I welcome all my colleagues from the Union Cabinet, government officials, colleagues from NITI Aayog, and lakhs of companions from different parts of the country, who are connected at the grassroots level from different blocks, and even representatives interested in this subject who are present today in this program. I, especially congratulate NITI Aayog for organising this program and I also extend my best wishes to all of you.
You have gathered at the Bharat Mandapam, and this shows the approach of the country and the Indian government. Within just a month of the G20 summit, here are the people who are concerned about the distant villages of the country, who are concerned about the marginalised families, and who work to advance policies for their well-being. And in this month only, here were the people working to give direction to the world. I mean, take a look at the range of the canvas. In this month only, leaders from around the world were collectively addressing global concerns at the Bharat Mandapam. And today in the same Bharat Mandapam, I am meeting with millions of companions who are working to bring about change at the grassroots level in my country, bringing strength, and working with high spirits. It is a matter of pride for me. For me, this summit is no less than the G20.
Many people are also connected with us online. This program is a symbol of the success of 'Team India,' a symbol of the spirit of 'Sabka Prayas' (Everyone's Effort). This program is important for the future of Bharat, and success is inherent in its determination, it is a reflection of that.
Whenever a study is conducted on the top 10 schemes implemented after independence, the Aspirational District Program will be written in golden letters. The Aspirational District Program, the ambitious district campaign, has transformed the lives of more than 25 crore people in 112 districts of the country. There has been a change in the quality of life, a change in ease of governance, and now, those who used to say, "Let's just live life somehow, this is how we have to live," are in a mood to step out of that thinking. That society doesn't want to stay the same anymore; they want to make a difference. This is their mood. I understand that this is a tremendous force. The success of this campaign has now become the foundation for the Aspirational Block Program. The experience at the district level has been so successful that everyone discussing development models in the world is suggesting many lessons, especially for developing countries. We have also learned a lot from it, and from that, the idea has come that in the 500 blocks wherever in every state, an evaluation has been done under one parameter. And if we bring it to the state's average, take it to the national average, you can imagine how significant the change will be, how significant the result will be. I believe that just as the Aspirational District Program has unfurled the flag of success, the Aspirational Block Program is also going to be 100 per cent successful. And it is not just because the plan is fantastic, but because the people working on it are fantastic.
Just a while ago, I was chatting with three colleagues; you heard the discussion. Look at their self-confidence. When I see the self-confidence of these colleagues working at the grassroots level, my self-confidence not only increases but multiplies. My good wishes for you are not just words; I am completely standing with you. If you take 2 steps, I am ready to take 3 steps, if you work for 12 hours, I am ready to work for 13 hours. I want to work as your companion, as a member of your team. And I am confident that, as a team, we will achieve the success of this Aspirational Block. If we have set a time of 2 years, I am sure we will do it in one and a half years. If we have set one and a half years, we will do it in one year. This is my firm belief. And I am sure that within one or two weeks some blocks will emerge which will have the capability to take it above the normal state average at least on one parameter. I have full confidence that they will do it because you all also know that I observe things in detail every day. Not because I am taking your exam, but because when I see your success, my ability to work increases that day, my enthusiasm increases. I also feel, "You work so much, let me do a little more." That's why I keep looking at the chart so that the chart itself becomes my inspiration, my strength.
And therefore friends,
The Aspirational District Program has been in operation for five years now. When a third-party agency evaluates the program, they express satisfaction, and those actively involved find a natural sense of contentment. Another aspect determined by the Aspirational District Program is that by focusing on the very basic principles of good governance, even challenging objectives can be achieved. We have employed a straightforward strategy for this Aspirational District Program.
