Low Cost Bridge: A Unique Initiative

Sarishakhola Gram Panchayat near Ghatal in Keshpur block is flood prone by its sheer nature. During monsoon residents of this area remain scared of being swept away by the deluge. There are several ponds, puddles and natural canals lining this Gram Panchayat area. On one side these numerous water-bodies act as reservoirs for holding the extra runoff from the flood water while on the other these same water-bodies act as deterrents for the locals to commute between nearby places. Although the locals somehow manage this situation by constructing temporary wooden bridges in other seasons but during the monsoon time these same locales of the villages appear as islands arrested by water.

Wooden sanko at Hajichak before implementation copyTHajichak bridge after completion 3 copyhAmarchak bridge after completion

The Gram Panchayat is aware of this situation and is ready to solve the problem. In 2013-14, the Gram Panchayat constructed a bridge with sluice gate on the kolkoli canal. It costed approximately Rs 32 Lacs. But the problem is, such canals are almost everywhere in the GP area. Even if there’s no sluice gate, constructing a concrete foot bridge of dimensions 12 meters in length and 2.1 meter width would cost Rs 18-20 Lacs. Sarishakhola Gram Panchayat did not have so much financial resources to spend on constructing a bridge in every year. In this situation the Nirman Sahayak of the GP came forward with a solution. He suggested using steel in place of concrete for constructing the bridge would substantially minimize the cost of construction. He added that if the project plan got approval he could do it successfully using his prior experience in similar jobs.

Among the projects planned by Sarishakhola Gram Panchayat for implementation from ISGPP’s 2015-16 Block Grant amount, the following two ‘foot bridge’ construction projects were also included – 1) construction of foot bridge at Amarchak sansad at Manapara over Amarchawk canal 2) construction of foot bridge at Mandalpara in Hajichawk gram sansad over kana canal.

The estimated cost for constructing each of the two foot bridges was Rs.7,23,526/-. The first of the two bridges is 12.5 meters in length and 2.1 meters in width and the actual construction cost was Rs. 7,10,283/-. The second footbridge is 11.8 meters in length and 2.1 meters in width. This area is a residing place of 350 families comprising of 2000 people. On one hand construction of these foot bridges will bring relief to the helpless families who were earlier forced to remain confined within their rooms during monsoon, on the other hand the new constructions will help daily commuters to follow the normal route instead of the alternative hectic one. In fact, now these foot bridges have eased communication so much so that even in emergency situations vehicles can travel across the bridges and reach the doorstep of the patients. Such steel made foot bridge is the first of its kind in this block, which is comparatively less expensive but more efficient.

Exemplary Activity of A Gram Panchayat

Every Block of South Dinajpur district is suffering from water borne diseases due to presence of fluoride in drinking water. Common people are at a loss to combat against this situation. It is observed that in most of the areas bottles of 20 litre purified drinking water are being supplied on commercial basis. Some of the Gram Panchayats of the district have come forward to bring a solution of this problem. To provide purified drinking water to its citizens, Gram Panchayats are installing drinking water purifier machines with cooling facility in different areas of their domain. But the venture being expensive, it was not possible for the Gram Panchayats to make such an arrangement in every area of their territory.  

12. Movable Water Tank-Bhatpara

Among these Gram Panchayats the endeavour of Bhatpara Gram Panchayat is worthy of mention. This Gram Panchayat installed water purifier machines in its area but that could not fully cater to the need of purified drinking water of the local people. So this Gram Panchayat took an additional measure. They have constructed two wheeled mobile water tanks to supply pure drinking water to its citizens.

These tanks carry purified tube well water. In 2015-16 financial year, they have used the ISGPP Block grant in constructing two steel tanks, each of which contains thousand litre water. It costed Rupees 1,80,000 for the construction of each tank.  These tanks are available on demand in any occasion in lieu of a particular fee which will help the Gram Panchayat to have an increase in its own fund.

This activity of Bhatpara Gram Panchayat has set an example to the other Gram Panchayats and they are also keeping this programme for implementation in the 2016-17 Annual Planning.

