Sajal Gupta's "The Circle Officer: Experiment of Rural Development (1962-1982)" is a rare academic contribution where the findings of the empirical work carried out three decades and a half years ago are still valid today. It addresses the critical institutional issue of governance in Bangladesh racing towards the goal of a middle-income country.
The book was published from Nobotorongo Prokashonee, Dhaka, in 2020.
The study will help formulate administrative reforms which can combine rapid socio-economic growth with an equitable sharing of the fruits of economic development.
The research focuses on the evaluation of the responsibilities of Thana level Circle Officers in socio-economic development of rural life.
This book helps to understand the challenges, prospects, and limitations of village development administration.
According to the research, circle officers back then used to work with five different stakeholders. Senior administrative officers like the SDOs, thana level administrative officers, union parishad leadership like the chairmen and members, the local people and finally with various other political leaders.
With so many stakeholders involved, proceeding with development work ensuring each stakeholders' interest was complicated.
According to the research, the failure in the implementation of developmental programmes by the Circle Officers (COs) (Development) was because they did not have coordination amongst themselves. But this scenario is not due to the lack of vitality (average age 40 years), qualification, socio-economic background of the COs, but on a host of factors identified, led through the top-down-approach primarily, with the hierarchy of the policymakers.
According to the Swiss decentralised model of governance, coordination of the diverse set of Thana/Upazila local officials is vital for effective delivery of the developmental programmes of the government at the grassroots level. And that is why empowerment of the COs (sufficient authority to control other thana level officers) is essential.
The statistically significant size of responses (50% of the total number of COs surveyed) provides confidence in the findings.
It is clear that the interference and indifference of the local political forces and the COs tendency to unquestionably accept the directives from the central authorities hinders maximising the benefits for the local population. COs for their career interest are obliged to please the superiors in the hierarchy.
I was impressed with the comprehensive bibliography demonstrating the relevance of the multi-disciplinary approach of the study. Many of the national and international authors included in the references to the study are stalwarts of development. The cover design with the circle incorporating the title of the book is innovative.
While such a valuable insightful study was gathering dust for such a long period, it's wider sharing (through its publication now) will help mobilise support from a wide range of audiences, including academics, policymakers, civil society and other stakeholders, for the much needed administrative reforms convincingly identified in this book.
Iftikhar Ahmed is former Editor-in-Chief, International Labour Review, International Labour Organisation, Geneva, Switzerland.