You've also observed that when someone falls ill, they visit a doctor. The doctor, upon examination, may initially believe that a serious surgery is necessary, but if there's an urgency, he might advise the patient to wait until his immune system is strengthened, ensuring the body can respond effectively to the operation. It is necessary that his capacity is strengthened. The doctor provides treatment, assistance, and prepares the patient accordingly. Only when the body is responsive and ready for surgery does the doctor proceed, avoiding unnecessary interventions until then. He ensures that the patient's body is fully healthy, with every organ functioning properly before considering any major medical procedures. Nobody is considered completely healthy until every organ functions properly. Just like a doctor assesses the overall health of a patient, considering various parameters such as weight, height, and vital signs, our country is often perceived as developed based on certain national indicators. However, just as a single malfunctioning organ in the body can impact overall health, the development of specific regions within the country can greatly influence the overall perception of progress. If a part of the body does not work, will it be considered healthy? Certainly not! Similarly, what will happen if 2,4, 10 districts or 2,4 blocks lag behind? Therefore, just as a doctor works on a patient by addressing his entire body, we too consider the health of our entire body by ensuring the health of every organ.
Similarly, in a family, if one member is unwell, the attention, focus, and resources of the entire family tend to revolve around that individual. We have to compromise with all other things. An individual's health impacts the overall well-being of a family. If someone is sick then one has to stop going out. Only when the family is completely healthy can the family make progress in its life. Similarly, the development of districts, villages, and regions collectively contributes to the progress of the entire nation. Similarly, if we do not do all-round development, all-pervading development, all-beneficial development of our district, our village, our tehsil, the fundamental change is not possible even if the statistics might show improvement, but genuine satisfaction and transformative change come when the core issues are addressed, and development reaches the grassroots. And today, looking at the people sitting with me at this summit, you can see the intent behind it. The top team of the Indian government is present here and all the secretaries who work on policy formulation are here.
Now, I have two options in front of me. Should I align the power behind them to ensure the effectiveness of the top team or should I work for strengthening the grassroots? My focus is on working for strength at the grassroots. I have chosen the path of strengthening at the grassroots, and through the strength of the grassroots, our pyramid will rise. I believe that the more developed the base, which is the lowest tier of development, the more significant the results will be. Therefore, our effort is to advance development in this manner. This should be our endeavour.
I appeal to the government officials present here that we have thought about the Development Block in the same way. We can work in two directions, and every department can consider its work. Let's identify 100 Blocks across the country to move this work forward. They don't need to see the whole world; they need to identify which Blocks are lagging behind in their department. And assuming that, for example, in the entire country, 100 Blocks are the most backward in health, the Indian government's Health Department will formulate a strategy to improve the situation in those 100 Blocks. The Education Department can choose 100 Blocks for its department. The Education Department of the Indian government can see that it has identified the 100 Blocks that are lagging behind the most. I don't want this Aspirational District, or Aspirational Block to become a program of the NITI Aayog. I want to make it the nature of the government, the nature of the central and state governments, the nature of the departments of the Centre and states.
When all departments decide that the last 100 Blocks in my area have now gone above average, you will see all parameters changing. So, the approach to working on the Aspirational Block will be through the units of the states and districts. But can we advance this thinking throughout the country? I believe we should make efforts in that direction. And in this way, if there is Skill Development in all departments, then they should also look at which 100 Blocks in Bharat require my attention. Similarly, state governments should select 100 villages that are the farthest behind in the entire state. They should be evaluated after one or two months, and you will find out how convergence happens, how the problems are solved. If there is no staff there, there is a need for recruitment, therefore, the recruitment has to be done. If there is a need to bring in young officers, then young officers should be recruited. If they can successfully address the issues in their 100 villages within a month, that model can be replicated for their 1000 villages without delay, and results will be achieved.
The country has completed 75 years of independence, and we want to see the country as a developed Bharat by 2047, as a developed country. And being a developed country doesn't mean that we focus on grandeur within Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, and leave our villages behind. We want to walk with the model that includes the destiny of 1.4 billion people. We want to change their lives, and for that I want there should be a sense of competition among them as far as the set parameters are concerned. When I used to regularly check the progress of the Aspirational Districts, it brought me so much joy. Firstly, there is no convenience in filling in the data; one has to do this task without any facility. Until verified information is available on Earth, there is no point in filling in such figures. Yet, this work has to be done. However, I observed that some district officers were so enthusiastic that they would upload their performance every 2 or 3 days, constantly working to improve. Then, I would see that in the first 6 months, it seemed like a district was moving ahead, however, I would find out that it was lagging behind within 24-48 hours. If it has fallen behind someone else, I would know within 72 hours that it is marching ahead once again.
