The UPA government’s ambitious Prime Minister’s Rural Development Fellows scheme is in a limbo, with the NDA government which came to power last year yet to take a decision on the future course of the scheme, even as the first batch inducted under the programme is set to complete its term this year.
Sources in the Rural Development Ministry say that the government is yet to give a go-ahead to the scheme and begin the process of inviting applications for the third batch, which will replace the first batch that will pass out in two lots in June and September this year.
The PMRDF, announced in September 2011, inducted its first batch of Fellows in April 2012. The programme aims at inducting young professionals for short durations at the district administration level in 17 states, including in Left Wing Extremism (LWE) affected areas and the North-Eastern states, for improving programme delivery and also to serve as “development facilitators”.
Of the 150 fellows inducted in 2012, 120 have continued in the scheme.
The second batch of 160 PMRD fellows were inducted in 2014. The fellowship is now for three years as compared to the earlier two-year fellowship. While the first two years are on scholarship, the fellows are required to spend at least one year in public service as a paid full-time employee of the State Rural Livelihood Mission (SRLM).
Ministry officials say the government is still studying the fresh proposal for making certain changes to the scheme based on the review report of an expert committee submitted last year and has hence not initiated the process of bringing in a third batch. The entire process of advertising to placing the fellows on the field takes nearly six months.
Thus, with the process for the third batch nowhere close to beginning, the induction will not happen as a continuation of the passing out of the first batch. Officials say not only will this create a “void” at the district administration level but will also “break the continuity” of the programme.
According to officials, a key change being proposed is increasing the minimum age requirement for fellows from the current 22-27 years to 25-32 years, as well as introducing a minimum work experience requirement of two years.
This is being done while keeping in mind that the fellows will be placed in full-time employment in their third year and hence would need to have more experience. The selection process includes an online All India Competency Assessment Test, a written test and a personal interview.
The scheme, initially shrouded in confusion about the exact role of the fellows and where they fit into the established structure of the district administration, took off in its subsequent years.
Officials say its success is marked by the very low attrition rate-of the 150 fellows inducted in the first batch, only 14 opted out at the end of the second year and 16 dropped out of the programme. PMRD fellows are paid Rs 75,000 every month with a 10 percent hike in subsequent years.