Even In Poverty Where Head Is Held High

We all are familiar with the common saying that ‘poverty spoils character’. Sometimes we ourselves use this proverb also in relation to some people around us. But the people of twenty to twenty two scheduled caste families of Bhuiapara under Godapiyashal Mouza proved that the proverb has its exception.

Bhuiapara is a small village under Godapiyashal 1 Gram Sangsad of Karnagarh Gram Panchayat belonging to the Salboni panchayat samity of Paschim Medinipur district. The village by the side of NH60 is about 15 kms from Medinipur town. All the families residing in this village are of scheduled caste community and they earn their livelihood as daily labourers. There are no agricultural activities in this village as the families living here do not own any land. The adult men of these families work only when they find any suitable chance to offer their labour. On the basis of their low income these village families run. The female members of most of these families everyday collect wood from the nearby jungle which is about 1 km from this village and after drying these woods at house; again they walk a distance of 3 km to sell it to the hotels or sweetmeat shops at Bhadutala Bazar. The daily average income of these families is not more than Rs 150. When their daily food is not ensured, it is not wise to think that they are not having any problem with water. Scarcity of water is a chronic problem to them. A few years ago a tube well was installed in this village under “swajal dhara scheme” but water supply was irregular. At the time of no functioning of the tube well, the whole village had to depend on a government well. Even in that case getting water was dependant on the whims of the landlord under whose premises the well was situated.

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To eradicate water scarcity of these people the local gram panchayat in the financial year 2015-16 installed a submersible pump with a water tank by the side of the angawadi centre of this village. The act was done with the grant of ISGP Project at the cost of Rs. 1, 54,936/-.

In other cases of installing submersible pumps with the support of gram panchayat, as a part of environmental and social management, a consumer committee is formed to take legal electrical connection. In this case there was no exception. Here the role of the poor villagers is really praiseworthy. They did not forget the norm of taking legal electrical connection even after getting the service. They did not escape from their responsibility claiming they are poor. They on their own effort had formed a consumer committee and had taken legal electrical connection. The consumers as a whole have paid their electric bill for the month of October, November and December (2015) after collecting money from their families. Even they have helped a handicapped person who operates the pump twice a day, with the rest of the money after paying the electric bill. So people like Kochi Bhuia, Budha Bhuia of this village are self sufficient today. With pride they say today, “this is our asset, we will maintain it.

ISGP Project : Planning & Monitoring through GIS

Introduction of GIS based technology to Gram Panchayat monitoring is a rich value addition to the state oversight being managed by a comprehensive web based application. Our website http://isgp.in is specifically designed for the purpose of providing ‘Planning and Monitoring through GIS‘.

The Geographic Information System (GIS) based monitoring system chiefly provides “real time” monitoring of GP infrastructure activities as well as capturing participation of citizens in GP level meetings with latest and real time status. Tracking the progress of activities on real time basis improves overall project management and enables transparent, accountable, timely and efficient service delivery across the nine districts under ISGP Project. The ‘real time’ data is available to the public from the website: http://isgp.in

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Visual Illustration of ISGPP’s GIS based application

“In a nutshell, GIS based Integrated Planning & Monitoring System is our ultimate tool for showcasing that the GPs in West Bengal are transparent and accountable in public service delivery.” 

Road to ODF West Bengal

30th April will be ’Nirmal Bangla Diwas‘ this year onwards. With Nadia to be declared Open Defecation Free (ODF) being the first district in the country, West Bengal is about to witness a major stride in its Mission Nirmal Bangla to eliminate open defecation from the rural landscape for a cleaner, safer and healthier Bengal. Perseverance of the district administration towards construction of about 3.09 lakhs individual household level toilet coupled with extensive training and behaviour change communication brought them closer to the prestigious title of being the first ever ODF district in the whole country.

