Science and Technology for Rural Development: A Synergy approach
As India moves towards middle income country status with a per capita GDP of $ 1000 in the current year following steady annual GDP growth of about 8.6 % since, 2002-03, the disquieting fact that rural development has not been keeping pace with other sectors of the economy is now at least recognized. The decline of share of agriculture and allied sector in GDP from about 24.02% in 2000-01 to 18.6% is not a cause for unmixed joy, though it may suggest that the economy is falling in line with the growth pattern of advanced countries, for the simple reason that about 58% of the work force and nearly 70% of the population continue to depend on agriculture and allied sectors. The fall in share of GDP means huge divide in rural and urban incomes, social and physical infrastructure, quality of life and consequently in human ‘capabilities’, and entitlements. The phenomena of sluggish growth of rural economy has been the ‘outcome’ of a complex set of adverse factors still to be adequately addressed.
No doubt ‘hard ware’ of development efforts like those under ‘Bharat Nirman’ and ‘PMs Gram Sadak Yojna’ (PMGSY) and other initiatives in Health, Education, Agriculture will facilitate greater access to markets, inputs and thereby upgrade the ‘capabilities’ of the rural people backed up by a revamped Panchyati Raj Institutions. This paper contends, however, that to derive optimum benefits from these initiatives, it is imperative to look at the ‘software’ aspects, i.e. the present system of development and dissemination of rural technologies, and to identify systemic deficiencies, with a view to putting in place a ‘reformed’ S&T system for rural development with full participation of all stakeholders to respond to development challenges. The succeeding paragraphs will therefore deal with first, a quick appraisal and then suggestions for re-structuring the system for technology development and dissemination. International experience supports that high priority be accorded to technology. To quote Jeffrey Sachs “I believe that the single most important reason why prosperity spread and why it continues to spread is the transmission of technologies and the ideas underlying them.”
To construct a sensible organization chart of Rural Technology System would be a near impossibility because it has grown horizontally and vertically without any convergence. The system consists of the following:
The Labs under the CSIR System especially RRL network whose charter includes developing technologies for rural application i.e. to meet technology needs of rural production function. The specialized Labs like NCL, NPL deal with more complex needs of industry while CLRI, CGCRI have interface with rural or semi rural producers. The technology development Research and Training Centres under KVIC and State Khadi Board and Institutions such as the Indian institute for Handloom Technology are primarily in rural non-farm sector (RNFS) and rural industries under household, tiny and small sector engaged the value addition activities.
District Industries Centres (DICS) were set up to provide financial and technological support including Training and coordinate their activities with KVIB and State Small Scale industries Corporations. However, success has been limited because of lack of concerted efforts.
The ICAR system- It has developed a national grid comprising 46 Institutes including 4 deemed universities , 4 National bureaux, 81 All India Coordinated Research Projects (AICRP), 31 State Agricultural Universities and Central Agricultural university at Imphal. ICAR is engaged in strategic research, location specific agricultural research e.g. ICAR, NE Hill Complex at Shillong, Vivekananda Institute for Hill Agriculture, Almora, etc.
The university system in states set up with support from UGC, and the state governments is also equipped with capacity for basic, applied and adaptive research; much of this capacity is unutilized for lack of any linkage with state Agricultural Universities and the concerned faculties. Only in some cases, field - evaluation of work in agriculture or forestry related development is being done by these universities for the State or the Central govt.
If one works out the total S&T manpower deployed and the physical facilities created over the years in these three wings, it would be very impressive and the recurring and non- recurring costs to the Exchequer are also huge and merit serious study and research. The output and findings of the system and the man-power trained at these three wings are logically meant for supporting the rural work force and the communities engaged in farm and non-farm sectoral activities who constitute the real stake holders. However, since researchers are not always the best people for technology dissemination, every state has a departmental network for each development activity basically geared to motivate and assist ‘the stake holders’ to adopt technology innovations, processes and practices of various types. Though the word ‘extension’ is associated with agriculture, every development department is engaged in some kind of ‘extension’ activity through means such as training, demonstration, subsidization of new technologies, and inputs, introduction of innovations in housing, construction technology, drainage, sanitation, fruit processing, post harvest technology, eco development etc. In fact most “yojnas” launched by the centre and implemented by states have strong ‘technology contents’. The cost of maintaining these technology transfer agencies is vast and increasing who are in theory at least required to work in close coordination with the researchers in the three wings- to generate demand driven technologies and to put in place policies and incentives conducive to their adoption. The crux of the problem is that it had so worked only in respect of some technologies and produced isolated pockets of success i.e. green and white revolution in some parts. And because of lack of creative synergy at the cutting edge level, the rural work force is unable to get the technology service it deserves as Taxpayers. Before we examine the reasons, it may be useful to bear in mind the view taken in the Tenth Plan document that “lack of linkage with industry has resulted in R&D being largely academic in nature with very few applications, commercialization and patenting; similar opinions have been expressed candidly in the Mid Term Appraisal (MTA) of the Tenth Plan and the Eleventh Plan. The MTA cited unabated degradation of natural resources unresponsive agricultural research, nearly broken down extension and failure to carry out essential reforms to conserve water and soil as major supply side issues for agricultural development. Thus, even the assessment that about 10-15% of technologies developed have reached the field is doubted by some observers. The growth of rural industries and rural non-farm employment have been sluggish; the growth rate of employment in RNFS, during 1993-2000 was 2.14% as against 3.28% in 83-93 period, and the share of manufacturing employment was only 27% indicating low-growth of rural manufacturing largely due to low level of technology inputs that goes into the production function of 77% of the enterprises categorized as ‘own account enterprises’ which do not engage hired labour. The MTA has recognized the need for technology upgradation of village and small enterprises.
