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On the eve of the 50th anniversary of India’s independence on August 14-15, 1997, the then President K.R. Narayanan listed our adherence to a democratic system of governance and our launching a green revolution in agriculture as the two most important achievements of the first 50 years of what Jawaharlal Nehru christened “India’s tryst with destiny.” At a consultation held at the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation in Chennai at the beginning of th e new century, it was proposed that two major goals for the 60th anniversary commemoration should be a hunger-free India on the lines proposed by Mahatma Gandhi in 1946 at Naokhali, and accelerated progress in human resource development through a knowledge revolution in rural India. Based on a series of consultations, two Missions 2007 were launched through multi-stakeholder consortia, one for eliminating chronic under- and mal-nutrition, and the other for rural knowledge connectivity.
Unfortunately, the progress made since 1997 in the elimination of child, maternal, and adult malnutrition as well as in improving our rank in the U.N. Human Development Index has been poor in relation to our capacity to achieve them. It will therefore be worthwhile to review briefly where we are today.Mission 2007: a hunger-free India
Over 200 million children, women, and men go to bed now partially hungry. Jointly with the World Food Programme, MSSRF scientists have analysed the causes for the persistence of widespread chronic hunger and presented the available information in two atlases relating to food insecurity in rural and urban India. These atlases provided valuable guidelines for the preparation of a road map for the elimination of chronic, hidden, and transient hunger and resulted in the development of the following seven-point action plan. This plan was developed on considerations of both affordability and ease of implementation.
1) Restructure the delivery of ongoing nutrition support programmes on a life cycle basis.
2) Universalise the Public Distribution System (PDS) and enlarge the composition of the food basket by including a wide range of nutritious cereals, millets, grain legumes, and tubers based on local preferences.
3) Introduce a food-cum-fortification approach for eliminating iron, iodine, zinc, and vitamin A deficiencies and accord priority to overcoming chronic and hidden hunger in pregnant women, and in children in the 0-2 age group.
4) Promote the organisation of community grain and water banks by local communities with the gram sabhas providing social oversight, and promote the concept, “store food grains and drinking water in every village.”
5) Pay particular attention to safe drinking water, primary health care, and nutrition education.
6) Enhance opportunities for on-farm and non-farm employment through the bio-village model of human-centred development, and improve the productivity and profitability of small farms (small farm families constitute more than 50 per cent of India’s population) through integrated crop-livestock farming systems and improved post-harvest technology.
7) Introduce a Food Guarantee Act combining the features of the food-for-work and the rural employment guarantee programmes; the use of food as currency benefits both farmers and urban consumers, since farmers will produce more if consumption is improved. In addition, household nutrition security is strengthened.
While releasing the Food Insecurity Atlas of Rural India at New Delhi on April 21, 2001, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee commended the goal of ‘Mission 2007: a hunger-free India’ in the following words:
“Democracy and hunger cannot go together. A hungry stomach questions and censures the system’s failure to meet what is a basic biological need of every human being. There can be no place for hunger and poverty in a modern world in which science and technology have created conditions for abundance and equitable development.
“The sacred mission of a “Hunger-free India” needs the cooperative efforts of the Central and State Governments, local self-government bodies, non-governmental organisations, international agencies, and, above all, our citizens. We can indeed banish hunger from our country in a short time. Let us resolve today to make this Mission substantially successful by 2007, which will mark the sixtieth anniversary of our independence.”
The National Commission on Farmers also endorsed the above strategy for achieving sustainable nutrition security. The Common Minimum Programme of the United Progressive Alliance Government contains a commitment to achieving universal nutrition security as soon as possible. Unfortunately, an integrated strategy is yet to be put in place with the result that the goal of a hunger-free India is nowhere near accomplishment.Every village a knowledge centre
The second Mission 2007 relates to the knowledge and skill empowerment of rural families with the help of information and communication technology (ICT). Mission 2007: every village a knowledge centre stimulated developments such as the following:
1) The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) launched a village resource centre programme at the block level involving satellite connectivity and teleconferencing facilities.