In other words, there was such a positive and competitive nature which brought about a significant change in delivering results. The biggest benefit from this is that earlier, based on my experience working in Gujarat, if an officer was transferred in the Kutch district, all his colleagues would ask him, "Do you have a dispute with the government? Is the Chief Minister upset with you? Do you have any political problems? Why were you given a punishment posting?" His colleagues would tease him, and he too would start to believe that he's doomed. However, after the earthquake in the Kutch district, when there was a need to bring in good officers, everyone was given incentives, and those who were brought in are now considered the most beloved officers of the government in Gujarat. In today's situation, if someone gets an appointment in the Kutch district, they are considered the government's most favoured officer. In other words, a place that was previously considered a punishment posting has become the most honorable place, and this is possible.
As for Aspirational Districts, which are usually quite aged and tired, people might say, "Oh, this district is useless; let it be." But since we started bringing in young officers for Aspirational Districts, results have started pouring in rapidly because they were enthusiastic, eager to do something, and believed that if they worked here for three years, the government would reward them with a good position, and that's exactly what happened. The people, who worked in Aspirational Districts, later got very good positions!
As far as the Aspirational Blocks are concerned, I will also appeal to the state governments and urge officials of the Indian government to pay attention. Those who are succeeding within the Block should also have a bright future ahead, especially the officers. They are the ones who are bringing results on the ground, and these teams should be encouraged and pushed forward.
Secondly, you must have noticed that a tradition was established in the government where the focus used to be solely on the output. It was all about how much budget was allocated, where it went, and how much was spent. The output was considered an achievement in a certain way. You must have observed that after 2014, we started introducing the Outcome Budget. Alongside the budget, a report on the outcome was initiated. Due to this emphasis on outcomes, a significant qualitative change has occurred. Now, within our block, we need to scrutinize whether the funds, time, and manpower invested in a particular scheme actually yield any outcomes. It's not just about allocating resources; it's about ensuring that the outcomes are achieved.
Contrary to some people's belief that money ensures work, my extensive experience tells me otherwise, my friends. Not many have the experience of running a government for so long which I have. And from my experience, I can confidently say that change doesn't solely come from the budget. If we focus on the optimum utilization of resources and on convergence, then we can bring about development in our block without waiting for new funds. Let's take the example of ongoing work under MGNREGA. Have I planned that the MGNREGA work aligns with the design of my development? I'll carry out MGNREGA work in a way that aligns with the design of my development. If I need to put soil on a road, I'll make sure that I use MGNREGA work to put soil on that specific road. This way, half of my road work is done, and convergence has taken place. For instance, there are areas facing water scarcity, and you have to struggle for water for 3-4 months in a year. But if you decide to focus on building the most number of ponds, storing the most water, working in mission mode under MGNREGA, then the problems of those 25 villages which used to lag behind during those four months only due to water scarcity would be solved. Convergence holds significant power, and I believe that the first condition for good governance is the optimum utilization of resources.
Another experience comes to my mind. And from my experience, let me tell you what happens. It's quite natural for teachers in a class, especially when an inspection is imminent, to give a few tips to the bright students. They say, "When a question is asked during inspection, raise your hand immediately." I know the teacher's game, everything. It's quite natural; if you want to make a good impression, a good student will promptly raise their hand. My point is that we tend to invest more in areas where we get immediate results. If I have a target to fulfil in the government, let's say in the Indian government, and I think these 6 states are the ones to focus on, I'll concentrate on them. The remaining 12 states, although they may need it, won't get the resources because their performance is poor. I'll add a little extra sugar to the already sweet tea. What happens is that those who are developed and performing well get excessive resources, leading to wastage.
