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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 35 August 18, 2018

Swachh Panchayat, Swachh Bharat: A Testimony of Twentyfive Years of Decentralisation

Thursday 16 August 2018, by Bidyut Mohanty


The year 2018 is being celebrated as the twentyfifth year of decentralisation at the grass-roots level all over India.

The 73rd Constitution Amendment Act 1993 was enacted with a vision of achieving three objectives through the path of participatory grassroots democracy:

a. Equitable economic growth. By this, it was envisaged that all sections of the Indian society, irrespective of caste, creed, gender, and religion will get relatively equal share of the fruits of growth.

b. Empowerment to women, Dalits and Adivasis. This was done by reserving seats for them in the three tiers of grassroots democracy: District, Block and Panchayats. Before the Act was passed women, Dalits and Adivasis were completely excluded from the local governmental process. By including them in the grassroots political institutions, it was visualised that these sections would take charge of good governance and will be in the decision-making position to pursue the welfare of these marginalised sections.

c. Social Justice for all. Once political participation and access to the growth process were ensured it would pave the way for greater conditions of social justice for everybody; hence inclusive development.

The Silver Jubilee of the statutory Panchayati Raj evoked much serious stocktaking. Some celebrated the great achievements of the decentralisation scheme and highlighted the gains, especially of women and the poorer sections of society. Others regretted that this crucial step in democratisation of the Indian polity and society had experienced enormous number of setbacks and even political betrayals. Many other commentaries saw both sides while pointing to the people’s determination to pursue the main objectives through persistent initiatives.

Let us take two major assessments, one by a former Minister of Panchayat Raj, a great champion of the concept and ideology of Panchayat Raj, Mani Shankar Aiyar who pointed out its glorious achievements, and the other by a well-known economist who, while also being a champion of the philosophy of Panchayati Raj, bemoaned how this experiment had become a product of systemic failure.

According to Mani Shankar Aiyar,1 all the State governments had fulfilled their commit-ments towards the panchayats. Substantiating his views he observed that the State govern-ments had devolved 18 of the 29 development subjects to local bodies. The Fourteenth Finance Commission had awarded 35 per cent additional, untied grant to be spent by the panchayats alone. The Commission had put two conditions, namely, undertaking comprehensive micro-planning with the help of members of the Standing Committees and also the constitution of District Planning Committees (DPCs) which should be active.The untied fund would be spent in creating the necessary infrastructure at the grassroots level. Further, Aiyar hoped that the Fifteenth Finance Commission would increase the funding by another two per cent and thereby the panchayats would have more resources.

Aiyar emphasised that the institutions had completed the first generation of governance and in order to achieve the success of the second generation of Panchayat Raj, three goals had to be fulfilled. Incidentally, he was clearly referring to Rajiv Gandhi’s remarks that twentyfive years or a generation of practice was needed to achieve substantial results and proper functioning of Panchayati Raj. Aiyar observed that at the end of the first generation, the panchayats can be more effective provided three conditions were fulfilled. Those are: the activity mapping through DPCs of all the Centrally initiated welfare and rights-based schemes. Further all three functions such as fund, functions and functionaries have to come under the panchayats. Lastly, a separate cadre of officials should be created for serving at the panchayat level. Aiyar was very optimistic and thought that already the marginalised sections of the society had been active and were reaping the fruits of growth. It is true that due to seat reservations for the women, Dalits and Adivasis, many grassroots leaders were getting elected from these sections. But whether these sections were indeed getting substantial benefits from the welfare programmes was open to question.

The other assessment was written by M.A. Oommen2 to evaluate the performance of the three tiers of grassroots governance. He pointed out that the Panchayti Raj at 25 was making progress in every State but at snail’s pace.

As to the question if women, Dalits and Adivasis had been integrated into the growth process as a result of this, M.A. Oommen made a sharp comment in his rather hard-hitting article: that it was still a distant dream. In his opinion, the decentralisation effort was facing a systemic failure. According to him, the marginalised sections of the society had still not been included nor was the activity-mapping through DPCs done in most of the States keeping that goal in view. Besides, many States had constituted parallel bodies that denuded the authority of the Panchayats. Both MPs and MLAs used funds given through the MPLAD or MLALAD to nurture their constituency. In the process the panchayats were sidelined.3 Thus all the three functions crucial for the effective participation of the PRIs in the development process were clearly lacking. Seen together, one can easily notice that the optimistic note of Aiyar is nearly destroyed by Oommen’s assessment.

