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'Welfare to saturation point was YSR's mantra'

September 06, 2009 20:47 IST
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While former Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu wanted development to trickle down to the poor, YS Rajasekhara Reddy believed in welfare of every individual, KS Gopal, founder-member of the Central Employment Guarantee Council, tells Sreelatha Menon

Almost every development programme in Andhra Pradesh is today seen as a model. Was YS Rajasekhara Reddy, who started some of these schemes, the model chief minister that every state could have had?

I would not say he was the model chief minister. But the way he had his finger on the pulse of individuals was great. Besides, the state had a buoyant economy during his tenure. The rain gods also stood by him, unlike in the case of his predecessor.

How was he different from Chandrababu Naidu?

He did a number of things that were the opposite of what Naidu did. Naidu, for instance, raised the price of rice in ration shops from Rs 2 to Rs 5.50 as he was a believer in the World Bank model of reducing subsidies. Naidu wanted development to trickle down to the grassroots. Reddy wanted a welfare state. Though he reduced the price of rice to Rs 2 before the elections, his actions were aimed at giving tangible benefits to individuals.

Was that what made him so popular?

Earlier, people pleaded with MPs or MLAs for reimbursement of hospital fees. He extended this benefit to all. Now, under the Arogyashri scheme, the poor can claim up to Rs 100,000 for hospital procedures. This is something no one can forget. Again, he announced a waiver of fees up to Rs 50,000 for higher education of backward communities and minorities. Again, 108 is a very efficient ambulance service, accessible to everyone. He knew people expected big-ticket actions. Welfare to the saturation point was his mantra.

Will this set a trend?

In today's politics, it does not matter if you give rice for Rs 1 or Rs 2. But if you give a fee waiver of Rs 50,000, the happiness it creates is unlimited. He came up with the concept of saturation. His idea was that if it is housing, everyone should get it. Then, he looked at individual segments. So, he provided interest subsidy to women self-help group federations, as a result of which women are now able to get loans up to Rs 20,000.

Velugu, renamed by YSR as Indira Kranthi Patham and which organizes women into self-help groups, is today seen as a model for development.

Velugu is not a model. The government has set up a society for development work that is carrying out the left out NGO agenda. There is no policy thinking from the government to back it. There has been no breakthrough and it is already breaking up.

The Centre is planning a livelihood mission based on the Andhra model.

If they do it at national level, it will be a national flop. You cannot cut-and-paste programmes. Velugu is a bureaucrat's idea of development. It is not what a group of women would have wanted. It is not a genuine effort to remove poverty.

You and some activists entered into an understanding with the government of YSR on the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme (NREGP). What have you achieved?

Around 400 activists formed a committee and entered into a memorandum of understanding with the state government in May. But we did not achieve what we wanted to achieve. There was no regular monitoring. We wanted transparency on 100 days of work, on workplace facilities, and wage payments. But we are not getting data on any of these.

The new electronic payment of NREGP wages that the YSR government introduced received a lot of praise. It is supposed to ensure transparency.

Yes, there is a website created by Tata Consultancy Services. But it is not the same as having transparency. As long as villagers don't have access to data on payments made to them, it is of no use.

The social audit procedure in the rural job scheme is seen as a model for the rest of the country.

The government has set up an independent centre for audits with the technical support of Aruna Roy's Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh Samiti. This was taken up on a large scale and a lot of NGOs joined it. But it became another bureaucracy and many NGOs withdrew. The problem is that the social audit is being done only to ensure that there is no corruption, that the interests of the government are protected. The process ignores workers' expectations.

What would you suggest instead?

Just outsource data on payments, and NGOs will distribute the information in villages. They should not be content with wages. They should include issues like the time it took to provide work as well as wages and if compensation was paid. These are workers' expectations.

Is corrective action being taken after these audits in Andhra Pradesh?

In Chittur, the collector stopped the scheme for one year because of corruption. Why should workers be penalised for the government's inefficiency?

As a new member of the Central Employment Guarantee Council, what reforms can you suggest for NREGP as many people are looking at the Andhra model?

Andhra has expertise in solving common problems like estimating work. But beyond that, one must see the potential of NREGP to eliminate hunger, to improve skills, to make high-quality investments, and to form workers' organisations.

What is your hope for the state and its development efforts?

There's a desperate need for new ideas. When it comes to poverty alleviation, bureaucrats think they have the perfect solution. But they don't. Running after unvalidated success stories cannot help development.

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