Gram Panchayet

Success Story: From Darkness to Light

The Khalore Gram Panchayat (GP) under Bagnan-1 Block of Howrah district, is a densely populated area. The place is also known for the Bagnan railway station, one of the busiest railway stations in the South Eastern Railway Zone. Lakhs of people commute via this busy railway station daily. Although, the day-time situation of this area has been okay, it used to become difficult after dusk. People have been facing extreme difficulty in travelling from one place to another late at night as there was no street-light at the station as well as its adjacent areas. Local people had a long-standing demand for street-light.

Blog_1_Jul-14Localites had strongly demanded for the installation of street-lights during the 2014-15 Gram Sansad Sabha but the plan could not be materialised owing to lack of fund. In 2015-16 Institutional Strengthening of Gram Panchayats Project (ISGPP) arranged for a special fund that enabled the GP to materialise their planning. Before this, Khalore GP had taken the initiative to install solar street-lights in some areas, but it failed to provide any suitable solution to the problem in hand as these lights were too few in number.

The GP had earlier decided to install LED lights on roads, but owing to certain changes in Government policy, the West Bengal Renewable Energy Development Agency was not installing street-lights in the locality at that time. The GP then decided to appeal to West Bengal State Blog_2_Jul-14Electricity Transmission Company Ltd., seeking their help to install lights on the electric poles. They received the necessary assistance soon after. It was decided that the cost of illuminating these street-lights will be borne out of the GP fund in some cases. In certain other areas, the GP appealed to the Panchayat Samity for financial assistance. Panchayat Samity finally agreed to the appeal after thoroughly evaluating the nature and gravity of the problem. In short, everybody stepped forward for solving the problem in question.

The scheme was drafted in November after doing several rounds in various areas and evaluating the market price of various materials required for the project. Tenders were invited in the month of December and work commenced by mid-January. Although issues pertaining to the delivery of products from WBSETCL posed some logistic challenges that deferred the entire process but in spite of this, installation of 94 nos. of LED street-lights was completed by mid-June. To finish this two-phase work of installation, an amount of Rs. 4,92,642/- and Rs. 5,12,911/- was spent respectively, adding up to a total of Rs. 10,05,563/-, out of a special grant of ISGPP for 2015-16. Additionally, the GP spent an amount of Rs. 35,895/- to increase the load capacity of the transformers as well as to install new meter boxes, which was not considered in the original cost estimation.

Street-lights have been installed extensively at every Gram Sansad under Khalore GP. 30,000 – 40,000 people, residing at Khalore and its adjacent areas, have been benefitted by this initiative. Everyone is pleased with this noble initiative by the local GP. The women, especially, are very happy as they no longer need to worry while stepping out at night. People all around are thanking their GP & ISGPP wholeheartedly.

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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.

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.

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!