Innovations in Strengthening Decentralized Governance: Workshop to Share the Grass Root Practices – experiences from the Kutch District
(August 4, 2012, Mahatma Gandhi Labor Institure, Ahmedabad, Gujarat)
Kutch Nav Nirman Abhiyan, through Setus has initiated a process of strengthening the gram panchayats in the area of decentralized planning, increased access to funds, information and resources necessary for the realization of the developmental needs of the villages with equity and social justice and overall leadership development to practice participatory and accountable functioning. Setus strive not only to reorient the Panchayats to practice innovative people centered accountable development activities, but more so to institutionalize such self help efforts. The interventions are in the area of (i) Use of Information Technology in Participatory Decentralised Planning, (ii) Use of untied Fund and ways to improve panchayat finance and (iii) accountability majors.
(i) Use of Information Technology in Participatory Decentralised Planning
Under this programme support, the Panchayats are provided GIS based maps to facilitate local planning. To enable the gram panchayat members to make village level plans through the help of IT, a bilingual web based application was developed using local source technology called ‘Local Governance Support System’ (LGSS). It displays the village information which is collected from different sources on demography, natural resources, village level assets etc. It has also information on various government programmes and schemes. A comprehensive range of issues and information that affect the village development and governance such as location of public resources, the number of unemployed persons in the village, the proximity of schools, functioning / satisfaction with PDS, etc are included in the package. The software has the scope to be updated periodically, can be used in different locations and has the scope of replication.
Women have been more involved in the village planning process as the software provides visual images of the status of resources and services. After using this software now the locations of each proposed activity like, the village pond, check dam or school building, the exact location is displayed. This new planning process has been piloted in 20 panchayats of different talukas of Kutch district.
(ii) Use of Untied Fund and ways to improve Panchayat Finance
The concept of the village Governance Fund (initially known as Village Development Fund) was conceived of keeping in mind the need to strengthen, legitimize and transform gram panchayats as empowered change agents and enabling them to leverage other resources to maximize the development process. 70 gram panchayats have been supported through this fund. The panchayat body and the gram sabha were not used to such a process. However, developing capacities of the panchayats have gradually helped them prioritize their own development issues. The purpose is not that it will use the fund for a particular activity, rather the emphasis has been for improving planning and effort to access government resources. Some of the important activities taken up by the panchayats are setting up fodder bank, seed bank, renovation of ponds / water resources, improving health facilities that fall under panchayat jurisdiction. The panchayats have also taken up efforts to improve school education system by appointing community teachers, setting up libraries. In the area of public health promotion, efforts have been made to train community health workers to conduct health education, cleanliness campaigns and support to the ANMs. Panchayats have also developed keen interest on issues of human resource development including assertion of human rights with regard to women and children.
Two studies – (1) Financial Devolution to Panchayats, a case study of Gujarat (2) Gram Domestic Product of Village Panchayats have been undertaken by the Setu program. The first study analyses the institutional mechanism for devolution and have explored the devolution made by various institutions functioning in the PRI system. The second one on GDP analyses the actual level of income in the selected Village Panchayats and collating them with the official data on poverty and give policy prescriptions for reduction in the level of relative and absolute poverty in the rural areas.
(iii) Accountability majors
So far there is no clear guideline and tool to make the panchayats accountable except the provision of gram sabha. The Setus jointly with the Sushashini initiative of Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan has been disseminating educational information on good governance and accountability. Many of these gram panchayats are part of LoGIn (an initiative of Swiss Agency for Development & Cooperation) in which the gram panchayats underwent a structured knowledge building process on good governance. These interventions have built the capacity of the panchayats to make clear resolutions in the gram sabha and present their work in a transparent manner. These practices have led to formulation of a governance audit framework – a tool to measure performance of Local Government as governance institution; be able to compare them over time and across Local Governments.
The workshop will follow a format in which the grassroot facilitators researchers will make presentations providing concrete examples. In most of the cases the panchayat representatives will make short intervention explaining their work. Followed by these presentations, the subject experts have been requested to make their critical observation to derive insights into the theme. Besides inaugural session there will be three thematic sessions as mentioned above. Each session will be chaired by person having years of experience and expertise on the theme. The workshop will be attended by PRI representatives, Grassroot NGO facilitators, Academicians and Government Officials. There will be about 60 to 80 participants attending the workshop.