It is felt that the reasons for a grossly inadequate level of technology dissemination are not managerial but systemic as detailed below:
S&T System is Central Government driven as practically all major institutions of S&T education, Research and Training are funded and managed by the Central govt with little S&T capacity in the states both at the departmental and State university levels .The State institutions are alienated from the Central S&T and Research efforts, there being no real forum to achieve coordination.
Scientific Research is being taken up at the Central S&T system on its own volition and priorities as few local research needs are identified and referred to research by state technical departments even where systems have been put in place precisely for such interaction as for example in forestry research at FRI Dehradun. Thus, S&T work at Regional Research Laboratories (RRL) established to develop technology solution to meet the local needs is not really demand driven due near absence of interface with states.
State S&T Councils are mostly ineffective except in a few states such as Madhya Pradesh, Uttrakhand and Tamil Nadu and are not geared to integrate S&T system into the ‘development ‘activities and to create state or region specific S&T capability which is so vital for a country of India’s size & diversity. The S&T Departments in the States are ill equipped to provide leadership in S&T sector and possibly Tamil Nadu is the only state, which has formulated its own Science Technology Policy.
A kind of central technology dependence syndrome is prevailing because the line departments of the states implement only these technologies which are sponsored and built into the Plan/Central Sector/CSS or externally assisted programme and lean on the central nodal ministries for technology. The established technical departments like Forests, PWD, Agriculture, Irrigation etc. are administered by strong organized services –who are also responsible under the state rules of Executive business to carry out modularization and development work in their respective areas. Even the concept of the District Plan embodied in the revamped PRI system established under the 73rd commandment to the constitution has not been empowered to carry out technology based planning.
The various coordination committees at the district level deal with sectoral implementation issues and not technological issues and do not add up to a District level S&T forum capable of taking a view on technology gaps and needs of the District in a comprehensive manner. This departmentalism obstructs growth of decentralized, community and area centric S&T capability essential to meet the challenges of modernization of rural economy, climate change and such other activities, which critically depend on ‘peoples participation’ for success; creativity is thus lost in the dissemination process as little or no effort is made to adapt the technologies to local situation which has been cause of ‘technology failures’. (In tree plantation drives, there are many cases where tree species were planted disregarding local soil-water regime or eco-system). Technology autonomy in the sense of state S&T capacity is not even mentioned in any fora. The university system in states has long cased to be providers of technologies or partners in development; societal S&T capacity at the District level and below at the Community level is virtually absent primarily because the civil society has been weak in S&T and has not forged a partnership with S&T institutions located in the state except in few areas. Thus the fact that the number of S&T NGOS is about 100-125 in all shows the slow spread of civil society in S&T field. There are, however, many ‘environment’ voluntary organisation working on specific issues like ‘displacements’ caused by hydel projects or mining. They must acquire further S&T capacity to take part in rural technology initiatives.
Even centrally - funded Agencies like the District Rural Development Agencies (DRDA) set up in every district for carrying out poverty alleviation programmes have not been provided with S&T back up to look into the technology aspects of anti-poverty programmes. This applies equally to Urban Local Bodies who mainly implement projects and technologies ‘given’ and have not acquired the capacity to identify technology gaps and make appropriate choice or even to draw up a R&D proposal on their needs.
