Rural Strengthening

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.

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.