We wonder why some NGOs make so much noise about lack of “people’s empowerment” when village panchayats in Salcete cannot find any “people” to become members of village development committees? Aren’t social activists no better than politicians they love to skin alive day in and day out – just good in words and poor in action? Where are the “bhumiputras” after all? September 9 was the deadline by which every village panchayat was expected to constitute a village development committee (VDC) to be eligible for central funds according to the recommendations of the 14th Finance Commission. But most village panchayats in Salcete – with the exception of Curtorim – failed to form a VDC as villagers did not show interest in joining it. How often do we hear carping harangues from social activists now operating in dozens in every nook and corner of Goa about the personal greed and social indifference of sarpanchas and panchas, about lack of devolution of funds to panchayats, about the “common people kept out of the development process”, about the “mockery of grassroots democracy” and what not?! Why can’t social activists get really active for once and go out and camp in the villages of Salcete and not dismantle their camp until they have motivated enough number of “commoners” to join the VDCs for participatory planning and development?
Social activism has come to mean nihilism in Goa. It has very little of positivism. What can be the threat to Goan identity from a village development committee? Will village Goa be destroyed by VDCs or be built the way people want it? VDCs offer opportunities to ordinary villagers to participate in village development. They can decide what they want and what they do not. People who do not have connections or high standing in local society can become its members and thus leaders within the village community. All that is required is hard work and dedication to be invested in the development of village community. VDCs would be a microcosm of the gram sabha and hence crucial to fostering community power and community responsibility. It would represent all generations and both genders.
Villagers in VDCs would be involved at every step of village development. They would be responsible for carrying out an assessment of community needs and for generating ideas and designing projects to fulfill them. The underlying assumption is that villagers know their specific needs better than the state government officials. Every rural community exists in a different environment. It has its own peculiar assets and liabilities, surpluses and deficits. While in certain areas such as health and education the needs of all villages could be common, most needs and priorities of a village community are unique and the VDC could tailor them accordingly.
Through VDCs village communities will have ownership of development projects, right from conceiving to implementation to constant monitoring. Rural development can be effective and sustainable. VDCs can improve infrastructure, social services and productivity. VDCs can also help rural Goa pass through the transition from agricultural to non-agricultural economy with lesser pain. As the focus of attention in rural areas gradually shifts from agricultural cultivators to rural entrepreneurs, the village community can foster entrepreneurial and management skills and micro businesses through VDCs.