Rural development can be taken as development of opportunities in rural front to let the people live the life of their choice and in the manner they want. In other words, rural development is a means to secure the inputs at the door steps of the villagers at the time they want and in the manner they want. The villagers are intelligent enough and resourceful enough to husband these resources for their own benefit.
The Government spends a lot of money in order to reach these rural folk. But neither the funds nor the benefits reach the needy. Firstly, the system is urban-oriented. Secondly, the needs of the villagers are assessed, if at all, through the local elite. The programmes, per force, are routed through the local elite or through agents or through people with vested interests. There is little to wonder therefore that the benefits do not occur to the people that need the assistance.
Then comes the role of the Government machinery in this rural development programmes. The Government necessarily has to be rule-bound. The Government officers are liable to be transferred and the programmes are target oriented. All these points go against the working on the rural front. There needs to be flexible operations as the situations are different. The villagers take the programmes in a very slow manner and the inputs that are supplied have to be timely. In other words, the Governmental programmes are not geared to the realities of the rural situation. The Non-Governmental Organisations on the other hand are flexible in operation, are innovative, are not rule-bound, and are working in the rural front with the rural people. This is to say that a non-governmental organisation is the most suitable vehicle to reach the people for their own development. Further, the people that work with the villagers should realise, that they are outsiders and need to catalise the villagers into action. There should be a very concerted action to develop multipointed leadership at the village front. There should also be a very deliberate attempt to foster responsive and responsible peoples organisations like Mahila Mandals and Youth clubs. All these mean that there needs to be enormous patience, enormous flexibility of operations and time to sit and talk with the villagers and work with the villagers. Even though some of the Government officers may be committed and feel like doing all these, but the system is such that they cannot afford the time that is needed. Therefore, this is the time to realise that non-governmental organisations need to be fostered, need to be encouraged and need to be entrusted with responsibility to play their meaningful role in the national development.
Let us now come to the programme of planning for rural development. Most unfortunately, somebody in Delhi or in the capital city plans for the villages. But the beauty and genius of the 5,46,000 villages in India is that no two villages are alike. The resources are different, the attitudes are different and the reactions are different. How then, can there be a uniform programme for development in the entire country? On top of it, the villagers need to be involved in planning their own development programmes. At least now there is a growing need to decentralise the planning and take the villagers needs, aspirations and resources into consideration and let them decide their own line of action. Let us not go with a preconceived notion or preplanned programmes. Let there be an amount earmarked for development. Let it be earmarked to the peoples organisations and let them take the responsibility for implementing the line of action. Can we think in these lines? Can we leave the responsibility of planning the programme and its implementation to the villagers? Can we release the creative energies of the villagers for their own improvement? I close here giving definition of rural development as per Robert Chambers (Rural Development – Putting the Last First, 1983 Longmans). Rural Development is a strategy to enable a specific group of people, poor rural women and men, to gain for themselves and their children more of what they want and they need. It involves helping the poorest amongst those who need a livelihood in the rural areas to demand and control more of the benefits of development. The group includes small farmers, tenants and the leaders.”
This note was presented by Late Dr. BV Parameswara Rao at the National Institute of Rural Development (NIRD) on June 25, 1985