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Since many years, Mr Shasma has been working for the development of his village of Chakol, the place he lives in and represents. He is militing for local governance policies based on participation of rural communities
12 / 2001
Local governance is the base of rural development and democracy. This is the opinion of Mr Suresh K Shasma, who is an active member of the Zila Parishad (local assembly) of the district of Kangra, in Himachal Pradesh. In this area of India, the local governance has been distributed through different levels. The Gram Sabha, the village assembly, is the first level, the next level being the Gram Panchyat, which is located at the existing or potential growth centers, covering a group of people villages, its representatives being elected by people for a period of five years. According to Mr Shasma, there is a need to activise the Gram Sabha, the first level, and to broaden the base of Gram Panchyats, so that the forces of interaction could bring villages together in a wider community with wider viability. The strengthening of these institutions is a necessary prelude to rural development, since the Panchayats plan, execute and monitor all the development programs, like minor irrigation projects or education. The whole concept of local governance (Panchyati Raj institutions) was evolved on the Gandhian principle in which the village was made the center of planning. In this philosophy, the implementation of development was based on the active participation of rural people in the decision making process, when the upper level of administration and political bodies were to draw authority from the base. The need for a rural participation in the day-to-day affairs of local governance can be summarized in these 3 principles: 1- To make the community development programmes relevant to the need problems of the people 2- To transfer decision-making authority to villagers regarding developmental work 3- To encourage participatory democracy But this process has to face the specificities of the Indian rural scene, still dominated by feudal structures. Mr Shasma stresses that the dualism of capitalist and poor segments result in unequal exchanges giving the socially dominant classes enormous economic benefits such as cheap and assured labour, better terms for leasing land gains, etc. Enormous power gets concentrated in the hands of these socially dominant classes, who are also therefore better equipped, which not only helps tham dominate the economic activities of the area, but also make them politically powerful. The poorer sections, in turn, remain passive, ill organized and therefore in semi-feudal, invisible bondage of perpetual impoverishment. This is accentuated by the large extent of illiteracy or inadequate education amongst rural populations. Therefore, rural poor became the object of politics and never the subject. So any development programme for the poor tend to deviate from the poor and gravitate towards the richer section of the village society. According to Mr Shasma, another problem comes from the bureaucratic system of rural planning, when the rural society resists too formal approaches. In these areas, a rich native wisdom has been acquired over a period of several generations, and people are still closely related to each other. Moreover, varieties of indigenous skills have been sustaining the economical, social and even pychological needs . Outsiders, professionnals, and bearers of modern scientific knowledge should step down off their pedestal and sit down, listen and learn! Since many years, Mr Shasma has been working for the development of his village of Chakol, the place he lives in and represents. First elected in 1984, he has been reelected in 1990. A village level NGO, the "Youth Club for Social Warfare" was created in 1991, to look after the interest of young people in the village. Through the support of this club, many of the young people managed to find jobs inside and outside of the State. Later one hall has been constructed to carry out their activities. In order to be more efficient, this association has been affiliated to a National level organization, the "UDGAM-Delhi" . Many benefits have emerged from this initiative: - development of a good coordination amongst the rural youth - participation of the youth in various social, religious and economic activities of the village - increased self confidence and mutual support Mr Shasma has other plans for the future, and proposes various activities to increase the development of his village, such as: - to improve the declining agricultural system - to motivate farmers to change their traditionnal agriculture with modern methods - to inculcate among villagers a concept of sustainable development He is also militing for a free system of education, in which modern techniques of agriculture and horticulture should be included.
The traditional structures of power in India are also related to the cast system, which generates violent tensions within the society. Concerning education, one should also mention the big gap within the global Indian system, with very high illiteracy rates for the "masses" but excellent education for scientists, computer engineers or intellectuals. These policies have probably contributed to the growing distance between poor, rural people and the urban elite.
Local Governance and rural development in India Mr Suresh K Shasma, District Council (Lila Parishad) Baijnath, District Kangra (HP), India PH: 00 91 189463410
This file was made in an interview at the World Assembly, Lille, France, dec.2001.
Interview with Mr Suresh K Shasma
Faculté des Sciences Economiques et Sociales de l'Université catholique de Paris - 21 rue d'Assas, 75 006 Paris, FRANCE - Tél. : 33 (0)1 44 39 52 00 - France - www.icp.fr/fasse/index.php - fractal (@) easynet.fr