The 73rd amendment of the constitution in the year 1993 gave the legal and constitutional status to the gram panchayats so as to deepen democracy at the grass-root level. This provided the opportunity for people in rural areas to have self-elected local bodies at the panchayati level. The Article 243G of the constitution states: endow Panchayats with such powers and authority and may be necessary to enable them to function as institutions of self-government. Thus empowering the Gram Panchayats to work towards social justice, good governance, and economic development. Therefore, the third tier of local governance is expected to perform responsibilities of service delivery and poverty alleviation (Ministry of Panchayati Raj, 2018). However, after careful evaluation of the field situation, it can be assumed that the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) still have a long way towards becoming the fulcrum of development. To some extent, this can be attributed to the challenges faced in strengthening the elected representatives due to inadequate capacity building (Sinha, 2018). The Status report PRI Capacity Building & Training (CB&T) in India gave some innovative recommendations towards building capacity (Ministry of Panchayati Raj , 2011). One such suggestion was to facilitate exposure visits for PRI functionaries and following up on it. In the subsequent sections, the article elaborates on how exposure visit can make adequate behavioural changes and have an impact on the functioning of the PRIs through the case study of exposure visit by elected representatives of PRIs of Uttar Pradesh in Kerala.
Background of Exposure Visit
Kudumbashree – National Resource Organization’s Panchayati Raj Institutions- Community based Organization Convergence Project (PRI- CBO Convergence) is been implemented in collaboration with Uttar Pradesh State Rural Livelihood Mission (UPSRLM) across 10 districts of Uttar Pradesh. The convergence model draws from the experiences of Kerala focusing on community empowerment and the service delivery mechanism of the gram panchayats.
As part of the project, the exposure visit is used as a tool for capacity building to help PRIs understand their roles and responsibilities by imparting knowledge on Kerala’s model of development, emphasizing the role of Gram panchayats and Community Based Organizations in it. The exposure visit provides ground level experience to the participants focusing on the three F’s functionaries, functions, and funds of the panchayat and how the CBO’s have played a crucial role in supporting the Gram Panchayat in the implementation of development work. The program is specifically designed on the basis of the need assessment of the partner state and the participants, as PRI representatives from diverse backgrounds attend it; making it crucial to cater to the need of everyone and at the same time increase the existing knowledge base.
The exposure visit delves deeper into the themes of local governance, poverty alleviation and women’s collective by focusing on understanding the process of Gram Panchayat Development Plan, convergence platforms between the CBO and panchayat, innovative initiatives undertaken by the panchayat for its citizen and closely understanding the implementation of flagship schemes through panchayat like Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and others. The program is facilitated through field visits and experience sharing of concerned facilitators; Panchayat President, Ward members, Community Development Society chairperson, Aganwadi teacher, and others (Kudumbashree NRO, 2018). Throughout the course of the program different tools and techniques of learning are used which aim to enhance the skills of the PRI’s and help them imbibe the field learnings. The process of self-reflection is heavily emphasized on so that they can do a personal analysis of their respective roles which helps in gaining a better understanding of their weakness and strengths. The foremost objective of the program is to motivate and encourage the participants to take forward the learnings from Kerala and put them into practice for the development of the people.
Case of Exposure Visit – Uttar Pradesh
In the month of December 2019, twenty PRI representatives of 10 districts of Uttar Pradesh namely Basti, Banda, Baharaich, Chandauli, Fatehpur, Gorakhpur, Mirzapur, Sultanpur, Sohnbhadra and Varanasi visited two districts; Kozhikode and Ernakulum as part of the exposure visit. Gaps from the field experiences in Uttar Pradesh were identified and the visit was designed accordingly. The focus of the visit was to build the capacity of the PRI functionaries by creating awareness of their roles and responsibilities. Also introducing them to the role and importance of the CBO network in development.