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The ISGP Project which has pioneered GIS based GP planning and activity tracking as also Grievance Redress Mechanism system through Web and toll free helpline has now collaborated with Mission Nirmal Bangla for ODF Gram Panchayats. Ever since Mission Nirmal Bangla programme has been launched state-wide, ISGP Project team has been an integral part of it to function as district level resources to impart training to Panchayat Institutions to promote open defecation free sanitation habit in rural areas. The team has been working as district level hubs in dissemination of knowledge among the stakeholders, motivating institutions to undertake campaign on various initiatives complementing efforts of Mission Nirmal Bangla. ISGP Project team has been entrusted with the responsibility to implement Solid Waste Management schemes in 200 GPs within the project universe. The Solid Waste Management scheme is one of the key and challenging interventions under Mission Nirmal Bangla. District Coordination Units of ISGP Project are holding sensitization workshops with potential Gram Panchayats for social mobilization. In the next phase, selected Gram Panchayats would be trained on operational aspects of solid waste management initiative and its sustainability. One time financial aid worth Rupees Twenty Lakhs would be provided to each of the Gram Panchayats for creating infrastructures like central processing units, household level waste bins and waste transportation system etc.  The project Gram Panchayats, having received mentoring support for last four years to gain institutional strength to delivering better civic services are now prepared to demonstrate that they belong to “Next Generation Panchayats” which is modern, strengthened, transparent and cleaner.

Bridging Happiness Into Lives…

“A cold shudder always came across while crossing the road. It was practically impossible to recognise the roads, amidst the over flooded Bagui”, speaks a petrified hawker from Boincha mouza looking towards the lush green tracts of agricultural land. That land was earlier inundated with water especially during the monsoon season due to the overflowing Bagui canal. The Bagui canal flows through Dantan-I, Dantan-II, and Narayangarh blocks in Paschim Medinipur and Patashpur block in Purba Medinipur. Since the canal is linked with the Subarnarekha River, the canal used to overflow with the rise in water levels in the river, especially during the monsoons every year.

It was a similar situation in Boincha mouza in number 3 sansad under Talda Gram Panchayat at Dantan-II Block where Bagui canal meets river Kheleghai. This area was similarly affected and devastated during the monsoons due to the rise in water levels of Subarnarekha. A settlement comprising of 40 Scheduled Tribe and 12 Scheduled Caste families is situated south of the Boincha mouza. As the Bagui canal runs through the middle of the village it hindered communication, economy and livelihood of the people, especially during the monsoon. Hence the villagers were forced to take alternative routes to the market for business, incurring more losses due to increased transportation cost. It was especially difficult for the children to reach the school. The children had to take a detour through Kakrajit which was an additional distance of 10-11 Kms. This led to a decrease in the number of children attending school and 21 children’s attendance was severely affected.

Daily life and economic activities were also hampered. It was very troublesome for the sick to reach Nandkuria health sub-centre and Dantan-I Block health centre. There was a decrease in the attendance of 10-12% of students in the college situated at Dantan-I. The community used to face problems in reaching the court, market place and registry office. Moreover as this mouza is bordering Dantan- I Panchayat Samiti, hence dwellers of Dantan-I also had to face the same inconveniences. The alternate route was through Monoharpur which was an additional journey of 16-17 kms.

West Bengal Gram Panchayat    Gram Panchayat in West Bengal

The main festival of these two areas is the Raas Yatra. This annual festival at Kakrajit mouza at Dantan-I Panchayat Samiti is a grand affair and attracts devotees from all surrounding regions. Due to the canal, the devotees had to take a detour of additional 20 Kms through Kazipara area to reach the festival venue.

Although Gram Panchayat had planned for solutions, financial support was the major barrier. During 2011-12, the canal was temporarily renovated which failed to resolve the difficulties faced by the communities. During 2012-13, the Institutional Strengthening of Gram Panchayats Project (ISGPP) provided the breakthrough with a financial support of Rs.9,50,000.00 (Rupees Nine lakhs fifty thousand only) along with technical expertise for construction of a bridge over the canal with embankment. Along with the ISGPP grant, Rs.1,30,000.00 (Rupees One lakh thirty thousand only) from State Finance Commission grant and Rs.80,000.00 (Rupees Eighty thousand only) from Gram Panchayats own source revenue was sourced for the project.

‘Vivekananda Setu’ as it was named, has so long proved to be decisive and pivotal infrastructure for the villagers. It has been planned to be compatible with the environmental and social standpoints and its construction and existence has no harmful and hazardous impact on the natural environment and ecological system of the neighbourhood. This bridge has eased communication woes and children now attend school regularly and it has become very convenient for the menfolk to reach the markets on time to sell their produce.

