It has now been more than a month since I reached Setu Abhiyan, an organistion in Kutch, Gujarat. Setu Abhiyan works in the domain of local governance and promotes decentralized governance. After attending my orientation, I was amazed to know about the history of the organization and the depth of work it has been doing. The first thought in my mind was, “The India Fellow facilitators were right, it will probably take all my fellowship time only to understand Setu and its areas of work.

I was not surprised to know that most of the people who work here have been here for the past 20 years or more. It just goes on to show how connected they are to their purpose and land. More importantly, the need to create independence and awareness among people for their own development and to take responsibility for their village or area, is something that runs high in all the employees.

Setu Abhiyan has various programmes and a multitude of initiatives in place to ensure that local government bodies can function better. Out of them, I had the luck of attending the award ceremony for ‘Good Governance Practicesor GGP.

What is Good Governance Practices (GGP)?

‘Good Governance Practices’ is an initiative started in 2018 by SETU Abhiyan’s research and documentation vertical, ‘Learning Lab’ in collaboration with the Kutch Zilla Panchayat. It serves as a platform to teach, learn, share and develop a repository of knowledge resources for local governance. The aim is to emphasize, propel and encourage Gram Panchayats’ practices that promote effective local governance, holistic planning practices and promote social welfare and justice.

The initiative provides a platform for the adoption of innovative practices by Gram Panchayats (GPs) in Kutch and, with time, throughout India. This would further induce policy advocacy and acknowledgement of local governance, as well as the need and importance of ‘good governance’ parameters in governing at the local level. It also ensures a more sustainable and equitable model of governance in India.

How do Gram Panchayats apply to GGP?

The process is lengthy and requires the GPs to submit their applications in the format prepared by the ‘Good Governance Samiti’. It is a committee consisting of 7 members from different blocks. They prepare the application format, give out an advertisement and share it among different groups, both online and offline. After the applications are received, a scrutiny committee is formed which does on-ground verification of all the applicants based on the parameters. The committee then finalizes GPs who get honoured for their work.

Purpose of conducting GGPs

GGPs intend to eventually create an atmosphere of healthy competition. The GPs feel motivated to do effective work for their villages. After looking at other Panchayats who receive acknowledgement and recognition for their work, it encourages those who do not participate much. This method of improving ambition and drive in the local bodies of rural areas automatically steers the region towards development.

By attending these GGP events, a lot of Panchayats have been able to go through the process of planning to implementation in an innovative way, while tackling issues that they felt the need to target. This urges the people in power to take ownership of their area, land, communities and take a look at what issues exist before executing a plan to work on them. 

From the GGP ceremony

Award-winning GGPs

There are various Panchayats in Kutch who have been working on different issues such as education, water management, sanitation, environment, building roads and infrastructure. Here are some of them that got awarded:

  • The Gorevali GP set-up a resort to fulfil the tourism demand in the area. The profits which are earned by the resort are then used for the development of vulnerable communities in the area.
  • In the education sector, Meghpar GP started Kutch’s first primary school which came about through financial contributions of local people. It will be used to educate children using technology.
  • The Ludiya GP has created a special garden to save indigenous and ancient species of trees and plants. Similarly, there are various blocks where GPs have been solving such problems exclusive to the people living there.
  • In Bachau block, Bandhadi GP has created three bridges around their village to combat the problems people face during their everyday commute. Whenever there is even slight rainfall, the area surrounding the village is filled with water and no one is able to enter or leave, even in case of emergencies. The issue has now been put to rest with a sustainable solution by the Panchayat.
  • Kanthkot GP is probably one of the few Panchayats who have included disaster management and its possible aversion techniques in their Gram Panchayat Development Plan (GPDP). Many of them have worked towards setting up of CCTV cameras, pensions for widows and disabled persons, Covid relief and awareness.

The only thing that has remained constant throughout, or perhaps even increased, is my wonder and reverence of these Panchayats. Contrary to what many may believe, the Panchayats are extremely aware and ready to move towards advancement. In fact, I feel that they may be more ‘woke’ than most local government bodies.The methods and practices that are being adopted just go on to show how awareness and exposure is being utilized in appropriate ways.

For example, a few communities and villages who had extremely traditional and conventional ways of living have begun to renounce the practice of child marriage which was deeply embedded in their community. In my opinion, such steps and openness show a lot of growth and evolution in our society.

The past month has been a flurry of activities, events and other work. But hearing these stories and incidents have made me optimistic about being able to bridge the gap and get over the existing disparity between urban and rural in the country. Initiatives like GGP, when practiced, will be able to make the rural areas more self-sufficient, self-reliant and successful, thereby helping them retain their culture and traditional practices.

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