeping the social order, the rulers wanted. The modern society which is of recent origin, only 300-year-old, had changed the character of the administration as it imbued the thoughts of democracy and equality which have been continually strengthened as the society made strides towards perfection. In tandem, the goals of administrative mechanism, too, kept changing. Although the present Indian system had its British roots and still ridden with some age-old practices, it has undergone overwhelming changes to suit democratic India. In fact, revenue collection besides maintaining the law and order was the principal goal of the British India district administration.  That was not to be so after independence.

As for the Telugu States, after 1984’s revolutionary change in village administration and ‘Mandal’ system, the present bold step of small districts will distinctly standout in the post-independence administrative reforms.

Administrative vacuum

While changes are welcome, a strong alternative should replace the dismantled structures. Unfortunately, that is not happening at a level commensurate with the needs of people. The lacuna is clearly discernible in the village level reforms, although the villages are the real bedrocks of district administration. After uprooting the hereditary system in villages, more than 30 years ago, no effective alternative system for the discharge of earlier function has yet been arranged. For instance, Telangana used to have a Mali-Patel, a Police- Patel and a Patwari in every village. Under the Mali-Patel’s supervision the village irrigation resources used to be effectively managed with collective participation of the villagers. With the abolition of Mali-Patel post, these resources came under the management of the Panchayat Raj and irrigation departments which have failed to manage as efficiently as its predecessor system did. Similarly, no alternative arrangement is made for the Rojnamcha (the daily report) prepared by Police-Patels. These reports helped to identify the movement of the strangers in the village as they used to record the names of new visitors, their stay, the place from where they came to the village and the names of suspicious persons. Police Patels used to send the report to the nearby police stations, thus helping the crime prevention in good time.

Replacing all the three functionaries, Police and Mali Patels and Patvari, with only one village official called village revenue officer/assistant is being appointed. Add to this, there is no sufficient number of employees whereby one village head is put in-charge of several villages for a long time with the resultant inefficiencies in the village administration. Needless to add, the superstructure, the district administration, built on the weak base, the village administration, would naturally be infirm and can not deliver the goods. Also, the village level officers require thorough training to make them understand their duties. It is good that the government, of late, has realized this need and is understood to be in the process of making arrangements for their effective training.

Reforms at village level

Also, to ensure good governance, the government has already brought in changes in some new districts, their revenue divisions and Mandals. But the more important village reorganization still remained untouched. There is no change in the big villages, their hamlets, the depopulated and forest villages. It would be beneficial in terms of supervision and administrative convenience to reorganize villages into smaller entities based on their number of landholdings and area.

The recruitment of village-level survey staff is urgently called for in the Telangana. More importantly, to set the revenue- forest disputes, the Mazars should be notified as revenue villages. Good if simultaneous panchayat divisions are also undertaken. Without regard to major, minor and notified differences, the government should take initiative to organize small panchayats basing on population density and the area occupied and should help with sufficient funds and assign the tasks for the overall development.

The hamlets, Tandass inhabited by scheduled castes and tribes should be made special panchayats to facilitate their faster development and to ensure the reach of the benefits provided by the government to them. It is heartening to note that the government has already initiated some steps in this direction, together with bringing the small districts to the fore.

Reaching out to the bottom of pyramid

Small districts have the potential to bring rapid socio-economic transformation in the state with a focused approach to reach out to the people at the bottom of the pyramid. The people too will have a confidence that the administration is close to them and is with readiness to provide all the help they expect from it. Not only in development administration, the small districts will also help establish better law and order. The coordinated actions of the revenue, police and judiciary will bring in new synergies. Enough care should, however, be taken, through proper retraining of the functionaries, to avoid the familiarity breeding the contempt.

The very purpose of the small districts as asserted by the state’s chief is to ensure better governance for the benefit of the people. The portfolio allocation in the state cabinet has given enough hints on the equity concerns. The district administration should emulate the approach.

The reforms necessary

As for the other reforms suggestible, each district need not necessarily have the same cadre officers when the nature and type of the schemes implemented differ. Similarly, some departments do not require branch offices. All the district officers need not stay in the district headquarters; they should stay at a place close to the Mandals of their work focus. This would help avoid waste of time and money. Depending on the nature of work, sometimes it may be feasible to appoint one officer in charge of two to three contiguous districts.

