68 Koraput villages list out priority areas like concrete road, electrification
Laxman Mathparia, from Mundiguda village in this predominantly tribal district, largely depends on selling pulses and coarse grains from his five acres of agricultural land, highly subsidised rice from the public distribution system and occasional work under the rural employee guarantee scheme to run his household comprising six people.
Mathparia, like the rest of the 35 predominantly tribal households in the village, part of Baligaon panchayat, had never been part of a preparation for a long-term village development plan.
The only planning meetings people like Mathparia attend are gram sabhas (village councils) held twice a year, which are mostly confined to identifying households which would be included in the beneficiaries’ list for enrollment under the Indira Awas Yojana (IAY), old age pensions, NREGA and the Odisha government’s PDS where 35 kg rice is provided to each family per month at R1 per kg.
“Most of the gram sabhas are conducted by the state government officials and do not involve long-term planning, keeping in mind the needs of the villages,” Mathaparia told FE.
Muguri Sounta, sarpandh of Baligaon gram panchayat, which has jurisdiction of Mundiguda village, also agrees that planning at the grassroots implies the implementation of key programmes such as NREGA, IAY, old age pension and PDS.
However, in a month-long initiative recently supported by the Centre for Youth and Social Development (CYSD), an NGO, the 68 villages that are part of Boipariguda block of this district, have prepared a comprehensive resource map keeping in mind the needs of the people.
“For the first time, a comprehensive document on the available infrastructure in each village was prepared to ensure need-based planning for the future,” Sagar Mohanty, who coordinated the preparation of village resource map on behalf of CYSD, said.
The 35-odd households of Mundiguda, after weeks of deliberations, decided to list out priorities such as the need for a concrete road, completion of electrification of eight households, constructions of toilets in most of the houses, provision for street lights, creation of a Kisan Sahayata Kendra and support for the marketing of fruits and vegetables produced in the villages.
According to Subhash Chandra Singh, block development officer, Boipariguda, more than 10,000 people, predominantly tribals living across 68 villages, participated in the planning process which would be critical to focus on priority areas. Singh admitted that most of the village-level planning in this area is actually done by government officials with little participation of communities.
Experts say that although the 73rd constitutional amendments passed in 1993 gave constitutional status to panchayati raj institutions (PRIs), it did not apply to scheduled areas having sizeable tribal populations.
Subsequently, the Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Areas Act (PESA), 1996 envisages the establishment of village panchayat as self-governing institution in tribal areas of states such as Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha and Rajasthan. However, only a few states such as Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan have formulated rules for the implementation of PESA in their respective states. Odisha, with 22.8% of scheduled tribe population out of the total population of 4.19 crore, is yet to formulate rules for the implementation of PESA.
According to an official with the ministry of panchayati raj, while the basic provision of the PESA is aimed at facilitating participatory democracy in tribal areas by empowering the gram sabha to manage its own resources and make plans, mostly it’s the government officials who carry out the function of planning in their behalf.
(Travel for this report was sponsored by the Government of India-UNDP Media Fellowships on Decentralised Planning, 2015)