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Updated: September 15, 2009 09:11 IST

Social inclusion in rural economy

Padmini Swaminathan
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At the outset readers need to be cautioned not to approach the book under review with an academic lens. The book is a huge compilation — six parts and 26 papers — of unevenly drafted reports based on ground experiences of efforts at ‘social inclusion’ and making economic growth ‘inclusive’. Many of the tables do not mention the source of the data presented, while several papers use terms such as “next session of Parliament,” and “in the last six months,” without reference to the date or the year. While it is acknowledged that “there is a gap in understanding the processes behind exclusion,” the papers themselves provide very little by way of hard evidence and/or ethnographic details — and not even, very often, systematic accounts of exclusionary processes — to fill this gap. If those who are in the field tracking the implementation of programmes cannot, and/or fail, to capture ‘change’ through some measurable indicators, it is not clear who will. There is no way this review can discuss the papers individually. Only some issues from a couple of papers are highlighted.

Social exclusion

Several papers discuss the concept of social exclusion before proceeding to examine any specific aspect of exclusion or a specific programme aimed at inclusion. For instance, the one aimed at taking the readers on a journey through the Western Orissa Rural Livelihoods Project (WORLP) provides an elaborate account of what the project set out to accomplish. What is surprising is not just the apolitical nature of the entire discussion, but the ‘nil’ information on crucial aspects of the project — for instance, how support was obtained for it at the highest level? how departmental coordination was achieved and is being sustained? and what are the mechanisms available for conflict resolution on the ground? The paper on the ‘Evolution of Resettlement and Rehabilitation Policy in Orissa’ ends with the hope that the improved policy will be implemented well. But while considerable space has been taken for outlining the features of the policy, no mention is made of the rules for its operation. It is these rules that will determine who gets included and who gets excluded.

Stratified

Similarly several papers mention how specific interventions have led to improvements but give no details of how this aspect of improvement is measured. For example, Harper, in his discussion of emerging market channels for small producers, speaks of “benefits” that accrued to small producers. But the paper itself does not provide concrete information about the magnitude of the benefit nor does it mention how long it took for the benefits to accrue and how sustainable are these benefits. Raj Jani’s paper on ‘public-private-community partnerships in development sector’ documents both successful and unsuccessful initiatives. Like many other papers, this too has no critical reflections on what these initiatives meant and such other important issues.

In their paper on emerging opportunities in the KBK (Kalahandi, Bolangir and Koraput) region Singha et al, acknowledge that society in the region is highly stratified, that traditional institutions of caste panchayats are still significant, and that there is direct linkage between economic hierarchy and social hierarchy. However, the discussion does not throw light on how this stratification impacts lives and livelihoods on a day-to-day basis, or what challenge it poses for the inclusive agenda. In sum, the collection of papers, though ostensibly aimed at engaging with the important theme of social inclusion in the rural economy, comes across as rather unfocussed. A substantial number of the papers are uncritical, merely reporting about particular schemes or programmes and many do not substantiate their claims of benefits resulting from specific interventions. While the concluding piece attempts to impart a measure of cohesiveness to the volume, it is a case of too little, too late.

FINDING PATHWAYS: Edited by Smita Premchander, Sudin K, Peter Reid, Pub. by Books for Change, 139, Richmond Road, Bangalore and Western Orissa Rural Livelihoods Project Bhubaneswar. Rs. 475.

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