Through additional effort of Gram Panchayat and the villagers the embankments have been fortified which has enabled faring on adjoining 500 acres of land, thrice a year. This has ensured economic upliftment and safety for the localities, thereby assuring a happy habitat for all. Transportation has become hassle-free. People are now reaching homes earlier than before. Earlier, the villagers had to spend extra on transportation due to additional distance covered. This money is now being saved and is being spent on food items thereby contributing to slightly improved health for children. The time saved due to this canal is spent at home thereby ensuring better attention to children and harmonious family and social life.

During the construction of the canal, many local people got employment and this bridge has eased communication. Moreover, by utilizing its own source revenue, the GP has demonstrated that the fund it generates can be used for purposes which benefit the local population. The distance to Nandakuria health sub-centre has been reduced by 7-8 Kms and villagers are easily able to reach there. Children are now able to attend school regularly, even during the monsoon season and also able to play in the adjoining fields. The trip to the annual Raas Yatra has become more convenient for devotees leading to a big congregation which directly improves the livelihood of the people of the area.

Such initiatives at the local level of governance through people participation can lead to overall improvement in the lives of the people and bring real change at the grass root level.

Promising Safety In Every Drop…

Kalekhatala-2 Gram Panchayat, Burdwan – Till a few years back, the local homeopathy centre used to be crowded every day. The people in the area used to be afflicted with various forms of ailments and disease. One of the major forms was water borne diseasethat brought about various illnesses such as diarrhoea, skin pigmentation, arsenic poisoning and skin cancer and many people of the area were affected with arsenicosis. The problem was magnified as the contaminated ground water was the only source of drinking water.

The community in the area was worried and once it was known that the ground water is arsenic contaminated, queries were raised on the effects of such poisoning. Since they did not have any information on the effects of arsenic poisoning, there were speculations effects and severity ranging from possible skin lesions, disorders of the circulatory and nervous system, hyperkeratosis and hyper pigmentation in palms and soles, arsenical dermatitis, as well as a host of gastrointestinal disorders and manifestations like weakness, chronic respiratory disease, peripheral neuropathy, liver fibrosis, peripheral vascular disease.

With the ongoing crisis, a timely solution was necessary with necessary commitment of time, expertise and funds. Remedy of chronic arsenic toxicity wassimple – Arsenic free water. However, achieving that was difficult!

IMG_3426  A copy isgp project  Kalekhantala Water Purifing Scheme Bwn

Through the ISGP Project allocation of Rs. 6,36,000,00.00/- (Rupees Six lakhs thirty six thousand only) the aim to install the water treatment plant was envisioned. Through the joint effort of Panchayat functionaries, ISGPP District Coordination Unit members, the safe drinking water plant in DakshinParuliaBarujibi hamlet came into existence, keeping in mind the society, and of course the environment. Over the years the village has become free from arsenic, bacteria and from the curse of arsenic poisoning. Even the houses in Jahannagar, Purbasthali, Dogachia and Kalekhatala-1 GP can now heave a sigh of relief! Safe water is available, not just when, but whenever needed. Special attention has been given to the fact that the impurities never end up in the local ponds. The purpose of maintenance of this plan has facilitated the livelihood for the common people too.

Further counselling included a change in water use among village populations, realization of health benefits, and increased awareness of health risks and safe hygiene practices. Water safety has been consistently gauged with the help of external agencies. Clear and consistent rules for collecting water have been monitored by caretakers and committee members.

Many people remain unaware about the effects of arsenic poisoning due to lack of education and apathy. ISGPP started awareness initiatives on the cause, effect and remedies for arsenic poisoning. Social counselling among the communityled to lessening of social stigmatization of affected women and children and community members are now convinced that the effects of arsenic poisoning are neither infectious nor hereditary.

The results of the water treatment plant have been remarkable. Around 1800 people from 380 households and 100-120 shopkeepers have been benefitted. Moreover, the water treatment plant has facilitated the Gram Panchayat to generate a surplus income of Rs. 4,30,000.00/-thereby strengthening the GP financially.

