PARTICIPATORY RURAL DEVELOPMENT AND LOCAL
7.1.1 In spite of two and a half decades of economic development, Bangladesh is still regarded largely as a rural economy. Agriculture contributes about one-third of its gross domestic product and about 80 per cent of its people still live in the rural areas. Further, most of the rural people are poor and disadvantaged. Their sufferings stem not only from low income but also from illiteracy, ill-health, ignorance and various kinds of deprivations. They are particularly vulnerable to calamities, both natural (cyclone, flood, drought, etc.) and man-made (black marketing, hoarding, etc.). Development planners recognise that the upliftment of the poor and backward masses is a pre-condition for the overall development of the country. Successive five year plans of the country, therefore, emphasised rural development with a focus on the rural poor, in one way or another. But in the implementation of this objective, the success was rather limited due to some constraints, at the top of which was the lack of participation by the stakeholders - the poor themselves, who hardly had any influence and control over development initiatives.
7.1.2 Participatory development embodies collective effort by the very people, who are the beneficiaries of development. In a well defined framework the people pool their efforts and whatever other resources they decide to pool together to attain the objectives they set for themselves. Participation is an active process through which stakeholders influence development initiatives and take action that is stimulated by their own thinking and deliberation, and over which they can exert effective control. Participation, thus, may be viewed as the exercise of people's power in thinking and acting and, thereby, realising the essence of democracy in conformity with the constitutional dictum that all power belong to the people. Implicit in this concept of participation is the concept of self-reliance, if not self-sufficiency.
7.2 Some Innovative Experiments in Participatory Rural Development in Bangladesh
7.2.1 The Comilla approach in the 1960s provided the first systematic opportunity for the small and the marginal farmers to participate effectively in the process of promoting agricultural revolution in this country. It had four basic strategies: (a) organisation of the village people into primary co-operatives (KSS) of their own; (b) the integration of these primary co-operatives into the Thana Central Co-operative Association (TCCA) for credit support; (c) an extensive extension training system through Thana Training and Development Centre (TTDC); and (d) development of water resources (along with other inputs) for agricultural development through a Thana Irrigation Project (TIP). Later, this institutional mechanism was modified to organise also the poor women and the landless (in their own co-operatives) for income generating activities.
7.2.2 Based on its initial success the Comilla approach in its second phase, developed a comprehensive thana/union development planning format with focus on optimal land utilisation and crop diversification. The exercise was to be initiated at the village level, to be consolidated at the union level and co-ordinated at the upazila level. During 1965-70, hundreds of officers, people's representatives and other social workers were trained in this format. In the absence of appropriate motivation, the system later degenerated into one dominated by the bureaucracy and the efforts could not be consolidated and applied in full for the benefit of the poor. The Comilla Academy has now developed another format for rural development called "Comprehensive Village Development" (CVD) programme. Under it, the village is considered as an integral whole and all its inhabitants are brought under one umbrella co-operative for comprehensive bottom up development. Since 1984, it has spread into 40 villages (15 in Comilla, 10 in Sylhet, 7 in Sonargaon and 8 in Burichang Thana) as an experiment of local level planning.
7.2.3 In the late 1970s, the "Swanirvar movement", like the Comilla approach, attempted (a) to organise different interest groups at the village level; (b) represent them in an informal village based organisation; and (c) then link them informally with the union parishad on the one hand and the thana officials of the various ministries/agencies, on the other. Its differences with the Comilla approach was that (a) while Comilla approach paid more attention on the small and marginal farmers, the Swanirvar movement tried to bring all the interest-cum-functional groups (large farmers, small and marginal farmers, the landless labourers, the women, the youth, etc.) first under their own informal organisation and then bring them together under a village development committee with approximately two representatives from each group. It had two varieties: under the Sadullahpur model, the local ward member of the union parishad would become the head of this village development committee; under the Kushtia model, the villagers would select (on the basis of consensus) the chairman of this committee. As a model in its two variants, it did not survive beyond early 1980s.
7.2.4 A more successful experiment in poverty alleviation that attracted attention of all in the 1980s was the Grameen Bank. Its main hypothesis was that the poor were bankable. If credit could be advanced to them through an innovative process, they would not only repay the credit fully as per schedule, but also simultaneously generate a dynamic process of production savings and investment that could eventually lead them to graduate to self-reliance. More important, 95 per cent of the clientele of the Grameen Bank turned out to be women.
