A bureaucrat’s endeavours bear fruit
By T.R. Raghunandan, 13 Oct 2017

This blog is part of a series on leadership in the Indian bureaucracy and is based on the experiences of senior bureaucrats. The previous blog can be found here

With his stint in the Girijan Cooperative Corporation of Andhra Pradesh, T. Vijaykumar broke away from the depressing stereotype of a good officer who is in perpetual transition from post to post. With his keen interest in tribal development, Vijay is candid in admitting that he asked his senior in the General Administration Department for the post of Managing Director of the Girijan Cooperative Corporation. This was not considered a glamorous post, so Vijay got the position he wanted.

Vijay realised that the Corporation was motoring along, trading in the produce collected by tribals. Tenders were rigged; traders made the margins and the tribals anyway had little bargaining power and low expectations from the Corporation. Vijay was keen to increase the real incomes of the tribals the Corporation was set up to serve, but any face-to-face confrontation with  powerful trader interests would see his exit. Vijay began to study the market intensively, to go past the traders with the knowledge gained. He began to understand the huge price differentials that were dependent upon simple value addition techniques that tribal people could easily understand and implement. He initiated the concept of Community Coordinators, where young professionals from prime universities and institutes of technology spent 3 years in a tribal village working for holistic development.

The success of the Andhra Pradesh approach significantly contributed to the evolution of the national model, namely, the National Rural Livelihoods Mission. Vijay’s name was now synonymous with India’s rural poverty reduction approach.

The combination of good outreach and good knowledge had a huge beneficial impact of the tribals. Take the major product on which the Corporations commercial fortunes depended- Gum Karaya, an edible gum extracted from trees that was almost wholly exported. Vijay’s thrust on research, based on feedback from the market, resulted in a drive to improve handling of the gum at the level of tribal gum collectors. 80 botanists were hired to go into tribal areas to change the implements used by gum collectors and improving the practices of gum drying. GCCs storage facilities were improved, and shipping practices of Mumbai-based exporters changed for the better as well. At a modest investment of Rs 30 lakh, gum quality improved, tripling the prices realised by tribal gum collectors. It was a clear demonstration of how valuable research and an intimate knowledge of the market were in maximising price realisation. Vijay’s five year tenure from 1990-1995 ensured that the Girijan Cooperative Corporation transformed from a run-of-the-mill trading company to an institution that delivered substantial profit to tribal people.

Vijay’s next big break came when he moved in 2000, to head Andhra Pradesh’s Society for the Elimination of Rural Poverty, (SERP). The state-level society, set up as a special mission at arm’s length form the government in order to cut through red tape and work more efficiently, was implementing the state’s ambitious poverty reduction mission. The focus of the approach was to help poor women to organise themselves into self-help groups, where their thrift and credit activities would blossom into a substantial creation of wealth at their hands, through a basket of support ranging from training, to subsidies to set up businesses and improve skills. In the 10 years (2000 to 2010) that Vijay headed SERP, the poverty reduction programme went from strength-to-strength. The programme was expanded to cover all villages of the state and 1.15 crore rural poor women were enabled and assisted to form and run thrift and credit based self-help groups, which were federated into village, sub-district and district level organisations. As for wealth creation, the results were equally staggering. By March 2014, the self-help groups had cumulatively mobilised bank credit of Rs.65,000 crores in the undivided state of Andhra Pradesh.

The success of the Andhra Pradesh approach significantly contributed to the evolution of the national model, namely, the National Rural Livelihoods Mission. Vijay’s name was now synonymous with India’s rural poverty reduction approach. He moved to Delhi as Joint Secretary, Ministry of Rural Development and Mission Director, National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM). He led the NRLM for 5 years, rolling out a nation-wide poverty eradication programme based on social mobilisation and empowerment of rural poor women. Over the next 10 to 15 years, this programme aims to reach out to 80 to 100 million rural poor households and stay engaged with these families till they emerge from abject poverty and enjoy a decent quality of life.

After he returned to Andhra Pradesh in 2015, Vijay took over as Special Chief Secretary of the Department of Agriculture & Cooperation. One of the significant achievements of the poverty reduction mission in Andhra Pradesh was the community managed sustainable agriculture (C.M.S.A) programme, through which women SHGs were assisted to take up collective farming. Vijay, based upon this success, turned his attention to low budget natural farming as a way to ensure livelihood and environmental sustainability. After his retirement, Vijay pursues his passion for improving the lot of the poor. The Andhra Pradesh government has appointed him as an Advisor on Agriculture and Cooperation, in charge of implementation of natural farming in the state. He is now involved in a programme of covering 5,00,000 farmers from 1,500 villages in the state to adopt ‘zero budget natural farming’ and reduce their cultivation costs and risks and increase their yields and incomes, even as soil fertility and quality of chemical free food improves.

The views expressed are of the author only.