In both the articles, however, the most important factor identified for effective functioning of the panchayats was the lack of political will that was evident. But what does the ground reality tell us? That is what we would like to discuss. However, we would take up one of the missions of the present government, namely, Swachh Bharat, as the vantage point to assess the role and performance of panchayati raj.

Relevance of Swachh Bharat

In 2015, the United Nations (UN) fixed a new set of goals, SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals), in which the well-being of people of all ages was the main concern. The UN categorically pointed to the important role of the local government bodies for the success of the goals. There are 17 goals and 169 targets.4 Along with ending hunger by 2030, one of the goals—goal no. 3—is to ensure Healthy Lives and promote ‘well-being for all at all ages’. This should be done by providing as well as utilising clean drinking water, and sanitation to all the citizens to live with dignity.

The set of targets to be achieved are:

1. By 2030, the maternal mortality should be reduced to 70 per 1,00,00 live births.

2. Prevent child mortality under five by 2030.

There are other targets as well. But these are the ones that have a special relevance for us.

In India the problems of providing clean drinking water and sanitation still remain to be achieved for a substantial population. The government has declared its goal of making India free from open defecation by 2019. The challenges of curbing the phenomenon of open drainage and improving the management of solid waste are huge. In fact in 2016-7 it is estimated that out of 67 per cent people living in the rural areas, seven per cent did not have access to safe drinking water.5 The status of sanitation is equally pathetic. In 2017 it was estimated that at least 730 million people did not have access to toilets.6 Coupled with that the high rates infant mortality and maternal mortality indicate the extent of poor state of our health scenario. In fact, as per the latest report, India fared very badly compared to other developing countries. Even Bangladesh having lower per capita income is doing much better than India in terms of infant mortality rate, though it is slightly higher than that of India in terms of maternal mortality ratio. Similarly Bhutan is also following the path of Bangladesh in reducing infant mortality. But China has excelled in both the indicators. Pakistan, with lower indicators, of course shows all the signs of being a developing country with relatively low human development index. (Table-1) But the distressing fact is that India boasts of being the third largest economy of the world having six to seven per cent annual growth rate, yet its basic health statistics do not match with its growth rate!

Since there is a lack of access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities, the disease burden is very high in India. For example, preventable diseases like diarrhea and other infectious diseases contribute 16 per cent and malaria contributes 0.8 per cent to the total deaths and this is associated with unsafe drinking water and poor sanitation.7 Lack of sanitation and safe drinking water have partly led to a huge percentage of stunting, under-nourishment, wasting and malnourishment among the children as is seen from the evidence for 2016.8 It is in this situation that the Flagship Scheme of the Central Government, called Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, acquires special significance. Irrespective of parties everybody has taken the question seriously. Even the so-called dormant panchayat bodies have been mobilised. More so the elected women members are quite enthusiastic about constructing the toilets since they are the ones who suffer most!

Status of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in 2017-18:

So far only 214 out of 712 districts (seven per cent), 113,514 out of 2.6 lakh panchayats and 257,259 out of 650,244 villages have been covered under the scheme.9 In other words, an estimated 69 per cent of the total rural area has been covered but 31 per cent is yet to be covered.10 Secondly, even though on paper it looks promising, one does not know to what extent the toilets are being used by the people. Because it is also noted that at least 66 per cent of the rural population use open defecation.11 In 2017-18, a sum of 1.22 lakh crore rupees was allocated that was lower than the previous year’s allocation, but it was raised to 1.38 lakh crore rupees in 2018-19 with a raise of 13 per cent. However, on a close analysis it is noticed that the allocation was lower by seven per cent than the revised actual expenditure of the previous year. More importantly, there was a decline of 2.1 per cent in the allocation for the National Health Mission—India’s largest progrogramme for primary health infra-structure. Further, the Budget allocation for Human Resource Development as a whole showed a decline of 0.23 per cent—the allocation being the lowest since 2014-15.12

