Former soldiers will guard against leaks in social welfare schemes in Punjab by keeping a close vigil at the village level, in a first-of-its-kind scheme by any state government in India. Here’s who’s heading it. Former chairman of the Punjab Public Service Commission (PPSC), a much-feted commandant of the Indian Military Academy, a decorated armoured corps officer, and a military historian, Lt Gen TS Shergill (retd) has worn a variety of hats. Now he’s donned a new one, that of heading the ‘guardians of Punjab’. Read on for details of the scheme and excerpts from a conversation with Lt Gen Shergill.
Seed of the idea: “We thought it would be a great way to productively use ex-servicemen, many of whom retire after 15 years of service, when they are only 35. Alexander had said a soldier was at his best at this age.”
The purpose: The General says a study found that of every rupee earmarked for social welfare, only 15 paise reached the target group. “We will plug this leak.” Former soldiers will be appointed guardians in all the 12,710 villages of Punjab. They will educate the villagers about the various schemes, find out if they are reaching them, and then report their findings to a central control room. “It’s an information system to help the administration. It won’t replace, replicate or become a shadow of the administration,” says Shergill.
Appointing guardians: Every village will have one guardian. “He will have to volunteer for the job. The chief selection criterion will be the respect he commands in the village regardless of his rank,” says Shergill, pointing out that “respect” holds the key. He also underlines that it’s an apolitical scheme.
The structure: The CM will be the chairman of the scheme. The guardians will have four layers: one at the village level; second at the tehsil level with a three-member team comprising an officer, junior commissioned officer (JCO) and other rank (OR), headed by an SDM; and third at the district level with a team of two officers, JCOs, and ORs each headed by the deputy commissioner. The 24-hour control room will be set up at the CM’s office.
E-governance: Every guardian will be armed with a check list of schemes and a cellphone. He will file a fortnightly report, and will be free to red-flag any lapse in the interregnum. “The information received by the control room will flow to the administration. The objective is to ensure that rectification or assistance is carried out at the village level.”
Training: Maharaja Ranjit Singh Institute of Public Administration is producing a manual for the guardians who will be trained before they take charge.
Honorarium: A sum of Rs 11,000 is being proposed for the village guardians to cover their daily expenses. They will initially be given tenure of two years.
Job scheme: The government is also tying up the guardians with its scheme of Ghar Ghar Naukri (job for each household) under which unemployed educated youths in the age group of 18 to 35 will be given a stipend of Rs 2,500 a month. “The guardians will approach these youth to serve as their eyes and ears,” says Shergill, adding that over time they will also channel them into sports and skill development.
Rollout: The district-level launch will take place in July.