Strengthening Social Justice Committees Of Gram Panchayats In Kutch

by | Apr 28, 2023

According to the provisions of the Gujarat Panchayat Act, 1993, Social Justice Committees (SJC) are mandatory. Every gram panchayat needs to constitute SJCs. It is a standing committee that ought to perform functions related to:

  • The promotion of economic, social, cultural, and other interests of the Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST) and Backward Classes
  • Protection of these castes and classes from social injustice and prevention from any form of exploitation. Plus, the welfare of women and children.

The committee is to include 3-5 members and a mandatory woman member from the SC/ST community.

In reality, these committees either do not form or only exist on paper. The committees have to hold a meeting every three months but it rarely happens. Due to a lack of awareness, these committees remain rather non-operational.

SETU Abhiyan continues to strive to overcome the various challenges presented in their formation and functioning. Some of the major issues seen are the recognition of SJCs by panchayat bodies, holding regular meetings, awareness regarding the roles and responsibilities of the members, getting a chamber to work etc.

Social Justice Associations have been formed in 2 blocks of Kutch district, Bhachau and Rapar. SETU team helped in facilitating this. The team has held training sessions for SJCs of panchayats, associations, and secretaries of panchayats. This helps in the better functioning of the committees. In the year 2021-22, a total of 12 sessions of training were held for 109 SJCs of panchayats. 450 participants attended these trainings.

SJC Association meeting in Rapar block

Currently, in Bhachau blocks the network of Social Justice Committees is at three levels – gram panchayat, block, and district. The Association in Bhachau was formed and is working out of the block panchayat as they now have a chamber to work from. The block panchayat supports them in terms of their activities and agendas. Currently, 10-12 gram panchayats have regular SJC meetings which was not the case earlier. The formation of an Association has provided the platform and ability to raise their issues directly with the Taluka Development Officer.

The Chairperson of Nanichiri SJC, a woman, did not get the support from the talati (custodian of gram panchayat funds). After the Association, they are more supported and have regular meetings with taluka development officer.

In Samakhyali panchayat, there has been an inauguration for an SJC chamber that did not exist earlier. The SETU team at Kabrau helped in making the Samakhyali SJC members realize that they should connect with and call various other departments. This also included the chairman of the block, and district panchayats for their inauguration. They explained to them how this will help them solidify their connection and relationship. And to also establish their authority in the panchayat. 

The woman chairperson of SJC used to wear a ghoonghat (veil). But when greeting the Block Chairman, she took it off. After the inauguration, the District Chairman said that they will call a meeting at the District level to encourage more dialogue.

After the SETU SJC meeting, in Motichiri, we saw that the chairperson was an OBC woman. But then there was a change where the elected SC/ST members went and told the talati that this is wrong, and how only SC/ST should be in that position. A positive action was taken on this complaint.

SJC Chairperson with Lata ben (SETU resource person)

In Nani Chiri and Moti Chiri – an old woman went to the female chairperson with a complaint that her son and his wife did not allow her to live in her house. The action taken was through the 121 helpline and the members took help from KMVS legal cell, who then went on to explain to the family of the woman that it was wrong and that if not corrected, there could be legal consequences. 

The Social Justice Committees are slowly but surely becoming active after the creation of their Association and forming their own identities. They are also utilizing all the benefits of the various government schemes and keeping the communities in mind. People’s belief in underprivileged communities being able to avail benefits is also increasing as they see the SJCs being active.

SJC training in Bhachau block

The overall outcome of encouraging and supporting Social Justice Committees has been immense. Panchayat members are now more supportive of establishing SJC and take it more seriously compared to earlier. Gram panchayat meetings are now happening regularly with increased women participation, and entitlements and schemes are being provided to those eligible. SJCs now get chambers and letterhead for better functioning.

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