Factors inhibiting use of the toilets:

An important cause of poor sanitation in rural areas is that people are not used to the indoor toilets and considerable cultural hesitations still persist. Secondly, a number of schemes which were in operation earlier such as the Nirmal gram yojana, could not take off because of not only cultural factors but also the lack of adequate supply of water. The pheno-menon of corruption at the execution level was also a relevant factor. Many other aspects should also be kept in mind. Some men think that the use of toilet is an item of luxury and prefer to use the open field. Notions of purity and pollution connected with the use of toilets matter a lot, particularly among women. At the same time it is also true that women and young girls need privacy; hence they prefer the indoor toilets. The lack of political will and poor planning were evident for all these years as even though many toilets were built, supply of water was not ensured. In many schools toilets were built, but not the water tanks over them; as a result children had to draw water from a well or a pond. The same was true of community toilets particularly in West Bengal.

The New Drive

Since 2014 there is in operation a fresh drive showing a degree of political will to implement the universal toilet coverage. However, manage-ment of solid waste and provision of safe drinking water are still not addressed seriously.

As for sanitation, an important factor acting against its success is the milieu of cultural practices at the local level. There are persistent advertisements attacking many prejudices. Some NGOs also work to change the unhealthy social habits. Unfortunately, however, nobody high-lights the concerns of the UNICEF, namely, open defecation is the cause of many diseases! Until the villagers are motivated, no Abhiyan would be successful. Within that women have to be motivated to use the toilets since they are the ones who bear the brunt of the problem. Even now in many areas they have to wait till night- fall to attend to the call of nature. Such a situation makes them vulnerable to sexual harassment and other hazards. They encounter situations such as rape and molestation. Snake- bites in the dark are not unknown. It is well-known that such situations make them victims of many diseases. Thus villagers or gram sabha in general and women in particular have to take interest in planning, executing and monitoring completion of the sanitation projects. Unless they are involved fully, the Abhiyan will not be a success. One wishes that the programme had even greater focus and fuller attention to the women’s role in conceptualising the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Even then women members of panchayats all over the country have taken up the challenge on their own taking advantage of the role assigned to panchayats in the sanitation drive. After all, one of the 29 subjects—item 23 —assigned by the Constitution in the Eleventh Schedule is promotion of health and sanitation.

This was evident at the Twentyfifth Annual Celebration of the Women’s Political Empower-ment Day on April 24-25, 2018 organised by the Institute of Social Sciences (ISS) in New Delhi. This year the Panchayat women leaders had a slogan, Make Panchayats free from open defecation; Build Swachh Panchayats. This year’s award-winning women leaders had undertaken many unique initiatives in their areas in different parts of India to achieve that goal. The elected women representatives had insightful suggestions not only on how to make the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan more realistic and successful, but also on taking the Panchayat movement forward, summing up their experiences over the last twentyfive years.

Voices from the Field—Hopes and Challenges

Starting from 1993 the Institute of Social Sciences (ISS), New Delhi has been observing the Women’s Political Empowerment Day every year on April 24 inviting women grassroots leaders from different parts of India to exchange experiences, discuss a specific theme and formulate the plan of action to take fresh initiatives to make the Panchayats more effective. A few women leaders are selected for awards to highlight their contributions. This year about 200 elected women representatives from nine States assembled in Delhi at the ISS’ Abbdul Nazir Saab Hall for two days. The annual stocktaking exercise this time on the occasion of the Silver Jubilee had a special significance.

Further, the objective was also to assess the implementation of the Central Government’s flagship scheme, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, in the rural areas. It should be noted that besides the increased allocation of funds, the extensive government publicity and media coverage about this scheme showed that perhaps on this scheme there was no lack of political will as was the case earlier.

