Strengthening Pallisabha & Gramsabha The Key To Grassroots Governance
Chanutmal is a small village located 22 kilometres away from the block headquarters. It has 250 households and comes under Airada Gram Panchayat (GP) in Khariar Block. If we look at the composition of the population SCs, STs and OBCs constitute the majority. They are comparatively very poor; their literacy standards are low and depend mostly on daily wage.
There was no work taken up under MGNREGA during the last one year. People did not apply for jobs seriously through job applications. Whenever they enquired at the GP office or with the ward members they were told that there was no sanction from the government, so work could not have been started. Keeping this in mind a meeting was organised in the village where more than 200 persons were present. Majority of them were those who needed a job for immediate income that was to help family sustenance. Sada Bag, ward member of the village, presided over the meeting. Representatives of AHEAD, a Nuapara-based organisation, explained the rules and guidelines as to how a job was given by the GP/Block and all the important components of the scheme. From discussion it was revealed that the job card holders had never applied for job in proper format (C-1) but verbally contacted about the job openings. The message was given that MGNREGA was a demand driven activity and unless they did not apply in C-1, they could not be given any job by the GP. By this the people were motivated and agreed to apply immediately. Then AHEAD, helped the people to fill up C-1 form. A total of 180 persons filled up the form and next morning submitted it at the GP office at Airada, 5 kms away from the village. They also got the receipts against the submission of forms.
Subsequently, a group of people also met the ABDO and the EO of the GP and discussed as to how they could be engaged in any job work opened in the village. They suggested continuing the digging of the mahabandh which was half done. Block immediately sanctioned a work with an estimated cost of Rs 3, 00,000/- for providing jobs to the villagers. On 27/4/2011, in a village meeting the EO handed over work order in C-2 form to 79 people out of 180 who had applied and declared that the work would be started on 1/5/2011. For the better monitoring of the work, a supervision committee was formed taking two SHG members, one ward member, three villagers. Umesh Sagaria was made the coordinator of the committee.
The work was started on May 1 and continuing till the targeted date. They have received a payment of Rs 2,62,500/- against the work done till the reporting period. When they were not aware of the process of applying they did not get any job from the GP/Block. The people feel very confident now with their achievement for successfully mobilising the GP and Block authority for availing employment in the village. Information creates an enabling environment.
The people of 12 gram panchayats of Kosagumuda block depend on the PHC (N) located at Kodinga for health services. Unfortunately, there had been no doctor posted in the hospital for last one year. The health services were attended by a pharmacist and other lower-level employees of the hospital. The sudden death of the pharmacist totally paralysed the healthcare system in the area. The people were going to either Kosagumuda CHC or to Nabarangpur district headquarters hospital which was far away from the Kodinga. Since there was no medical officer Aanganwadi and ASHA workers were not performing their responsibilities as desired.
The project staff initially had dialogue with some progressive leaders of the locality with regard to the heathcare system and the problem of the people. Repeated persuasion of OPDSC, a Rayagada-based NGO, resulted in organising a meeting at Kodina. People from Ekori, Panduguda, Kodinga discussed on the issue and a committee was formed consisting of 20 persons from different Gram Panchayats. The members selected Dharma Singh as the president and Kunja Bihari Das as the secretary. The second meeting was held on the premises of Aravind Integral School at Kodinga with participation of more than 200 people. The committee decided to put forth its demand before the CDMO, District Collector, Chairperson Zilla Parisad, MLA, MP and health minister. The delegation for the committee met the Collector and CDMO Nabarangput and put forth its demand for posting of a doctor and a pharmacist in the PHC (N) Kodinga. They warned the authority that they would be sitting on a dharna if the demands were not met. With the pressure of the people, the doctor and the pharmacist were posted in the hospital in the month of February, 2012. The whole process of mass mobilisation was facilitated by the Gram Swaraj Project volunteers.
Phagu Saunta is a ward member of Bejnikhola village of Gadiaguda GP under Dasamantpur Block of Koraput district. This village is situated 3km away from the GP headquarters. This is inhabited by 35 households mostly belong to the Paraja tribe. Phagu discontinued his study after 8th class due to poor economic condition of his family. As a drop-out he could not sit silently but organised the people to fight for their right.
This young man before being elected as ward member was observed to be benevolent and progressive in output. He has good motivational skill which helps in mobilising the villagers in number of community issues. Because of his several qualities, he was unanimously elected to the position of ward member by the villagers. His association with EKTA, a Koraput-based social organisation, made him aware of governance schemes and policies.