This summary appraisal will be incomplete unless it recognizes the success of the system in spreading ‘catalytic’ technologies which resulted in green, white and blue revolution in some parts of the country with remarkable success. This was due to strong policy focus with measures to provide credit – inputs supply, free or subsidized electricity and irrigation and price support operations in wheat and rice specially and storage, transport and marketing facilities generally which made technology transfer possible. This approach cannot be replicated in all other important areas. Thus, on the whole the system appears to be well spread out, but lacks synergy at the State and in the field and societal participation and is not ‘demand driven’ but given, directed and incentivized. This is further compounded by the rigidity of the departmental structure as govt. rules do not allow creation of multi disciplinary teams and hiring of short term consultancy which are increasingly needed in the complex environment today e.g. in climate change initiatives. This lack of ‘convergence’ at state District level was probably responsible for failure of ICAR’s scheme of appointing District Scientists in some states under IDA projects (In this connection it would of course be useful to know how the office of this District science officer has actually functioned in West Bengal.)
Looking objectively, therefore the aforesaid review suggests that the main issue is gross under utilization of the enormous creative potential of S&T institutions to respond to varied S&T needs and to empower the community for want of a synergistic mechanism in the field. A framework for these mechanisms attempted below:
Given the structure of scientific Departments and the autonomy granted to the Departments and Institutions the existing coordination arrangements at the central level have their own rationale and are not amenable to change. At the state level, the S&T Council should be restructured to function as the Science and Technology Advisory Group (STAG) responsible for integrating S&T inputs form all S&T institutions located in the state by making them ‘partners in development. In smaller states, STAG may be constituted for the Region with appropriate changes. STAG will be formed on a partnership mode to cover all sectors and identify technologies developed already for dissemination, and prioritize research work with emphasis on problems ‘emerging’ from the field.
STAG must try to ‘induct’ local technology solutions by projectisation under state plan /CSS/CS. It will ‘oversee’ the S&T work at district level and serve as a platform in which S&T institutions, Development Departments, S&T capable NGO’s will be represented to work out a state S&T Plan. With some financial support for logistics and additional post the existing the state DST could be equipped to serve as the secretariat of STAG. Initially, an officer form the I.A.S or Indian Forest Service with adequate background and aptitude may be appointed as State Secretary DST (which is not the case now), who could also act as Member Secretary, STAG till a scientific Adviser with the multi-disciplinary/integrated S&T background and administrative experience is appointed. The CM and the Minister, Planning may act as Chairman and Vice-Chairman and the State Chief Secretary as ‘Co-Vice Chairman of STAG.
As there are about 30 District level Committees on an average already existing under the District Collector/Dy Commissioner, adding one more would not help because of the complex scientific field work involved though the Collector might be asked to oversee and support the activities. This will include sector wise study of technologies under application, felt need for upgradation of technologies and technology gaps and scope of projectising technologies developed for the production function which have not reached for want of support. This will mean a kind of technology profiling and analysis of resource endowments, area specific problems e.g. floods, erosion, pest management rural product upgradation, habitat development, conservation of land, environment and water resources, livestock & poultry management and processing, skill teaching in income generation. The objective is to technologically empower the communities to assess their problems and participate in the process of making ‘choice of technologies’ in the areas mentioned above. For this, a consultative Group of Local S&T institutions comprising concerned deptt. officials and S&T capable NGOS may be formed by the collector with the involvement of PRI’s; one of the S&T institutions may be selected as the nodal agency. In line with the concept of Mother NGO (MNG of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, and a lead S&T NGO may be selected to take up following functions:
- Conduct a survey of S&T needs and gaps sector wise especially non-farm sector and identify areas for entrepreneurship development.
- Assess need for field trials and adaptive research.
- Select field NGO’s who could be trained and supported to develop competency in S&T intervention and to act as incubators for enterprise growth.
- Arrange training for NGO partners in project activities in the area.
- Collaborate with the nodal S&T Institutions and to act as a clearing house for rural technology related information and also with NABARD and institutional financial agencies.
- Mobilize expertise from the state S&T system including universities on consultancy basis for S&T intervention and to provide S&T support to District Plan.
Thus, the consultative body with three bodies- nodal S&T agency, local departments and the Lead S&T capable NGO backed by a network of field S&T NGO’s will emerge as Technology Coordination and Action Group. (TCAG) and serve also as a Scientific Advisory Body to the Collector and the Zilla Parishad. There will be some incremental non-recurring and recurring costs in setting up of TCAG in the District, which will need financial support of the state DST. As it will operate under the State S&T Council, a local official of DST may be nominated as Member Secretary. TCAG may be registered as a society to give it the necessary authority and flexibility with a broad charter so that it could lead all S&T interventions and bring the departments, S&T institutions and the committees under one fora which does not exist now. These measures may also bring about ‘democratization’ of science and technology delivery.
The institutional reform proposed here would be a means towards achieving the national goal of “harnessing S&T for improvement of livelihood, employment generation, environment prediction and ecological security” (Tenth Plan Document). To conclude our S&T system is not, as the cliche goes, a giant with a feet of clay, but is rather like giant with a strong feet but suffering from weak joints which could be remedied to enable it to take India to a ‘peoples’ science based development path.