Let us note the social composition of the women representatives who attended this meeting in Delhi which may be relevant to this discussion. Interestingly, these women represen-tatives did not come from the marginalised sections of the society but from the elite sections of the village even if they were elected as the SC and ST members. My own fieldwork as well as being involved in organising the annual celebrations at the ISS for the last twentyfive years showed that this phenomenon tragically had not changed all these years. The main reason was that fighting elections even at the panchayat level required huge amount of money which a poor woman or man could not afford. Moreover the role of muscle power has continued to increase causing intra-party as well as inter-party violence. In such a situation sometimes many poor women remain content with membership of the ward only.13

Some of the elected women are now college graduates. This is partly due to the legislative initiatives and policy drives in States and partly it is due to the fact that female literacy has jumped to 65 per cent and more girls go to college today than before. Twentyfive years ago many of the sarpanches were barely literate or had only primary school education. Many young women, in the age-group of 25 to 35, now entered the political arena compared to the situation in the 1990s. Many women leaders get re-elected and continue in a political role. One positive point to be noted was that over the years these women had become smarter, more articulate, aware of their duties under the present circumstances to serve the community and were trying to execute schemes such as the Swachh Bharat scheme enthusiastically. It is true that even though most of them came from the elite class, nonetheless as women they spoke freely on how they were discriminated against in society and politics.

Now one could clearly see a sense of empowerment in the behaviour of the women representatives. Such women take full advantage of the women collectives—self-help groups, women’s movement and civil society organi-sations—and their legal rights to function as independent political agency. Some of them admitted the positive help they received from their husbands and other family members. However, there were also other instances where they depended heavily on their family members and male leaders of parties in playing their political role thus showing that there was still a long way to go to see the emergence of the autonomous political woman.

Over the years, not only more educated women have come forward to contest elections, they demonstrate a new level of public awareness with more knowledge of the dynamics of panchayats as a political institution, their powers and responsibilities vis-a-vis the administrative set-up showing greater concern about the problems of the village. The women leaders are keen to make a difference; after all, ‘They call me Member Saab’14 is not only in imagination but a reality.

The participants were well informed about the various government schemes which came down from the above for implementation by them. They complained that they did not have any role in making policies and plans for the development of their villages. In other words, as leaders, they did not have the power to decide and execute developmental plans with the untied resources. This is the greatest challenge —a systemic one—to the success of grassroots democracy in contemporary India.

The women leaders spoke eloquently about the many concrete problems they face in performing their role. They not only had to play the role of the political leader in the panchayat but also had to fulfil their obligations in the family as mother, wife, daughter-in-law performing traditional family tasks of cooking, childcare and other domestic work. In the rural society they had to take part in many rituals involving births, deaths, marriages, festivals and so on. Occurrence of various forms of domestic violence was widespread. Besides, male domination was evident in the social sphere. Serious problems of liquor addiction posed another challenge. Government officials pay little respect to women panchayat leaders besides being indifferent to most of these issues. Male colleagues in the panchayat also often disregard the women leaders. The phenomenon of corruption involving the nexus of contractors, politicians and bureaucrats not only leads to leakages of funds but also results in substandard infrastructure and services.

Even in the face of such challenges some women leaders persist in their efforts to make a difference. The three awardees this year belong to that category. Ms Prema M. Timmanagoudar, President, Gram Panchayat Raddernagnur, Gadag Distt., Karnataka, has worked a great deal to make her panchayats free of open defecation. Ms Madhu Devi Upadhyay, Upa-Pramukh, Chandi English Panchayat, Rohtas Distt., Bihar, Ms Mukti Devi, Sarpanch, Bataikela village Panchayat, Jashpur Distt., Chhattisgarh also took similar initiatives. Prema Timmana-goudar started building toilets for the neigh-bours investing her own money—a small amount to Rs 800/- to start the campaign until the government grant arrived. She even started construction of village roads in the same way— to develop her panchayat. She felt women sarpanches were facing a number of problems such as their invisibility in the panchayat decision-making. She noticed that in many cases when women got elected their husbands took over. She took many steps to make women colleagues visible and assertive. She also created a community fund to help out the poor facing emergency needs. For all these initiatives she had been awarded earlier by the State Govern-ment of Karnataka. Ms Mukti Devi has a different profile as a consensus-builder among villagers. She takes consent of all the villagers to chalk out the annual development plan and prepare the budget. Ms Madhu Uppadhyay acquired her reputation by building a wholesale marketplace for selling the agricultural products of the farmers by using the MGNREGS money. She constantly emphasised the goal of the panchayat to promote social justice and empower women. It had not been easy though. In spite of having two children to look after, she was still fully involved in the panchayat work.