During the field visits the Panchayat Presidents of the immersion Gram Panchayat’s spent considerable time explaining their role in achieving social justice and economic development for its people; thus making the Gram Panchayat approachable to the people. This left a lasting impression on some PRI representatives from Uttar Pradesh. The subsequent impact of which could be seen in Niyatipur Gram Panchayat, Varanasi where the Pradhan’s first intervention was to refurbish the panchayat bhavan to make it approachable to people in times of need. Seeing the way panchayat office functions in Kerala and how accessible it is to people. He was very motivated to replicate it at his level and in the future aims to strengthen the standing committees for the development of his village.
In times of the crisis, the Panchayats in Kerala have taken the leadership role to provide assistance to its citizen. For instance, In Panangad Gram Panchayat (GP), the experiences of 2018 floods were shared and how the GP played a role in providing assistance by the distribution of relief material and even contributed 2,96,610 for the flood relief fund. Sharing of these experiences has helped PRI representatives from UP understand the diversity in their roles and put them in practice. Amidst this ongoing pandemic COVID-19 the Pradhan of Belvababu GP, Gorakhpur along with SHG members helped set up a quarantine facility for the returning migrants. Similarly in Khudraha GP, Basti the Pradhan approached the Self Help Group members to produce masks for the entire village at his own expense The increased understanding of their roles has helped PRI’s take a responsible role in times of crisis.
The other aspect that PRI representatives were exposed to was the role of CBO’s and the importance of convergence with these collectives of women. Subsequently, the PRI’s perspective on the role of SHG changed which was visible through the initiatives undertaken by them to attend CBO meetings to understand the SHG federation’s problems and share their experience of visiting Kerala. In Barora GP, Fatehpur the Pradhan motivated the women of his village not to break the Self Help Groups. Rather explained to them the benefits they could reap from the power of a collective that comes along with it. He has also submitted a proposal to open a market on the panchayat’s land to increase employment opportunities. While in Parsurampur GP, Sultanpur the Pradhan has taken a step towards motivating women of other panchayats as well. The field coordinator of Sultanpur; Kajal says, “Post the Kerala visit he has become more approachable and understanding. This wasn’t the case before; it was difficult to ask for his help or anything. The Pradhan even funded a mela organized for the SHG women to celebrate their togetherness”. The literacy campaign has been initiated by the Pradhan of Gopia GP in Bahraich for 35 women. He provided for all the necessary arrangements needed to start the campaign. These are small but big steps towards bringing a difference in the approach of PRI representatives.
The exposure visit has empowered a diverse group of PRI representatives to impact the service delivery mechanism and enable an inclusive atmosphere of development. Further, the exposure visit did not let the elected representative’s education status become a barrier rather gave the opportunity to learn directly from the experiences on the field. This brought a new motivation and a chance to share the best practices from each other. In the past and in ongoing times of crisis the strengthening of local self-governments has become crucial to transform rural India. Thus its high time that states adopt different strategies for capacity building like developing immersion sites to learn about the best practices using the available scheme like Rashtriya Gram Swaraj Abhiyan or seeking support from technical agencies/ civil society organizations.
-Subha Kawatra (One of the Prize Winners of Article Writing Competition 2020 in the 25-44 Years Age Group)
-Kudumbashree NRO (2018). Learning Visits, Kerala, Kudumbashree NRO. Retrieved from https://www.kudumbashreenro.org/learning-services/learning-visits
-Ministry of Panchayati Raj (2011). PRI Capacity building & training (CB&T) in India, New Delhi, Government of India
-Ministry of Panchayati Raj (2018). Guidleines for the Preparation of Gram Panchayat Development Plans 2018. New Delhi, Government of India.
-Sinha, D. R. (2018). Capacity Building of Panchayati Raj Institutions: A case study from Jharkhand and Telangana field realities. Journal of Rural Development Review, IV.
Picture: Exposure Visit to Panangad Gram Panchayat, Kozhikode District, Kerala (Credits – Subha Kawatra)