There was a time when I was studying, and that fortune wasn't in my fate, but my friends were told by their parents, "If you get this grade in 10th, we'll get you a watch, and if you get this grade in 12th, you'll get a gift." That was the norm during my time. Nowadays, you can find 3-4 watches lying around in any corner of a house. Some of them might not have been touched for 6 months, but in a poor household, if there's one watch, it will be used and cared for 365 days a year. Giving something extra where resources are abundant leads to wastage, while ensuring resources where there is a need results in its proper utilization. Therefore, I believe that if we adopt the habit of equal distribution of our resources and particularly focus on need-based distribution, it will empower them, and we should work in that direction. In the same way, you must have seen that when it comes to getting things done, we are under the illusion that the government will do everything. This is the mindset of the past century, my friends. We need to step out of this belief that the government will do everything. The power of society is immense. If you tell the government to run the kitchen for mid-day meal, it will start sweating. On the contrary, our Sikh brothers and sisters run ‘langars’ (community kitchens) where thousands eat, and they never feel tired. This is happening. Society has a power, and when we connect that power, what happens? In the blocks or districts where there is leadership connecting the community, in my experience, transformation happens quickly there.
The cleanliness campaign has found its place in the direction of success today. Is it because of Modi? Is it happening because 5-50 people are sweeping with brooms? No, sir. A mindset has been created in society that we won't litter anymore. When society collectively decides not to litter, there's no need for a cleanliness campaign, my friends. Public participation is crucial, and we have a distorted interpretation of leadership here that whoever comes wearing a long kurta-pajama, adorned in khadi, becomes a leader. Leadership exists in every aspect of life. We need leaders in education, agriculture, and we don't necessarily need political leaders. Our officers are also leaders; they motivate as well.
To build leadership at the block level and achieve the goal of team spirit in initiatives like the ‘Sankalp Saptaah’(resolution week), each group sitting there should have a common purpose—team spirit. Leadership will come when there is team spirit, and with team spirit, new ideas for public participation will emerge. Have you seen that when a natural calamity occurs, can government resources alone handle it? In no time, a large number of people come together, and they start finding solutions to problems. People start doing things, and at that moment, we also feel that, "Wow, society has helped so much, my work is done." Even officers feel good, thinking, "It's great that these people have helped, my work is done."
Anyone working at the grassroots level knows that recognizing the power of the community and connecting it is crucial. Let our schools and colleges thrive. If family members, guardians, and parents are involved, you'll see that the school will never lag behind. Ways to do this should be explored. I always say, celebrate the village's birthday; if there's a railway station, find its birthdate—it'll be in the records, celebrate its birthday. Your school may be 80 years old, 90 years old, or even 100 years old. Find out the birthdate of that school, gather all the living individuals who have studied there, and bring them together.
There are ways of public participation, and it doesn't necessarily mean you have to give a donation. For instance, if we want to address malnutrition in the anganwadi (childcare centres) through the budget, that's one way. But what if I say, "I'll organize a community meal event on a specific date in my village"? In this community meal event, if someone has a birthday, someone has a parent's death anniversary, or someone has a wedding anniversary, I'll invite them and say look, in our village, there are 100 children in the anganwadi. If it's your birthday and you usually celebrate by having a good meal at home, consider bringing a fruit. Let's all come together, and you can distribute a banana to each of these 100 children as a part of your birthday celebration. His birthday will also be celebrated. If they come and give it themselves to those children, there's social justice, and the social distance that exists in society starts to diminish. And in a year, you'll definitely find 80-100 families in the village who will come to the school, come to the anganwadi, and feed those children something good—seasonal items, let's say dates. If dates are in season, someone might say, "Okay, today I'll bring 2-2 pieces of dates and distribute them to these 100 children.” It's community participation. The government's budget doesn't allocate funds for this kind of initiative. During the time when I was in Gujarat, I ran a campaign for community meals, and even religious leaders in their speeches urged people to participate. I talk about around 80 days during that time—I'm not sure about the exact number now—where almost every day was an opportunity for a family to come, celebrate with the school children, and provide them with good food. There was also a fight against malnutrition, and the burden of feeding the children that teachers often bear was alleviated. What I mean to say is that community participation is highly effective in solving problems. For example, let's consider tuberculosis (T.B.). If there are even 10 T.B. patients in our block and we connect them with the T.B. Mitra program. We can stay in touch with them, make weekly phone calls, and inquire about their well-being. If we consistently do this for 6 months, T.B. could be eradicated. The more people we engage, the initial effort may be hard, but later on, it becomes a source of strength.