Functioning of the Nyaya Panchayat was yet another issue raised by the delegates from Bihar. They pointed out that the Nyaya Panchayat took up the village disputes for settlement. They observed that the most important problem facing women was the problem of liquor. Of course the State Government had taken the bold step to ban the drinking of liquor. As a result women felt relieved. Other women were equally candid in expressing their views on such issues. Delegates from Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra pointed out that they had achieved some success in making their villages Open Defecation Free (ODF) by providing toilets to every household, because the government officials supported them. One of the zilla parishad members of Chhatisgarh Leela Devi informed the gathering that she had encouraged as many as 5000 women to form the self-help groups. In her panchayat, in the past people used to engage the girl child in domestic work. But she persuaded the village women to send her to school. She stressed that the community should come forward to support the village activities. Unless one gets support from them nothing can be done. Further, she pointed out that all her male family members were in politics, they encouraged her to contest. But the condition was that she had also to look after the children, elderly, and cook for them! And yet be a good leader. In case of character assassination one should ignore—that was their advice. Some of the delegates were off-beat with excitement over fulfilling the target in ODF with the active support of the government officials. Through drum-beating and other forms of public campaign the message to achieve ODF was spread widely.

Delegates from Maharashtra shared their achievements and problems quite articulately. All the eight sarpanches said that their panchayats have already achieved the ODF under the Nirmal gram yojana. They also pointed out that people have ATM to get twenty liters of water everyday. Seema Dongree, sarpanch of Arbi panchayat, said that their MLA donated five lakh rupees to be used for drinking water purposes. The panchayat used that money to install an RO plant to purify the drinking water. Yet another sarpanch, Pramila Babasaheb Sinde, Udaipur panchayat, came forward to share her story. Her panchayat used the money which it received for the Nirmal gram yojana for buying sanitary napkins to be distributed to the young women.

Many panchayat leaders reported their experience in solving the problem of the migrants. This was a problem faced by panchayats of Himachal Pradesh. A row of community toilets was built for them. Savita Naik, sarpanch, Arbi panchayat of the same State, complained about the lack of funds. She said that the villagers are excited about he Swachh Bharat scheme but the government does not allocate sufficient funding. She proudly pointed out that her panchayat was paying a lot of attention to protect the environment. They were using organic manure by employing the paddy stack. They also have an ambitious plan to build a water harvesting plant but for the lack of money they are unable to do so. By the way, she concluded, the villagers contribute voluntary labour to get things done. She also narrated the share of each claimant for the grant assigned by the Finance Commission. She said that the panchayat got eight lakh rupees out of which the district took ten per cent, SC/ST got fifteen per cent, disabled’s share came to 0.3 per cent leaving 0.25 per cent for education and health. She impressed everyone by reeling out statistics on the allocation of funding. Had it been in 1995, she would have faltered to tell about the budget for the Indira Awas Yojana. Clearly women had made some progress over the past twentyfive years despite the double burden they carried in the public and private spheres.

 On the other hand, women from Odisha faced different kinds of problems. For example, Tanushree Priyadarshini, Zila parishad member of Jagatsinghpur, said that there had been a rift between the State Government and the Centre as a result of which money did not come in sufficient amount to carry out the construction of toilets. Such situtions arise when the regional political parties in power may not get the full cooperation of the Centre. She also pointed out that her panchayat got an award under Adarsh Gram Yojana. With that money, her panchayat helped to form self-help groups and started a Biogas plant. Babita Raut, sarpanch, Kujang panchayat, shared her views quite excitedly. She said that they have prepared 100 volunteers to spread the message of hygiene. Her panchayat distributes bleaching powder and dustbins to people to clean their toilets and not to throw the garbage outside. Regular orientation classes for villagers are held to create an awareness among the villagers to keep the panchayat clean.