Due to health and hygiene training, health knowledge, attitudes, and practices have also improved in these villages. Awareness and knowledge regarding the importance of safe water is evidenced by water collection practices among many villagers according to the health worker and water committee. Water committee members and the health workers state that people are becoming more aware. They are washing their water containers before filling them, and covering them afterward, reducing the potential for waterborne disease. All courtesy safe drinking water!

World Bank Country Director’s Visit: An Event to Remember

The Country Director of World Bank, Mr. Onno Ruhl recently visited West Bengal (Sept 17-19) along with delegates from the World Bank. He had several programs scheduled during his short yet eventful visit to the state.

One of the highlights from his trip was his visit to Chandipur Gram Panchayat (GP) under Uluberia–I Block, of Howrah district on September 19, 2014, to review the progress of the Institutional Strengthening of Gram Panchayats Project (ISGPP). This was part of his schedule, to review World Bank financed projects in West Bengal. The visit to the GP enabled him to understand its functioning, their role and responsibilities in depth. He appreciated the efforts made by the State Government through ISGPP project to strengthen the institutional processes of service delivery by GPs in West Bengal.

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Mr. Onno Ruhl inaugurated the ISGPP blog and Twitter profile of ISGPP. He commented on the ISGPP Welcome Blog Post with the following message “It is a great pleasure and honour to be visiting your Gram Panchayat. I am very much impressed with how the ISGPP is strengthening the level of Government closest to the people. Results are visible and will stay if you keep up the good work. I believe you will, as you have a strong team!”

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The SMS gateway service from the ISGPP website was also inaugurated by him with the following message “Very happy to inaugurate SMS service for ISGPP. Transparency is great – from Onno Ruhl Country Director, thru SMS gateway of PRD Deptt. Govt. of WB, concept by ISGPP, Message from Onno Ruhl, country Director, World Bank, India.” It is a mode of sending SMS from the website. It is a two way communication mode between Project Management, district administration and officials in the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI) and /or to the common citizens of any project GP. Further he was also shown the ongoing GIS based monitoring and reporting system, which is being populated with the GP data and to assist the State and the citizens in large on the various activities of the GPs on a real time basis. Once completed, this system will be the first of its kind where GP activities will be opened to public viewing through the Panchayats and Rural Development department’s website.

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During his visit, Mr. Ruhl also met the Hon’ble Chief Minister of the State Ms. Mamata Banerjee, and had detailed discussions on the progress of World Bank funded projects in West Bengal. He assured World Bank’s continued partnership with the West Bengal Government on various sectors including total sanitation and social inclusion, which are the top priorities of the State and the Country at the moment. Earlier, Mr. Onno Ruhl along with a team of delegates from the World Bank met the Hon’ble Minister in charge of Panchayats and Rural Development Department, Mr. Subrata Mukherjee. Several project related issues were discussed followed by a presentation from the ISGPP team.

We’re confident that Mr. Ruhl’s eventful visit has etched a new chapter of development for West Bengal in the near future.

A Welcome Note from ISGPP Team

Welcome Mr. Onno Ruhl (Country Director, World Bank)

Welcome to ISGPP… Welcome to Kolkata!

ISGPP team would like to seize the opportunity to welcome you sir. We are extremely happy to have you with us. It’s been a great association with your team. Together, we have been fulfilling our duty of cherishing every human life.

As you might know, the key elements of ISGP project is to develop institutionally strengthened Gram Panchayats (GPs) through intensive capacity building support, performance based grant transfer, strengthening monitoring and application of environment and social safeguards & integration of vulnerable groups development framework in planning. The project till date has made significant contribution towards citizen-centric service delivery through improvement in GP planning, budgeting and implementation in a participatory approach. There has been a steady increase in the financial absorption capacity and reduction in fund fragmentation in scheme implementation along with increased financial transparency and accountability.

You will be happy to note that the GP functionaries are now enabled to integrate environment and social safeguards and inclusion of vulnerable groups in planning and execution. The project aims to consolidate its systematic interventions through further strengthening of its initiatives and replicate the project innovations across all GPs in the state.

We hope that this association of ours continues to play a major role in bringing significant changes in the rural life of West Bengal. Thank you and your team for being with us, joining us, and supporting our beginnings. Thank you all!