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For every 40 rural households, a welfare scheme volunteer

Monday May 23, 2011 03:17:31 PM, Prashant Sood, IANS

New Delhi: There will be one welfare programme volunteer for every 40 village households across India in a couple of years. It's a new government initiative after paucity of gram panchayat functionaries and gaps in their knowledge caused tardy implementation of rural development schemes.

Similar to the 'Aam Aadmi Ke Sipahi' (soldiers of the common man) programme of the Indian Youth Congress started by party leader Rahul Gandhi, the programme entails the creation of Bharat Nirman Volunteers, who will be village-based cadres.

"The volunteers will be responsible for facilitating delivery of public services under various government programmes to eligible rural households. They will also forward requests for services and grievance applications to gram panchayats and blocks," Niten Chandra, joint secretary in the ministry of rural development, told IANS.

He said the initiative, started about three months ago in 40 blocks across the country, was not a budget-driven scheme but "a time-consuming, hand-holding exercise to develop the human resource potential in villages".

Chandra said he was hopeful of creating about 10,000 volunteers by the end of this year.

"We intend to organise a national conference by the beginning of next year, once it reaches critical mass with about 8,000-10,000 volunteers," Chandra said.

He however added that it will take years before all villages in the country have Bharat Nirman Volunteers.

"There are 16 crore rural households. It will take a couple of years for the entire country to be covered," he said.

The guidelines stipulate that each volunteer shall be attached to a maximum of 40 households in his neighbourhood.

Volunteers have to apply to block or gram panchayats and will be provided training through state institutes of rural development.

They will be under the charge of a counsellor, who will report to the block development officer. They will maintain a work diary which will be used to award them grades. The top 10 percent volunteers will be given awards at the district and block levels.

Chandra said volunteers will deal with various aspects of rural development like agriculture, watershed development, health and family welfare, education, women and child development, roads, electrification, irrigation, sanitation, broadband connectivity, banking and environment protection.

Ministry officials said the volunteer programme gets its name from Bharat Nirman, the government's ambitious plan to boost rural infrastructure through focus on key areas of water supply, housing, irrigation, telecommunications, roads and electrification.

They said the volunteer programme will be funded from the money available with block and gram panchayats for Information, Education and Communication (IEC) under various government schemes.

The officials said there were over 200 government schemes available in a block in a year which entail substantial flow of funds, but there were gaps in implementation. The rural development ministry has an outlay of Rs.87,800 crore in this fiscal.

"Many of the programmes do not get implemented or there are wide gaps. There are areas of overlap as well. Considering limitations of the existing government machinery, a village-based cadre of volunteers can establish closer contact with people," a ministry official, who did not wish to be identified, told IANS.

He said gram panchayats in most states were poorly equipped with manpower and the knowledge and understanding about government schemes was inadequate.

The official said even in the ambitious Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee programme, delays had been seen in allocation of work to eligible rural households and the pace of several other rural schemes such as Indira Awas Yojana needs to be speeded up.

According to him, volunteers can play the roles of whistleblowers and check corruption in the schemes' implementation. They can also help in creating awareness among small and marginal farmers about various welfare schemes.

"They can work as rural reporters for community radio stations and as banking correspondents. They may also assist the banks in recovery of loans from wilful defaulters and facilitate credit access to families," he said.

(Prashant Sood can be contacted at




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