Saturday, August 29, 2009


Gregory Almeida
27th August 2009, Kawant

For the first time in the history of Don Bosco Kawant, development has taken a new shape—empowerment through Gram Sabhas.

A couple of months ago while reading the newspaper, I came across the shocking news that Kawant is the most backward taluka in the state of Gujarat. How could this be possible? We have been working in this area for more than 25 years. Where has the development work gone? Were the facts and figures mentioned in the newspaper correct? These questions pushed me to look at the latest website regarding the Gujarat government’s tribal development programmes. I was once again surprised to find that it had no information about Kawant taluka. Most of the funds allotted for tribal development are being used for security training.

This year, Don Bosco Development Society has initiated a project called the Community Ownership of Governance Initiative. The aim of this project is to enable rural communities to participate fully in local self governance and thereby access the institutions and policies that are meant to serve them. And these policies can be effective only when people participate in Panchayati Raj Institutions and Gram Sabhas. The Gram Sabha is a useful platform for people to voice their concerns and mobilize their resources for the development of their villages.

During the last month, I was happy to witness Gram Sabhas in a few villages in Kawant taluka. The main objective of these Sabhas is People’s Empowerment. They are an opportunity for the poor and the marginalized to rise up economically, socially and politically. It’s a place where they can ask for information on various programmes and schemes, and review the ongoing works in their village.

We are now adopting an approach which enables people to realize that it is their right to get the State support that they need to improve their life. The awareness of different programmes and schemes could be the starting point to bringing a major change in their lives. Youngsters in the villages can be motivated and trained to become capable talatis, sarpanchs and mamlatdars who will implement these programmes and schemes correctly. Right leadership with a proper value system is the key to change in the villages.

I have few suggestions for those interested in such an approach:
1. Acquire total knowledge of the issue or programme in question. This is crucial because the officials in these areas exploit the fact that most people are uneducated; even the talatis and the sarpanchs do not completely understand these programmes and are not interested in implementing them.

2. Encourage educated people to take part in the Gram Sabhas. This includes individuals such as teachers in the village school and rural health workers.

3. Ensure total involvement of the people. Make sure that people are informed about their Gram Sabhas at least 15 days in advance and are prepared through role plays, discussions and other methods.

4. Check the implementation of resolutions. Every ‘tharaav’ passed in the Gram Sabha should be followed up at the village, taluka and district levels.

5. School children should be taught about Gram Sabhas. These children are the future leaders of the village, the ones who can guide the better implementation of village programmes. Prepare them to be talatis and mamlatdars and local leaders.

6. Clarify the role of the organization. The organization’s function should be that of animating and guiding the people, creating awareness about their rights and duties, and enabling them to secure their dues.

7. Teach youngsters in the village to access and disseminate information. Young people can be taught how to use computers and study various schemes that can be implemented in their area.

8. Focus on building unity in the community. This is necessary to get any resolution passed and carried out.

I believe the best is yet to come, wherein all the people begin to realize the importance of Gram Sabhas as a tool for Empowerment and Development.

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