By KP Vipin Chandran
Transforming local economy post Covid-19: The Covid-19 pandemic has brought devastation to economies all over the world. The pandemic has disrupted the supply chains, leading to massive job cuts, reverse migration, stagnant non-farm economies and adverse consequences for the livelihood of the rural poor. The adverse effects of Covid-19 call for a sustainable development model that focuses on the local economy. Localisation is the new buzzword in the development literature. Transforming local economies during the pandemic crisis and the post-Covid-19 world involves engaging in multiple ways to promote the development of local economy.
Local economy can be defined as an accessible and transparent economic system and economic activities in a local area. Local economic development is the most important determinant for the improvement of the quality of life in terms of rights-based inclusiveness and resilience of the society. Several developmental issues need to be addressed globally, such as inclusion in economic growth, food security, social security, and environmental protection. Four drivers of change — democracy, human rights, entrepreneurship and innovation — come together for local economic development. Local action is an effective approach to solve social and environmental problems.
Following up on the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments in 1992, Kerala implemented a three-tier panchayat system in 1995. In August 1996, Kerala unveiled People’s Planning, a decentralised development experiment in local self-government. The state is celebrating the 25th anniversary of People’s Planning this year and this is the right time for local governments to reconsider their priorities and plan development projects that are sustainable. Development and good governance should be the agenda of local governments. In the near future, the local self-governments must focus on the following ideas and concepts for strengthening the local economy in a sustainable development perspective.
The concept of Smart Village
In the post-Covid world, the accountability of local government will increase as people will avoid travel as much as possible. The government must build all facilities for the people at the local level. Former President of India APJ Abdul Kalam envisioned “providing urban amenities in rural areas (PURA), focused on agro-food processing, education and healthcare, access to urban infrastructure in rural areas and self-sufficiency in using critical technologies. In the pandemic period, local self-government must focus on the concept of smart village to facilitate all urban amenities in rural areas to develop the local economy.
Local economy and formation of Sevagram
Gandhi envisioned the dream of Sevagram centre to uplift the society. Local self-governments can start sevagram centres in all wards of local bodies. Sevagram should be made the functioning as the headquarters of all development activity of each ward. Various projects related to the ward should be identified and prepared based on the information obtained from public discussions in the locality. Today, gram sabha consists of a group of beneficiaries. However, local governments should focus on revitalising gram sabhas by formulating a new development perspective by utilizing local resources, discussing development issues at the local level and providing welfare schemes to the beneficiaries.
Sustainable farming practices and biodiversity conservation
Kerala witnessed two major floods in the last five years. The local governments need to address the issues of climate change at the local level. There is a need to adopt a development approach that strengthens the environment and agriculture. In addition, interventions should be made to enhance local farming practices and agronomy. Environmental protection should become a top priority for local governments. In addition, a comprehensive biodiversity register should be prepared at the local level and also plan for comprehensive approaches for the conservation of biodiversity at the grassroots level.
Indigenous sustainable disaster management system
The climate, topography and population density of a particular area are the underlying factors for the risk elements of natural disasters. Kerala has become increasingly vulnerable to natural disasters due to unsustainable land use and visible manifestations of global climate change. In the post-flood Kerala, most of the economists and policy planners discussed only the economic aspects of natural disasters. But no one is aware of the loss of biodiversity, which is a non-economic factor. Generally, Disaster management authorities operate at the central and state levels, but local governments can actively intervene to implement their recommendations effectively at the grassroots level.
In this context, the effective intervention by the local self-governments is crucial. They should set up disaster management cells at the ward level and monitoring systems should be set up at the Panchayat and Municipal levels. Local governments can also play a pivotal role in formulating community-based disaster management plans, such as resource mapping, community mapping, mapping of environmentally fragile areas, access to relief centers, prioritisation of environmental issues faced by people in the area, and problem analysis.
Build a comprehensive local health system
After the introduction of decentralized planning in Kerala, health institutions from primary health centers to district hospitals are the responsibility of the local bodies. At the same time, effective disbursement of funds through the National Rural Health Mission was launched in 2005, it has given a new impetus to government hospitals in Kerala. Local governments should envision a comprehensive public health plan that takes into account future epidemics, the rising number of population in lifestyle diseases, increasing healthcare costs, and increasing number of aged population are the dominant health issues in Kerala. This is not just the responsibility of the local government but also of the state government.
Local governments will focus in the near future to implement a decentralised and participatory healthcare system. It is the right time to think about whether it is possible to implement the concept of a family doctor by focusing on each ward using the doctors and more temporary doctors in our primary healthcare and family health centers.
Create a knowledge society
During the Covid-19 pandemic, local governments need to intervene in issues of the digital divide among school education. Although education in the changed environment is now completely online, many students are facing many difficulties like lack of gadgets and network issues. Local governments need to take some steps to ensure the development of infrastructure in the school education sector and to enhance quality education through language skills, computational skills and rational thinking skills. Anganwadis provide pre-primary education. There is a need to strengthen special health and nutrition programmes at the local level.
Rural libraries should be revived to develop a new knowledge culture in collaboration with the library council. At the same time, the local economy integrates with the global economy. All local governments need to implement the innovative concept of the “career digital library”. Career digital library will provide career orientation and skill training for the young population. In addition, local governments can set up labs for soft skills, computational skills and skill-based training at the local level. It will create a new path towards a knowledge economy.
Kudumbasree and the potential of social entrepreneurship
Kudumbasree, a community organisation of neighbourhood groups (NHGs) of women in Kerala, has been recognised as an effective strategy for the empowerment of women in rural as well as urban areas. Kudumbasree differs from conventional programmes in that it perceives poverty not just as the deprivation of money, but also as the deprivation of basic rights. Kudumbasree has played an exemplary role in the field of women empowerment and entrepreneurship.
The silver jubilee of the people’s planning is an occasion to think of presenting Kudumbasree with a single brand to equip them compete with powerful corporates. Kudumbasree can also utilise the funds from the Atmanirbhar Bharat Programme of the Union government to build up social entrepreneurship. Based on the concept of social entrepreneurship, we can focus on agri-food processing, MSMEs, e-commerce, healthcare and employment. New opportunities for women entrepreneurship can be created, especially in the manufacturing of masks, sanitizers, gloves and cloth bags.
Development and good governance of local economy should become the main agenda of local governments. The new local governments are entering the final year of the 13th Five Year Plan of Kerala. Then another important task before the local governments is to prepare the development plan required for the14th Five Year Plan from 2022–23 to 2026–27. Although there is one year left to prepare this, the 14th Plan should involve experts and volunteers from various fields along with the bureaucracy. For this, thematic groups should be reorganized soon.
Local economic development in the post-Covid period requires bold ideas to support farmers, informal sectors, MSMEs, youth, migrants and women on a sustainable basis. This is the responsibility of the people’s representatives in local bodies. These eight steps can help lead the way in the creation of a sustainable local economy. To achieve the aspirations of the people, local governments need to practice good governance with a sustainable development perspective.
(Dr. KP Vipin Chandran is Assistant Professor of Economics at Krishna Menon Memorial Government Women’s College Kannur, Kerala.)