Village Volunteers: Connecting the Dots in Rural Governance

Government schemes often struggle to reach the grassroots level for various reasons. While many schemes hold great potential for the welfare of the masses, rural areas usually lag behind their urban counterparts in reaping the benefits. These challenges emerge from an absence of awareness and the presence of more illiteracy among rural communities. In response to these issues, the State Government of Andhra Pradesh launched a flagship program – “Village Volunteers System”.

This impressive project was officially initiated on October 2, 2019, coinciding with the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. Its primary objective is to bring government benefits directly to the people’s doorsteps. Therefore, Village Volunteers serve as a vital link between the government of Andhra Pradesh and its rural communities, tirelessly working to uplift these communities through the implementation of different government schemes and programs.

The concept of Village Volunteers was first introduced in Andhra Pradesh in 2016 as part of the “Amma Vodi” scheme. This initiative aimed to improve the educational outcomes of children from economically and socially disadvantaged backgrounds by providing financial assistance to their mothers. Village Volunteers played a pivotal role in identifying and enrolling eligible families under the scheme. Since then, their responsibilities have extended to incorporate conducting surveys, awareness campaigns, and implementing government schemes related to healthcare, sanitation, and welfare. They even play a crucial role in identifying and enlisting beneficiaries under diverse schemes, such as the Public Distribution System (PDS) and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA).

The government of Andhra Pradesh has always been at the forefront of implementing various Central and state-level schemes. In line with their commitment to real-time governance, the State Government has enlisted these volunteers as its last-mile representatives, taking governance directly to people’s doors. Every month, these dedicated volunteers provide welfare and subsidies by visiting households and collecting Aadhaar-based eKYC (electronic ‘know your customer’) information. Approximately 2.5 lakh volunteers, equipped with smartphones, biometric readers, and various applications, are allocated to approximately 70 households each. They represent the state government in Andhra Pradesh and are responsible for implementing 16 flagship welfare schemes.

These volunteers use digital tools to gather information from every resident and assign a household ID to each. They even update household details when residents move due to marriage or work-related migration. Additionally, every six months, they account for residents who have either passed away or migrated. Their duties go beyond welfare schemes and subsidy distribution; they are essential agents of last-mile governance. During the COVID-19 pandemic, these volunteers went door-to-door to ensure that residents had smartphones and assisted in installing the Aarogya Setu application.

Each volunteer’s activities are tracked in real-time through a mobile GPS sensor, and their daily attendance at the village and ward secretariat is monitored. This level of transparency ensures that work is completed efficiently.

One of the key strengths of the Village Volunteer system is its decentralization. Volunteers are selected from the local community, intimately aware of the needs and challenges of the people they serve. This localized technique tailors government schemes to meet the specific needs of the community, resulting in more effective problem-solving.

Beyond their role in implementing government programs, Village Volunteers play a crucial role in community development. They mobilize communities for collective action, such as building toilets or forming self-help groups, and act as a bridge between the community and government officials, facilitating issue resolution and positive change.

As Mahatma Gandhi aptly remarked, “The future of India lies in its villages”. He believed that if villages perish, India would perish too. His message to youth was a call to embrace rural life and actively participate in the development and upliftment of villages. He believed that by focusing on rural areas, the youth could contribute to the progress of the entire nation. In this sense, Village Volunteers are essential patrons of rural development.

In essence, the “Village Volunteers System” of Andhra Pradesh government highlights the scope for other state governments to implement such types of schemes in their respective areas to improve government services at the grassroots level.

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