Grama Vikas, with the support of Arghyam, collaborated to work on a project to enhance the administrative capability of the Gram Panchayats (GP), using organization development principles to help facilitate change. The fundamental premise was that GPs should function as an independent, ‘self-governing units’ as envisioned in the 73rd amendment of the constitution. Instead, an analysis post ASHWAS (A Survey of Household Water and Sanitation), which was conducted by Arghyam in 172 Gram Panchayats, across 28 rural districts of Karnataka, in 2008, revealed that despite the legal and institutional architecture to pressure decentralization, GPs have benefited little from top-down initiatives to bolster their capabilities and capacities.
In the video above, Smt. Bharathi, Social Justice Head, speaks about her work on schools, monitoring the functioning of the School Development and Monitoring Committee (SDMC); and on managing complaints and irregularities in the mid-day meal scheme.
Broadly, under the project initiated by Arghyam, in Oorkunte Mittur panchayat, Kolar District, efforts have been made to align the agenda of rural development with panchayati raj. Post a series of exercises with the GP and the community, this administrative intervention focused on developing a vision, mission, long term plans, mapping processes of the GP, before evolving a framework to revive organizational functioning. Within this framework, five panchayat members assumed responsibility for specific portfolios consisting of a number of functions, clearly helping define their roles and responsibilities within the organization.
In fulfilling her role as Social Justice Head, Smt. Bharathi initially faced a lot of resistance from teachers, who rejected her invitation to attend meetings called by her, redirecting her to approach their seniors for approvals. She then worked to secure approvals from the Block Education Officer (BEO) to review progress and general functioning. A plethora of issues were discussed at length, including shortage of teachers, problems with the school building, issues in mid day meals, concerns related to the proper functioning of toilets etc. Although attendance of SDMC members was poor, teachers, cluster resource persons (CRPs), officers of education department responded well, even the CRPs from the adjacent GP of Angondahalli attended this meeting.
Many such basic initiatives can be revived or rekindled, or even streamlined, if the GP can be made the glue for such efforts. Smt. Bharathi’s enterprise and initiatives, among other achievements, have gone a long way in simply clarifying the role of the SDMC: the responsibilities of its members; the frequency of meetings to be held; financial grants to the body. Such interactions have helped motivate members of the SDMC in 5 Villages to volunteer and undertake many initiatives – a few instances are outlined below:
1. A school toilet in Markalghatta village was renovated, and a new water supply connection was given to the toilet, with the support of GP.
2. In Pitchgondlahalli, SDMC members and the villagers, collectively raised donations to provide uniforms to school children
3. SDMC members negotiated with vegetable growers in Markalghatta village to donate vegetables for midday meal scheme
4. On behalf of SDMC, the GP initiated communication with the education department to deposit funds in the SDMC bank account for the purchase of LPG cylinders, to which the education department responded positively.