Comilla Model

Comilla Model a rural development approach that originated and developed into a training-cum-research institution called the bangladesh academy for rural development (BARD) located on the outskirts of Comilla district town. The approach drew its name from that of the place of its origin. akhter hameed khan, pioneer of the Comilla Model and the first director of the Academy, conceived of the idea and developed the method of its implementation in the areas of agricultural and rural development on the principle of people's participatory role at the grassroots level and cooperatives. At the primary level, BARD decided to introduce a number of pilot projects beginning in 1959. There were two-fold objectives behind the introduction of these projects: (i) to provide a real-life learning situation for the trainees at the Academy, and (ii) to devise development model(s) of programmes/institutions which could be replicated elsewhere in the country. In guiding and operating the projects, BARD formulated a set of principles and strategies which provided the basis for developing the pilot projects, resulting in a rural development approach, known widely and termed variously as the Comilla Approach, Comilla Model, Comilla Programme, and Comilla Experiment.

Several steps were involved in the evolution of the Comilla Model. The first step was to make use of the existent training-cum-research institution, i.e. BARD. The second step was the affiliation of a laboratory area, a whole thana, to this institution. The purpose of the laboratory area was to carry out survey/research and organise action-research or pilot projects. The third step was a thorough study of the laboratory area and intensive consultation with the villagers on their problems and their views about the solution of those problems. The fourth step was close collaboration with the planning commission at the national level which made and evaluated policies and prescribed priorities in respect of plans and projects. The fifth was continuous evaluation and documentation of the pilot projects, not only to determine their progress but also to discover their weakness and revise them wherever necessary. The sixth step was to assist the government agencies in the multiplication of the model.

The arguments and assumptions which lie behind the development of the Comilla Model seem to have been: (i) that the problems of rural development should be approached from the villagers' point of view, because they have the best understanding of the problems of rural life and the rural situation; (ii) that the villagers are capable of bringing about changes in their conditions having been provided with the means for development; (iii) that agricultural development should be made an essential step in initiating a broader rural development process; (iv) that the village should be considered as a basic development unit, and recognized as the starting point of the process of modernization; (v) that training, research and demonstration are essential in promoting rural development, and these should have a symbiotic relation with the life of the rural community.

The most important element of the Comilla approach to rural development was the creation of an institutional base in rural society, and then integrate around it certain basic development programmes. The first major component of the base was a two-tier agricultural cooperative consisting of 'primary cooperatives' at the village level (viz Krishak Samabay Samiti) and a 'central federation of primary cooperatives' at the thana level (ie, Thana Central Cooperative Association). These cooperatives were voluntary economic organisations of farmers. The functions of these cooperatives were to encourage farmers to generate capital by thrift deposits, help them to get supervised credit, to spread improved methods of agriculture among farmers, to encourage farmers to adopt the technological innovations jointly, and to train them through their trained representatives. The second component was what was called the Rural Works Programme (RWP) with two-fold objectives: to build the infrastructure of link roads, drainage and irrigation; and to generate employment by using labour-intensive techniques of work. The planning and execution of RWP was the primary function of the local government institution. The Thana Training and Development Centre (TTDC) was the third component aimed at bringing together all officials of nation-building departments at the thana level and the representatives of the thana people into a single framework for coordinated rural development efforts. The TTDC also provided physical facilities such as office space for the officials, classrooms for training, workshops, etc and was designed to become a symbol of development administration. The fourth component was called the Thana Irrigation Programme which was designed to provide irrigation facilities to farmers through their participation in planning and implementation of irrigation schemes.

The salient features of the Comilla Model may be identified as: (i) institutionalization of the whole process of rural development having been the key word of the model, major emphasis has been given on the promotion of development and of refining various institutions, both public and private, and establishing a sound system of interrelationships among these institutions; (ii) involvement of both public and private sectors in the process of rural development; (iii) development of a cadre of institutional leaders in every village, such as the manager, model farmers, women organizers, youth leaders, village accountants, to manage their own organisations and sustain the efforts of development; (iv) development of three basic infrastructures (administrative, physical and organisational) for the comprehensive development of rural areas; (v) priority on decentralized and coordinated rural administration with due coordination between officials of various government departments and the representatives of people's organisations. (vi) comprehensive development by integrating and coordinating various complementary rural development services and project activities, planning and administrative procedures, relationship and decision making both vertically and horizontally and interaction among various sub-sectors at the local, regional and national levels; (vii) education, organisation and discipline are the prime characteristics of the model; (viii) the heavy emphasis on economic and technological factors for building a prosperous and progressive society; (ix) development of a stable and progressive agriculture which may improve the conditions of the farmers, and can provide employment to the vast majority of the rural labour force. These salient features distinguish the Comilla Model from other rural development approaches, such as community development, target group approach, and intensive area development. [Salehuddin Ahmed]

Bibliography MA Quddus (ed.), Rural Development in Bangladesh, Comilla, 1993; AH Khan, Works of Akhter Hameed Khan, Vol. III, Comilla, 1984; AH Khan, Director's Speech in First Annual Report, Comilla, 1960.