You must have noticed that India's name is echoing globally today. You must be experiencing it as well. Newspapers often attribute it to Modi, Modi's government's excellent diplomacy, and various achievements. I feel the same way. However, in reality, there's another reason that often goes unnoticed, and that is our diaspora. The people who have left India and are residing in other countries, the enthusiasm and organized strength within them, the increased participation in public life—these factors make people in those countries believe that these individuals are highly valuable. As a result, India is perceived as a valuable entity. This means that the strength of participatory action, if utilized in foreign policy, can easily come into play in my block as well, my friends.
Therefore, I urge you to make the maximum use of this ‘Sankalp Saptaah’, engage in open discussions, design workout plans. Use the resources in the same way. Here, in our block, we may have around 8-10 vehicles, perhaps even fewer, and only a few officers have vehicles. Now, the responsibility of traveling long distances falls on many people who don't have the means. I conducted a successful experiment in Gujarat. Let's say there are 100 villages in one block. I assigned 10 officers to 10 villages each. I told them that when they go in their cars, they should take along the junior officers from the five departments in their cars. For a month, focus only on these 10 villages. All officers, even if they are from the agriculture department, should discuss education, farming, water, and livestock in those villages. Then, another set of 10 villages for the next group, and so on. They would stay in those 10 villages for a month and then rotate after a month. The experience was that silos were eliminated, and a whole-of-the-government approach was adopted. The 10 officers, who used to work in isolation, now sat down once a week to share their experiences. They would say, "I went to that area, my department is related to education, but I observed these things in agriculture. In the water sector... there was optimal utilization of resources." The results started to show, and these officers had a comprehensive understanding of the entire block. Someone might be from the agriculture sector, but they also had knowledge of education and health. I believe we need to change our strategy. If we change our governance strategy, it will lead to optimal use of our resources.
Today communication has its advantages as well as disadvantages. Getting information through video conferences or on mobile phones has their benefits, but the advantage of physically going somewhere has no substitute, my friends. What I'm saying now, if you were living in your village, might be something I wouldn't say something new in a video conference. After meeting face to face, there's a strength that doesn't come from a video conference. That's why we should never compromise on the responsibilities that require a physical presence. When we go to a place, we understand its strength.
During this Aspirational Block program, perhaps for the first time during this week, you will notice your colleagues' strengths which you might have never noticed before. Sometimes you might not even know their names, despite seeing them every day in the office, exchanging greetings without knowing their names. But when you sit together for a week, you get to know their strengths, their unique qualities, and that's crucial for our team spirit. When a team is formed, desired results naturally follow.
Therefore, my request to all of you is to set achievable goals within the next three months. Let's identify 5 parameters out of 30 where we can surpass the state average completely and make it happen. Your confidence will increase, and if you've achieved 5, you can aim for 10. This reminds me of what our teachers used to say in school when we sat for exams—write the easy answers first. The same principle applies here. Solve the simple problems first, and gradually work your way out. If there are 40 issues, focus on the first 35. Slowly but surely, you'll overcome each problem. You'll see, in no time, your block's aspirational goals will become the aspirations of others. It will become an inspiration for others. Our 112 districts, which were aspirational until yesterday, have now become inspirational districts. In a year, within the next 12 months, there will be 500 aspirational blocks, and at least 100 of them will turn into inspirational blocks. We'll have inspirational blocks across the entire state. Let's complete this task.
I enjoyed talking to you in this program. To those who are listening to me online in this program, I extend my best wishes. Let's move in mission mode. I also urge the people from various departments to choose 100 blocks from all over the country and bring them up to the national average within the specified time frame. Every department should work in this manner. I don't believe that any work at the grassroots level will be left unattended. All the tasks will be completed within 1-2 years. Friends, I want to tell you now that we will meet again in October-November in 2024, we will meet physically, and we will review the progress. At that time, I would like to hear about the successes of 10 people among you. Then, I will share my thoughts with you in October or November of the next year. Until then, I won't take much of your time because you need to quickly advance your blocks. So, I don't want to take up more of your time now. Best wishes and thank you very much.