He participated in various trainings, meeting programmes both at the GP and Block levels. He himself was trying to know about various government schemes and discussed about the same with the people. As a ward member he motivated the people to attend pallisabha and the nodal meeting of the gram panchayat. He has been continuously raising the issues of the village in the nodal meetings. He mobilised all the families in the village to apply for job cards under MGNREGA and has been successful in making it available to them. Job cards for all and proper wage payment and regular distribution of ration through PDS, was ensured by him.
Under the leadership of Phagu the village could be able to get the works of field channel of Rs 1.50,000/- , water harvesting structure of Rs 6,00,000/-(for irrigating 50 acres of land) and plantation programme of Rs 5,50,000/-. These are all productive assets created in the village to enhance the income of the village through additional products caused by agriculture development. The villagers earlier dependent on the money-lender for loan at higher rate of interest have developed a self-sustained economy due to enhanced production and job availability in the village. The villagers have enough faith and trust on Phagu Saunta as a ward member. Phagu Saunta has proved that a ward member can bring changes in the socio-economic profile of a village through sustainable livelihood promotion measures.
All these happened at the initiative of the project titled “Just Governance through Gram Swaraj in Rural Odisha” which is implemented in a consortium approach with an alliance of voluntary organisations under Gram Swaraj Abhiyan. The project is being implemented in some of the coastal districts as well as in the tribal-dominated south and western part of Odisha. The programme basically aims to strengthen the PRI institutions and empowerment of the communities for making the villages in self-development units. The Pallisabha and Gramsabha need to be the real village assembly. Empowerment of the Panchayati Raj Institutions aims to transfer power to the people and exercise the same through Gram Sabha for strengthening decentralised democracy at the village level. In the development process, collective approach is an ideal strategy to make the programes effective with lasting impact. The project “Just Governance” to establish the spirit of Gram Swaraj is expected to be executed as a Multi-Actor Initiative (MAI) by encouraging people from different disciplines in order to bring about policy changes in favour of the poor.
The exercise added to the understanding and knowledge-base of the social activists; they were sensitised on the role of village panchayat and participation of all sections of the community in the process. The idea of good governance put forth before them encourage them for its realisation and most of them expressed their optimistic views of achieving the same in their respective operational areas in promoting local self-governance. In most of the villages the social activists could facilitate the village plans and were able to convince the PRI representatives on planning by the people. As a result, village-level plans were prepared in 131 villages. Participation in the pallisabha and gramsabha increased in all the operational areas. Women participation was found to be more compared to the attendance to the previous pallisabha and gramsabha. The facilitators could encourage the villagers to become vigilant in the activities of the gram panchayat and other village-level service provider institutions. The exercise enhanced the confidence level of the social activists to work further.
Odisha is considered to be one of the economically weaker states with 46 per cent of its people still living below poverty line. The tribal and Dalit constitute around 40 per cent of the total population. Among them more than 80 per cent of the families are below poverty line. During the last decades after Independence the tribal and forest-dwellers have been displaced due to mega projects which has affected their socio-economic conditions and further marginalised them.
The village-level awareness camps were organised in coastal as well as in KBK areas on the important issues such as MGNREGA, RTI etc. These camps were organised at strategic villages to cover the whole panchayat. PRI members, community leaders, SHG members, and local youths participated in these camps. Apart from this a concept of Gram Swaraj was also explained to the participants. They are sensitised on the gaps, hindrances and in understanding the ground realities in the so-called governance process and issues involved in it. The village would be definitely a self-developed unit if these schemes are properly implemented by the authorities with progressive spirit and seriousness.
The effective functioning of the gram panchayat depends on the role of the standing committees. Though it is mandatory to have seven standing committees in the gram panchayats, it is observed that in most cases-even, the people PRI representatives are not aware of the standing committees. Due to lack of awareness of the standing committee members on their roles and responsibilities they were not discharging their responsibilities for proper implementation of the programmes. The standing committees got to know about their responsibility and actively involved in monitoring various development programmes at the village level. The committee members have been playing a key role in the process of social audit in most of the gram panchayats. The impact of the capacity building programme has activated the standing committee members in tribal districts such as Koraput, Nabrangpur, Nuapada, Kalahandi, Rayagada and Malkanagiri. It has boosted the confidence level of the women as elected representative of the village. Their role is crucial in monitoring the ICDS programme in the village since this committee is constituted by women representatives only.
By Sudarshan Chhotoray from Bhubaneswar