Village Social Transformation Foundation (VSTF), a not-for-profit company started under the initiative of former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis to promote public-private partnership for plugging development gaps across rural Maharashtra, plans to change its model for want of funds.
The company, having big names as corporate partners who fund the initiative through means of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), is experiencing shortage of funds as corporates have now shifted to providing money for relief efforts associated with Covid-19 pandemic.
Fadnavis had announced development works in over 1,000 villages of Maharashtra through the initiative and was inclined towards expanding the model, but the company is now set to shrink in scale and reduce the number of fellows working under it.
Recently, a batch of rural development fellows deployed in villages were sent letters regarding non-renewal of their contracts. A few days later, the foundation rolled back this decision and asked the fellows if they would work despite a 37 per cent pay cut. Last month, the foundation asked its nearly 300 fellows in 25 districts to return unspent money.
CEO Ramnath Subramaniam denied paucity of funds but has said that most of the corporate funding has shifted towards Covid-19 relief.
“When VSTF began in January 2017, every corporate had pledged Rs 10 crore over three years, which has been achieved. Now, most corporates, instead of funding the fellowships for works in villages, are preferring thematic intervention, with an aim of fulfilling a particular goal. So, we plan to reduce workload on fellows and hence, reduce the stipend. We recalled unspent money for expenditures on coronavirus-based intervention,” he added.
Speaking of the new model, he said that the company in the long term plans to engage only 100-odd fellows for undertaking theme-based projects. This means that social work will be undertaken in villages based on what corporates want, instead of interventions decided by villagers.
However, sources in the foundation have pointed to a loss of confidence among corporates in the initiative due to a change in the government. As per sources, the company has barely received funds in the last six months after the new government took over.
“Then additional chief secretary to then CM Fadnavis, Praveen Pardeshi, along with Fadnavis, took deep interest in the working of the company and wanted to expand. However, there is chatter that Congress is skeptical of the initiative and hence, it has been difficult to seek full support. The company is trying to bridge the gap with current ministers. In the last six months, barely any funds have come in,” the source said.
Denying this claim, Subramaniam said that corporates have assured their help to the foundation, and that the state government has been supportive of the work done by the company.
Secretary (Rural Development) Arvind Kumar, a nominee in the board of directors of the company, said he was unaware of the going-ons in the company. A meeting of stakeholders has not taken place in the past four months, he added.
Some of the companies’ partners included Tata trusts, Reliance Industries Limited, Deutsche Bank, Hindustan Unilever, Axis Bank, philantrophists such as Amitabh Bachchan, Rajshree Birla, HDFC Ltd chairman Deepak Parekh, Anand Mahindra, Ronnie Screwvala, Sangeeta JIndal and UNICEF member Rajeshwari Chandrasekar.
The company began with a motto of engaging in a ‘Village Social Transformation Mission’ by closely working with the state to usher development into villages through the medium of full-time rural development fellows, who would work in assigned villages for a fixed tenure. Even as the contract would be renewed after every year, the company has allowed fellows to work in the assigned areas for three years. This connection of youth with the villages is now set to stop.
Several success stories from rural pockets have emerged. In Marai Patan village of Chandrapur, a then-fellow Akshay Prakash helped villagers access gas cylinders and disability certificates to avail different schemes. As many as 351 works under state’s Jalyukt Shivar Scheme were started in the village. Recently, in Pune district’s Junnar taluka, farmers affected due to the lockdown were helped by fellow Shubham Satkar in marketing produce and creating forward linkages by forming farmer producer comapanies. This concept saw a turnover of Rs1 crore.
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