2) The Department of Information Technology, Government of India, launched a common service centre programme designed to cover 100,000 villages.
3) The Ministry of Panchayati Raj, Government of India, decided to provide to each panchayat the necessary ICT infrastructure to enable it to participate in the e-governance programme.
4) ITC Ltd decided to expand its e-chaupal programme in order to cover 50,000 villages
5) The MSSRF has organised so far 80 village knowledge centres and 15 cillage resource centres.
6) Many State governments, public and private sector companies, academic and financial institutions, and NGOs have organised village knowledge centres in different parts of the country.
Thus, Mission 2007 has triggered a national tele-centre movement for bridging the urban-rural digital divide and for ensuring knowledge connectivity in areas relevant to the day-to-day life and livelihood of rural families. The Government of India has included knowledge connectivity as an important component of Bharat Nirman or a New Deal for Rural India.
A national alliance has been formed for Mission 2007 — a broad based coalition of government, non-government, academic, and business sectors committed to the cause of taking ICT to all the 600,000 villages of India. In addition, with the generous assistance of Tata Trusts, the MSSRF has established a Jamsetji Tata National Virtual Academy for Rural Prosperity (NVA) and a Jamsetji Tata Training School. The NVA has currently 985 Fellows from India and 25 Foreign Fellows drawn from Afghanistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Nepal, and Nigeria. These grass roots academicians are the torch-bearers of the rural knowledge revolution.
From August 15, Mission 2007 programme will grow into a Grameen Gyaan Abhiyan, a national movement for knowledge empowerment of rural families. It is hoped by 2010, the Abhiyan will cover every village and home or hut in the country.
The Green Revolution helped to increase the productivity of crops such as wheat and rice. The knowledge revolution, on the other hand, helps to enhance human productivity and creativity in several dimensions. The Grameen Gyaan Abhiyan will be based on the following organisational structure:
1) Every block will have a village resource centre with the help of ISRO.
2) Every panchayat will have a gyan chaupal or village knowledge centre with the help of the Department of Information Technology, the Ministry of Panchayati Raj, civil society organisations, NABARD and financial institutions, multilateral donors, the academic and private sectors, and bilateral and multilateral donors.
3) The last mile and last person connectivity will be achieved through combinations of the Internet and community radio, and the Internet and the cell phone. For example, fishermen in catamarans will be guided through cell phones on wave heights and location of fish shoals.
While connectivity can be achieved, content creation and capacity building will be the greatest challenges. The content has to be dynamic, demand driven, locale specific, and in local languages.
A major role of the Grameen Gyaan Abhiyan movement will be the establishment of linkages between scientific know-how and field level do-how. For this purpose, village resource centres and village knowledge centres will have to be intimately linked with appropriate programmes such as the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan for literacy, the Yuva and Mahila Sakthi Abhiyans of the Ministry of Panchayati Raj, the National Rural Health Mission, the National Horticulture Mission, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme, and so on.
To expand the number of those being provided relevant information and services in retail trade in fruits, vegetables, and grains as well as on methods of safe handling, packaging, and marketing, a quality literacy movement based on Codex Alimentarius standards of food safety is being launched in association with the Central Food Technological Research Institute, Mysore. The Grameen Gyan Abhiyan will launch a knowledge on the wheels programme for the provision of services relevant to rural livelihoods. To start with, soil health care, water conservation and management, eye care, and post harvest technology will be covered with mobile vans designed by eminent institutions such as Sankara Netralaya in the case of eye care.
As a single step, the rural knowledge revolution is likely to have the largest beneficial impact on the physical, economic, and social well-being of the more than 700 million people living in villages. Poverty will persist under conditions where the human resource is under-valued and material resources are over-valued. Once the Grameen Gyan Abhiyan spreads, there will be a perceptible impact on the parameters governing human resource development. This, in turn, will lead to a paradigm shift from unskilled to skilled work in villages. This is the pathway to achieving the first among the U.N. Millennium Development Goals, namely the eradication of hunger and poverty.
(The writer was Chairman of the National Commission on Farmers.)
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