However, a two-term sarpanch, Nandini Panda, smartly shared her views in telling that she approached the corporate sector to extend financial help in order to construct the toilets and she could help needy people to construct the same. Most of them stated that they took the community help to complete the task. Asked about the extent of help from their husbands, the women leaders pointed out that generally their husbands were not interested in panchayat. For example, Meena Pradhan, a sarpanch, Anugul district, said that her husband is a teacher. But she takes the help of the CEO to prepare the budget. Puspa Swain, sarpanch from the same district, observed that her husband is a contractor busy with his own business and does not help her! But interestingly she did not say if he gets all the contract jobs of the panchayat or not! All of them asserted that they have a women’s group which took the decision and they don’t go by any party. All of them pitch in to do the collective work.

In Himachal Pradesh the migrants are devoid of all facilities and hence they pose problems of open defecation. All of them agreed that social habits are hard to change. Insufficient money, delay in payment, lack of space, water scarcity besides corruption etc. pose as constraints and many toilets remained half-built. As a result, toilets are being used as storage place in many places or never used.

Asha Devi from Rajasthan, a veteran of local government since 1995, opined that in 2009 the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi marched to Nagaur panchayat in Rajasthan to commemo-rate the first panchayat set up by Nehru in 1955. There a group of Bishnoi women formed a circle to prevent the felling of a date tree. Not only that, they lighted lamps to worship the tree, saying that the tree is invaluable to them since its fruits are used in preparing many medicines. But also the leaves are used as brooms and it is a source of earning for them too. The delegate has been working for panchayats for the last twentyfive years. She felt that the present method of preparing the plans for the panchayats is faulty since Dalits and Adivasis don’t take part in the process. Secondly, the planning is not done in a holistic manner. For example, the DPC talks about the problem of cattle economy but never discusses the fodder issue. Insofar as efficiency of the woman is concerned she felt that it is the husband who takes over once she is elected. Further, the present form of announcing tender for getting the work done in panchayat is cumbersome and it is beyond the women’s capacity to get it done. Hence they face corruption. Other delegates also joined her in narrating similar problems. Some of them were of the opinion that managing the hospital waste as well as those of hotels, factories are difficult to manage because they face a lot of resistance from their staff. Rajasthan faces acute water shortage. The government gives money to construct toilets but there is no provision for solving the water shortage. Hence the toilets are never used. The panchayat people face a lot of problem since people use polluting water from the factories to irrigate their crops. The villagers suffer from various types of skin diseases. The women recommended that the government should not only ban the use of polythene but also try to monitor its implementation.

Women from Telangana too are busy in completing the building of toilets by taking the help of the community. One panchayat has employed three rickshaws to pick up the garbage from the village. Sarpanch Nagamani Devender, from Kompally panchayat had a different story to tell. Her panchayat got best award twice for having built the best infrastructure. Her panchayat was depending on bore-well for drinking water. After several representations to the State Government the government approved the provision for piped water. She also got best award for helping the self-help groups to start small business smoothly. Interestingly, the State Government is not conducting election to the panchayats and they are devoid of any funding. The problem of liquor is very acute in the State and women are fighting against that.

Some of the sarpanches could not attend the celebrations but replied to our detailed question-naire for the nomination of the award, distributed on the occasion of the Political Empowerment Day Celebrations. The replies we got also shed very interesting light on their performance. Of course one may say that somebody else might have written for them. But the replies were also authenticated by a reliable source.

Arpita Dhali, sarpanch from West Bardhman, West Bengal, observed that the development plans are made by the villagers in gram sansad in consultation with Gram Panchayat Develop-ment Plans (GPDP) and implemented by the different standing committees under the guidance of the sarpanch. In order to eradicate poverty the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme is used effectively. Within five years the panchayat received seven crore rupees and has spent in generating income-yielding activities such as plantation of fruit trees and rose cultivation. Along with that a kishan mandi has been constructed to store the vegetables. Roadside tree plantation has been done to protect environment and supply of fuel. Besides, under the National Livelihood Mission 213 self-help groups have been formed. The members are engaged in income generating activities as well. Activities like pisciculture, animal husbandry, poultry, paddy husking and preparing mid-day meals have been taken up by them. Unlike other States their panchayat could generate some resources on its own. Within five years of her tenure her panchayat has been able to generate two crore rupees for doing various welfare activities such as piped water supply for each ward, roadside community toilets and toilets for the schools.