7.2.5 Role of NGOs at Grassroot Level Development: During this period, the number of non-government organisations (NGOs) also increased throughout the country. The process was helped by easy availability of donor funds for NGOs. The donors supported the NGOs to supplement the government’s delivery system to reach the poor and to play a more creative role to consciencetise them. This argument created an indirect pressure on the government to make its delivery system to be more efficient. The resultant competition between the GOs and NGOs to reach the poor brought the questions of cost-effectiveness, transparency and accountability of using public fund under sharper focus.
7.2.6 The major activities of the main NGOs in Bangladesh can be enumerated as follows:
a. rural physical infrastructure building (food for works, canal digging): mainly by CARE;
b. agricultural development by CARE, CARITAS, CCDB, BRAC, PROSHIKHA;
c. non-agricultural development programmes for promoting employment by the local level organisations;
d. health, population control and family welfare programmes of FPAB, BAVS, BRAC, Swanirvar Bangladesh, National Youth Federation and a number of women organisations; and
e. training and education and consciencetisation programmes of BRAC, FPAB, BAVS, IIRD, etc.
7.3 Main Constraints to Rural Development
7.3.1 In the light of experience gained in the past, the main constraints to rural development seem to be the following:
a. Although "village" was the basic geographic unit and constituted the bottom-most entity for identification of development needs in rural areas, there was hardly any "effective development organisation" in it. Frequently, it was held that an average village in Bangladesh was too small to be regarded as a formal organisational unit. On the other hand, without such an organisation, the villagers, particularly the rural poor, found it difficult to effectively participate in the development process.
b. There are a number of government agencies for service delivery at various tiers of local government (district, upazila and union) but, in the absence of effective "clientele" organisations, the delivery structure had remained somewhat inaccessible and inefficient. In particular, this system did not reach the poor and the disadvantaged in all cases.
c. The various efforts to organise the people at the grassroot level through local government bodies also did not succeed, as in the absence of democratically elected government, these bodies were used to serve political interest of the power that was in the central government. As a result, local government bodies in Bangladesh proved to be more of an extended arm of the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development and Co-operative and, as such, they could not grow on their own. In particular, they remained heavily dependent on the government for their resources and initiative.
d. The government personnel who were sent to the rural areas to work for the poor, largely proved to be inadequately motivated for participatory local level development (for various reasons such as inadequate training, incentive structure, logistics, etc.)
e. No effective mechanism could be developed for co-operation and co-ordination at various tiers of administration (district, upazila and union). The need for effective co-ordination increased overtime in response to the expansion of development activities in the rural areas.
f. The understanding of the decision makers of the need for and effectiveness of "participatory local level planning" was rather poor. Most development planners (including bureaucrats and technocrats) thought that such participation was unnecessary mainly because of ignorance and illiteracy of the poor. The usual emphasis was on the need for educating the poor before they could effectively participate. For the intervening period, therefore, the preference was for a top down decision making process.
g. Although there was a broad consensus that Bangladesh being a labour abundant country should convert its surplus labour into productive capital, in practice, the decision makers could not clearly prescribe the process through which this goal could be achieved.
h. The banking system expanded in the rural areas quite rapidly in the 1970s and 1980s, yet heavy dependence of the rural poor on the informal sector (e.g. money lenders who charge high interest rates) continued strangulating their creative potential to contribute more to the national growth.
7.3.2 The inability to clearly formulate effective strategies to overcome the constraints made the provisions of "safety net" (e.g. food for works programmes, vulnerable group development programme, rural maintenance programme, etc.) a necessity rather than taking effective measures for income generating activities as the main vehicle for poverty alleviation. In the 1980s, however, the poverty alleviation efforts through income generating activities of some government agencies and NGOs multiplied but in most cases, their coverage and cost effectiveness remained low.
7.4 Strengthened Local Government Institutions
7.4.1 The present government, in compliance with the relevant fundamental principles of state policy, in pursuance of its commitments to the nation and in following generally the recommendations of the Local Government Commission, will establish a four-tier local government institutions at the village, union, upazila and zilla level. These institutions will be known as Gram Parishad (GP), Union Parishad (UP), Upazila Parishad (UzP) and Zilla Parishad (ZP). GPs will be established in each of the 9 wards of every union of the country, while UzPs and ZPs will be also established respectively in every upazila and zilla of the country; except that in the three zillas of the hill-tracts area where existing ZPs will, subject to some modifications following signing of the Peace Agreement for the hill tracts, continue to function. UPs have been strengthened following the recent fair and impartial election. City corporations and paurashavas have been functioning without interruption.
