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A New Beginning for CAPART

The Hameed Committee has come up with recommendations that could go a long way in reinventing the Council for Advancement of People's Action and Rural Technology. It could also trigger a long overdue process of public sector reforms in rural development.

A New Beginningfor CAPART

The Hameed Committee has come up with recommendations that could go a long way in reinventing the Council for Advancement of People’s Action and Rural Technology. It could also trigger a long overdue process of public sector reforms in rural development.


he Council for Advancement of People’s Action and Rural Technology (CAPART) is an autonomous body within the ministry of rural development, registered under the Societies Registration Act. CAPART is the single largest government agency supporting voluntary sector work for rural development. It is a unique institution at the interstices of state and civil society in India – a reaffirmation of the state’s responsibility to facilitate civil society action in national development. But over the years, there have been many questions regarding CAPART. Its reputation has taken a severe beating. Allegations of inefficiency, political meddling and corruption have become routine. No surprise then that “CAPART reform” was among the recommendations of the mid-term appraisal of the 10th Five-Year Plan. Following up on this, an expert committee was constituted in September 2005, with Syeda Hameed (member, Planning Commission, in-charge of voluntary action) as chairperson. The committee, mainly comprising representatives from the voluntary sector (including this writer), was asked to review the functioning of CAPART and suggest steps for its reform.

The Hameed Committee has come up with a truly radical report that could go a long way in reinventing CAPART virtually de novo. If similar changes were to be made across all departments dealing with rural development, they could usher in a new era in rural governance, service delivery and programme implementation in India. The aim is to convert CAPART into an institution that it was always meant to be but never quite was – one that energises voluntary action, while maintaining the highest standards of quality and openness. The main thrust is debureaucratisation and professionalisation of CAPART. Strict

Economic and Political Weekly February 24, 2007 accountability of performance is to be ensured against well-defined outcomes. These will be specified in memoranda of understanding (MoUs) signed with officials appointed for fixed tenures of at least three years.

Chiefs Not Motivated

Over the last 25 years, there have been as many as 24 director generals of CAPART, with hardly anyone getting a term of more than a year. These were all IAS officers of the rank of secretary or additional secretary to the government of India. It is not clear that in every case the person appointed was really interested or strongly motivated to meet the unique, imaginative demands of the job. Often CAPART was seen as a “soft” waiting option before promotion or retirement. The two deputy director generals of CAPART have again mainly been IAS officers.

Major changes are suggested in this topheavy structure. These posts are opened for competitive selection (through a search committee route) from persons with a proven track-record in rural development and the voluntary sector. These could be development professionals, academics, persons from the voluntary sector, as also keen bureaucrats, with at least 15 years of outstanding work in rural development. They will sign MoUs with clearly spelt-out annual goals and outcomes against which their performance will be assessed. Renewal of the contract will strictly depend on performance. It is only on the recommendation of the CAPART executive committee that government would be able to terminate their contracts. If they are to join CAPART, IAS officers of additional secretary seniority will have to agree to work for the full term of three years even if this involves in situ promotion.

The Hameed Committee finds that a high proportion of the staff currently employed in CAPART consists of drivers, peons and chowkidars. It suggests rationalisation of staff, contractual appointment of professionals and an appropriate voluntary retirement scheme for all current staff without requisite qualifications. Today CAPART is no different from many government offices, with loads of files piling up and papers going missing with uncanny regularity. Undue delay in sanction and release of funds is the order of the day. All this has to change. To foster a culture of transparency and accountability, a complete overhaul of CAPART’s archaic information technology division is required so that all procedures, guidelines, status of applications/projects are available on-line. Since monitoring has been a crucial weak link that led to several fly-by-night operators gaining entry into the CAPART fold, professionalisation of monitors and a novel process is to be put into place through which monitors would themselves be subject to peer review.

In view of a recent unhappy chapter in the history of CAPART, the Hameed Committee wants it encoded that no CAPART official would have the power to execute fundamental changes in the policy, operational guidelines and vision of CAPART on his/her own, without prior approval by the executive committee and general body. It suggests a moratorium on changes in guidelines and procedures every now and then – a cut-off date for adoption of new guidelines must be decided and then it should not be subject to a review until at least another three years.

Changes in Governance

To make all of this possible, vital changes are proposed in CAPART’s governance structure, including a more transparent and

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Economic and Political Weekly February 24, 2007

non-partisan process of selection of chairpersons and members of the general body, executive committee, national standing committees and regional committees. The main idea is to strengthen the autonomy of CAPART so that it can fulfil its mandate of independent and credible public funding of good voluntary organisations for innovative and pioneering work in rural areas. Another crucial recommendation, which can potentially strengthen the autonomy of CAPART, is that the present total dependence for funds on the ministry of rural development must end. Assistance by its parent ministry should be cut down to 50 per cent to encourage CAPART to leverage funds from other donors.

It has to be understood that the mandate of CAPART is not to implement all schemes of various government line departments. CAPART must have a clear focus on certain programmes under which it will only support innovative projects that demonstrate the effectiveness for rural livelihoods of new ideas in rural technology, decentralised governance and participatory processes. Greater flexibility in choice of programmes would enable multi-disciplinary action that might cut across one or more schemes of a particular department or ministry. There are cases when schematic funds need to be dovetailed to facilitate a holistic approach envisaged in innovative projects. CAPART programmes should evolve in sync with the emerging new perspectives on rural development within the voluntary sector.

The Hameed Committee envisions CAPART as a lean, learning organisation based on partnerships with institutions of excellence, so that it can benefit from the huge wealth of expertise available in the country in each of its fields of intervention. CAPART must develop relationships with universities and research institutions that can help its NGO partners improve the quality of their work. The feedback that NGOs provide would also be invaluable for beta-testing of many of the new technologies and approaches being developed in research stations. CAPART would thus become a unique medium for linking lab with land and vice versa.

A reconceptualisation of the thrust areas of CAPART is suggested. A new programme, Nature-based Livelihoods, encompasses projects aimed at nurturing rural livelihoods through sustainable development of the local natural resource base. The broad idea is to support innovative watershed and watershed plus projects, as also programmes of synergy between watershed and women’s self-help groupbased microfinance initiatives. Central place is provided to voluntary sector action in the enforcement of the Right to Information Act and implementation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA). The understanding is that since gram panchayats and gram sabhas are central to NREGA implementation, civil society organisations at the grassroots could play a key role in supporting panchayat raj institutions (PRIs) to plan, implement and social audit NREGA works. Without such support, it may be difficult for PRIs to effectively implement NREGA.

Much credit goes to the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government for initiating the process through which the Hameed Committee held wide-ranging consultations with representatives of the voluntary sector, as also present and past officials of CAPART and various government departments. Reforms have so far been largely restricted to matters and agencies dealing with the corporate sector. The rural poor have benefited little from public sector reform even though they are in the greatest need for such change. What happens to CAPART should set the trend for similar far-reaching transformation in the way India’s rural development programmes are implemented. This could go a long way in ensuring that the benefits of the massive allocations made for these programmes truly reach the people for whom they are meant. Perhaps the one thing that the Hameed Committee can be faulted with is the inordinate delay in finalising its report. The hope is that the UPA government will lose no further time in getting down to implementing the recommendations of this report, which could become a milestone in the history of public sector reform in rural development in India.



Economic and Political Weekly February 24, 2007

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