The replies of a three-time sarpanch, Michael Kuttiyamma, from Idduki district, Kerala, showed that the panchayats there are relatively powerful compared to those in other States. Insofar as formulation of developmental plans is concerned, she reported that a District Planning Committee has been formed in each district. With the help of the District Collector and district panchayat president the plans are formulated. There are twelve planning committees to help the panchayat to carry out the activities. In order to identify the true beneficiaries a survey was conducted by the members of Kudumbashree—the well-known women’s cooperative—and homeless people were identified. Plans have been chalked out to sanction grants to provide them habitation. For poverty alleviation activities like helping the villagers to link the aadhar card with the bank, owning a mobile phone and encouraging to save — have also been taken up. Besides, Kudumbashree group members are leasing in land for joint cultivation. Others have taken up activities such as tailoring, goat keeping, bakery, poultry and piggery. Interestingly, there is no mention of employment guarantee scheme. Girl child issues are also taken up by her. She encouraged girl children of the SC and ST community to attend the school. Under her innovative work her panchayat conducted a tourism festival to attract tourists. The MLA, MP and Ministers encouraged her. She might get elected again.

Where are we today?

Twentyfive years ago the Constitution passed an Act in 1993 to give political space to women, Dalits and Adivasis at the grassroots level of institutions since they lacked political power and were not included in the growth process. By doing so it was envisaged that leaders from that section would be in the position of decision-making. Hence not only the path to development would be oriented towards bottom-up serving the cause of the masses of the deprived, but also governance would be transparent and parti-cipatory. Consequently, members of women, Dalits and Adivasis will reap the fruits of growth and be empowered.

However, even though the structures have been formed, the real power still evades the grassroots leaders. None of the three Fs: function, functionaries, or finance is under their control. The lack of a comprehensive strategy is evident in the entire process. This is often stated as the absence of political will, but will for doing what? Will to secure social justice for the marginalised has to be a multipronged project essentially based on power exercised by the common masses who have to plan the transformation process of their miserable condition. Currently, the goal of achieving social justice still eludes us in the caste-ridden and patriarchal society.

Yet as the narratives showed there were many positive trends. No doubt the panchayat women leaders have shown great promise despite the hurdles and have created the environment for pursuing the struggle for empowerment and social justice. But much more needed to be done not only by further institutional measures and appropriate development policies but also by women’s groups themselves who have to address not only economic and political issues but also the cultural milieu of patriarchy and caste. In this men have an equal role to achieve. At this rate, Swachh Panchayat in a narrow physical sense may not be far off, but a Swachh Panchayat, that is Swachh with justice, equality and well-being, is still a long distance away.


Access to Sanitation in 2015 in some of the developing countries (percentage) and Infant Mortality Rate per 1000 live births (2016), Maternal Mortality Ratio per 100,000 live births (2015)

India 41 35 174
Bangladesh 61 28 176
Pakistan 60 64 178
Bhutan 50 35 148
China 77 9 27





3. Ray, Suranjita, 2018, ‘Twentyfive years of PRIs:A Few Disquiets’, Mainstream, June 8-14, pp. 9-14.





7. States_Report_2017.pdf





12.,www.firstpost.comaccessed on 20/06/2018.

13. In fact Sidharth Mukherji’s latest finding on the election of Gram pradhani reveals the same pattern, namely, only prosperous candidates are contesting the election. Mukherji, Sidharth, 2018, ‘The Gram Pradhan Elections in Uttar Pradesh in Uttar Pradesh, Money, Power and Violence’, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. LIII, No. 24, June 16, pp. 58-63.

14. MARG, 1997, They call me Member Saab: Women in Haryana Panchayti Raj (New Delhi, MARG)

The author is the Head, Women’s Studies, Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi.

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