Having worked as a District Collector I am privy to a situation where the people did not know about the existence of some offices at all. The departments like the commercial tax, mining and geology, registration, endowments, and water resources special divisions are some of the examples where people never knew about them; even I did not see the faces of some officers heading these departments. This redundancy should go.

While this is so, we often hear the complaints of lack of staff, or skilled personnel in several departments which suggest an unfortunate situation of surplus staff and high talent at the department where it is not required and the opposite at the other departments. Also, we see unutilized talent in the government. For instance, there are excellent officers, particularly among group-1 and 2 services, recruited by the state public service commission who are no way inferior in knowledge and skill to the all India service officers. But their competencies are not utilized nor they get good career advancement incentive. These officers can be pooled into a common cadre and their services be utilized in all the departments without confining them to a single department. As a further step, they should be treated as state administrative service officers like the erstwhile Hyderabad civil service and A.P administrative services. IAS and IPS officers should be groomed out of the state service. This would wipe out the wrong feeling that one service is superior or inferior to the other.

End to archaic practices

The birth of small districts should revive these thoughts of administrative reforms. Yes, there should be a beginning of the end of archaic administrative practices. The routine bureaucratic noting like, ‘please examine’, ‘for your perusal’, ‘for appropriate action’ should become things of the past. The practice of forwarding a complaint to the complainees’ which is in most cases turn counterproductive should be avoided. This amounts to giving a go-by to the good administrative canons of increasing accessibility to officialdom and ensuring its accountability with the increased public awareness and participation. There are umpteen instances of the complainees’ vindictive actions on complainants due to this thoughtless response of the superior officers to whom people look for justice.

Readiness for urbanization

Another focus area with an eye on future development is the impending urbanization. Now only 40% of the population live in cities and towns. This percentage is likely increase to about 50 in next ten years. The fast growth of Ranga Reddy district started 38 years back with six assembly segments and six lac population now reaching to 14 constituencies and 52 lac population is a case in point. A similar eventuality with the new district towns is very much likely and the development of the growth centers should be carefully planned with a future vision. The growth of the villages, Mandal and other towns should follow a planned path to avoid the haphazard growth pattern experience in and around Hyderabad. Working out master plans is the immediate need for the orderly growth in future.

Telangana is only about a 3-year-old infant which require all the care to groom it into a full person. All the functionaries in 31 districts have the responsibility to carefully nurture it with all the dedication and devotion to its all-round development. The Human Development Indicators (HDI) recently suggested by the Centre for Economics and Social Studies (CESS) should be taken note of for concerted action. It is gratifying to note that seven out of erstwhile ten districts are moving very fast in industrialization. But only three districts are making tangible progress in agriculture. There is a lot to be achieved in the area of literacy, public health and nutrition.

Viewing the districts after their reorganization, Ranga Reddy turned to be an IT city, while Medchal, Sangareddy and Peddapally are making big strides in industrialization. Similarly, Kareem Nagar is housing seed industry, Khammam becoming popular for irrigation facility, Adilabad is growing as a forest district, Sircilla for weaving and Warangal, Yadadri, Bhadradri and Jagityalas getting recognition for the cultural heritage. So, the development plans should be worked out factoring in  the resources and special opportunities available in a given district. This would facilitate the even development of entire state without giving room for any regional imbalances.

Telangana is a culturally developed state which has grown between the sacred rivers of Krishna and Godavari. ‘Palapitta’ (Indian roller), ‘Tangedu Chettu’ (Senna Auriculate) and ‘Jinka’(Deer), are the Telangana state’s symbols which truly symbolize its culture and tradition. The ‘Batukamma festival’, the people fondly celebrate is a special attraction. The festival denotes different colours in life. It preaches against falling prey to the illusions of life but to tread a virtuous course. The piling of ‘Batakamma with flowers of different colours conveys different meanings. The yellow flowers (Tangedu) at the bottom signifies human birth, the white (Gunugu -Silver Cock’s comb) flowers indicate childhood and growth and Gummadi Puvvu (flower of the squash) adorns the Batukamma’s head and the turmeric symbolizes old age and divinity. Immersing batukamma after nine days celebrations remind the inevitable in human life, that is death, which reminds everyone to be good to others and to do good things in life. So, let us do good and hope for the eternal development of Telangana and the welfare of its people.

(The writer is a senior IAS officer and a social activist working with Sanchari, an organization dedicated to the development of the cultural nomads)

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