Improving People’s lives through Cooperative Societies

p11Rajgopal Deora
Secretary, Department of Cooperation,
Government of Maharashtra

What is the importance of Cooperation department in Maharashtra?
The truth is that half of the population of Maharashtra is directly or indirectly involved with the cooperative movements. So for Maharashtra it is important to ensure that the efficiency of the cooperation department is very high. Whatever development you see in the rural Maharashtra can be linked to the cooperative society movements, either in the form of sugar factory, dairy or any other area.

What role is the Department of Cooperation playing in regulating cooperative society movements?
You must be aware that the registration of the Society is done by government cooperative department. The situation is same as what we have in Company Act, where the companies get registered. In case of cooperatives, we have the Cooperative registrar to serve the purpose of registration. Apart from that we have day to day regulation, supervision of the cooperative society. Earlier some 10 -15 years back, monitoring, supervision and regulation of society was really high, but now with the extensive expansion of cooperative society the regulation has actually come down. This happened for various reasons. Large numbers of societies have expanded all over the Maharashtra, there is significant diversification in the activities and as the number of officers with the department is limited, we are unable to regulate properly. Now with economic liberalisation, all the sectors, including the co-operative sector, are being liberalised.

Recently the cooperation act was been amended for the first time since 1965, so what are the highlights of the amended act?
The amendment is in line with the 97th constitution (amendment) Act, which identifies formation of the society as a fundamental right. The new bill envisages transparency and professionalism in the functioning of cooperative societies. It also aims to bring in democratic control in cooperative societies in the state. The amendment proposes to cap the maximum number of members of the committee of a cooperative society at 21, of which, along with other reserved seats, two would be reserved for women. The term of office of an elected member of the committee and its office-bearers would be five years from the date of their election. As per the new set of rules co-operative societies will have upper cap on the strength of the committee members. The changes in the rules make t mandatory for the cooperative societies to set up an in-house grievance redressal forum to resolve the issues of the sector.

What challenges is your department facing in handling vast area in Maharashtra?
The cooperative movement in the county is so vast that it covers the entire life of the individual. Even in area of residential issues, we ave the housing society, in case of manufacturing, we have a dedicated society. So there are societies for all aspects of a person’s life. We have cooperative departmental store, dairy milk, sugar industry and other areas. The cooperatives are really very expansive space. During the last few decades the cooperative space has undergone monumental expansion. Now that forming of cooperative societies in Maharashtra has become a fundamental right, there will be more challenges in regulation of cooperatives. I mean we have to come up with a proper system or controlling and supervising the many new cooperatives that are bound to come up. This is a major challenge for us. To ensure that there is efficient implementation of the new cooperative act we need to deploy the best solutions from IT. Only solutions from IT can enable us to control and regulate the cooperative movements, which involves almost half of the state’s population.

What kind of solutions from IT are you looking for?
In fact we are now associating with organisations like KPMG and others to develop new applications. One master application is currently underdevelopment, and probably in the next two – three months it will be ready for implementation. In the  department itself there has been a huge expansion in the deployment of IT initiatives. People are now  using computers extensively for accessing emails. With e-Office being there, we are now able to conduct the department’s work through e-files, which are more efficient.

What is your feedback about e-Office ?In what ways is it improving governance in the state? 
In the department we are actively using e-Office. This leads to much needed efficiency and transparency. The people working in the
department are getting secure email ID and digital signatures to handle e-files. We have by now processed a significant number of e-files. However, as with any new system, we are facing quite a few challenges in effective implementation of e-Office. There are issues related to network, compatibility, hardware support and software. The availability of trained manpower is also an issue. We have regular meetings with the officials from NIC; they are providing us new solutions to take care of the problems that are coming up. In another one year, we could have a system where officials working on small palmtops which will be able to process files. In fact,
we already have a vibrant video conferencing facility at the department. This facility is proving to be very useful, as it enables us to conduct conferences with field level officers in a timely and seamless manner.