7.4.2 In fulfilling the commitment of the democratically elected government, each of the local level institutions will have well-defined and extended functions to carry out. The gram parishads, for instance, will participate in the preparation of development programmes/projects to be undertaken for increasing production; maintenance of rural infrastructure (e.g. feeder roads, bridges and culverts); development of local natural resource base; supervision of primary schools, madrashas and maktabs and motivation of guardians to send their wards to schools; creation of awareness about health and health care; implementation of drinking water supply projects, especially regarding the selection of sites for sinking tubewells; establishment of co-operatives/associations for carrying out socio-economic activities; collection and preservation of vital statistics like dates of birth and death, marriages, etc.; maintenance of law and order in the locality; undertaking socio-economic survey of households in all villages; etc. The gram parishads will keep the union parishads posted about their functions and problems. The local government institutions at other three levels will be entrusted with similar functions at varying levels of responsibilities and authorities, including the authority to raise resources for financing local level development activities.
7.4.3 Standing Committees for such fields as (a) law and order, (b) health and family planning, (c) agriculture, irrigation and environment, (d) education, social welfare, development of women and children, (e) sports, culture and youth development, (f) fisheries and livestock and (g) other fields as felt necessary will be established to assist the local government bodies at all levels in conceiving, designing, formulating and implementing local level development programmes/projects. Priority areas of development and resource mobilisation responsibilities and authorities will be indicated for the local level bodies.
7.4.4 Development of local government in this country brings in the concept of "devolution" vis-a-vis "deconcentration" of decision making power into sharp focus. Under a system of "decentralisation" based on deconcentration, the central government retains the decision making powers; only some responsibilities for implementation of the central decisions are given to the local authorities. In contrast, under a system of decentralisation that is based on devolution, it is the "decision making power" that is handed over to the local government institutions by the central government. Devolution establishes reciprocal and mutually benefiting relationships between central and local government implying that the local governments are not subordinate administrative units but exclusive authorities in their areas to be able to interact reciprocally with other units of government in the political system of which they are integral parts.
7.4.5 Genuine devolution must vest in various tiers/spheres of local government clearly following delineated administrative, judicial, financial and developmental roles as envisaged in Article 59 of the Constitution. Such devolution will not only contribute to good governance through rational sharing of powers and responsibilities between the central government and the local government bodies, but also lead to greater success in the management of development programmes/projects and better delivery of services through more efficient discharge of respective functions. Moreover, people's vote will be seen to be bearing fruits and democracy will be seen to be functioning at the door steps of the voters when they will witness that the representatives elected by them to the various tiers of local government are in fact contributing to the upliftment of their lot. Needless to say, such visibility is very vital for democratic culture to take desirably deep roots.
7.4.6 Enhanced Developmental role of Municipalities and City Corporations: In the context of its new vision of local government, the present government will entrust the municipalities and city corporations with enhanced developmental roles in their respective areas of jurisdiction. In providing civic amenities to citizens, these bodies, more often than not, depend on other agencies for building up infrastructural facilities and generation of utilities and other services. In a departure from this age-old practice, the present government will encourage and empower the municipalities and city corporations to undertake increasingly more development programmes/projects for catering to the needs of citizens. They will be called upon to monitor and oversee educational institutions as well as health and family welfare services facilities. To enable them to meet their increasing financing needs, these bodies will be empowered to mobilise and raise additional resources through broadening the existing base of taxation and issue of innovative saving instruments, including bonds and debentures. They will also be given the role of co-ordinators to co-ordinate amongst different service producers and service providers. Towards these objectives, a substantial share of powers and authorities of relevant ministries/divisions of the government will be delegated to the municipalities and city corporations.
7.5 Strategies for Participatory Planning During Fifth Plan
7.5.1 Alleviation of poverty and employment generation are the central objectives of the Fifth Plan. Given the market failure, the public sector must play the role of a catalyst in associating the vast segment of the populace who are under privileged and often are left out of the development process. Local level participatory planning, therefore, will start with building a mechanism where people, at large, specially in the vast expanse of the rural areas, will provide inputs to the planning process of the country; and people at the grassroot level, through consciencetisation, consultation and participation, will get the scope to determine the local needs and priorities and integrate them into an overall planning exercise of the country through their elected local bodies.