Andhra Pradesh: Jagan's Controversial Volunteer Scheme Set For Change Under Chandrababu Naidu — Why And What To Expect

S Rajesh

Jul 11, 2024, 12:01 PM | Updated 12:01 PM IST

 Jagan Reddy (L) and Chandrababu Naidu (R)
Jagan Reddy (L) and Chandrababu Naidu (R)

The Chandrababu Naidu government is reportedly considering a number of changes to the ‘volunteer system’ in Andhra Pradesh, as per a report by Hindustan Times.

A brainchild of former Chief Minister Jagan Reddy, the system was created to ensure doorstep delivery of welfare schemes like pensions and subsidies, as well as access to other government services.

Those who had passed the 10th standard and were between the ages of 18 to 35 were eligible to apply to become volunteers.

The applications were then scrutinised by a municipal/mandal level committee.

What Prompted The Change

The modifications to the volunteer system are now in the works as the previous system was seen as a tactic of the Yuva Jana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP) government to use public money to carry out party propaganda. 

The volunteers, who began to be seen as party agents, were also accused of misconduct — threatening to delete the names of beneficiaries, involvement in the illicit liquor trade, misbehaviour with women etc.

Criticising the system, Telugu film actor and Jana Sena Party (JSP) Chief Pawan Kalyan held it to be responsible for data theft and the disappearance of thousands of women. He said that this was based on information he had received from central agencies.

The YSRCP government registered a case against him over the remarks.

Amidst these controversies, before the 2024 elections to the Lok Sabha and state assembly, Jagan asked volunteers to work for the victory of the party and after the Election Commission of India stated that volunteers would not be allowed to distribute pensions, over 60000 of them quit and campaigned for the YSRCP.

The YSRCP however accused the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) of intending to bring back ‘Janmabhoomi committees,’ which allegedly called the shots prior to the introduction of the volunteer system.

The proposed changes, such as declaring that the system will not be used for political purposes and ensuring volunteers work under local bodies and their officials, are expected to make the system more effective and efficient.

What Changes Are In The Offing

While in the earlier system, there were over 2.6 lakh volunteers with each being entrusted to look after 50 beneficiaries, the new system proposes to reduce the number to 1.5 lakh, with each person looking after 100 beneficiaries. The monthly honorarium has also been increased from Rs 5000 to Rs 10000.

Two changes are being considered to increase accountability: hiring people on 3-year contracts with extensions based on performance, and having volunteers work under the gram panchayats and village secretaries.

A change in nomenclature, i.e. calling those serving in villages as ‘Gram Sevak’ and those in urban areas as ‘Ward Sevak’ is also being considered in order to emphasise the spirit of public service. 

Some of these, like the increase in monthly honorarium, were mentioned by the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in its campaign.

The report also stated that the government was considering the formation of a committee to study the system and suggest improvements.

A small beginning towards reducing the reliance on volunteers was made on 1 July as the government opted to distribute pensions through the 1.25 lakh village secretariat employees.

Although it is unclear when these changes might occur or if the volunteers who resigned will be reinstated, these changes do offer hope for significant improvement in the system.

Also Read: Andhra Desperately Needs A Turnaround. Will Chandrababu Naidu Live Up To The Task?

S Rajesh is Staff Writer at Swarajya.

Get Swarajya in your inbox.