Case studies

A village takes control

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Village Khalmurvend in district Kondagaon , in Odisha, eastern India, is seeing a small revolution in the making. PACS partner DISHA has brought about people’s involvement in the planning and monitoring of work under the government’s rural employment Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). The result – several jobs have been completed and the village has gained many assets. It has also led to quick payment of wages, checking distress migration. 

Seeing MGNREGA in a new light

Arvind Kawachi, a landless labourer, got work under MGNREGA this year. There was a time he detested working for MGNREGA because wages were inevitably delayed. But now there’s a new urgency in Arvind to finish his quota of work so that his wages can be used by his family to pay for the necessities of everyday life and help him steer clear of money lenders. Like Arvind, many in Khalmurvend village are seeing MGNREGA in a new light – both as a way to earn money and to improve conditions in their village.

Roop Singh Kachlam, Block Coordinator of PACS partner DISHA, says: 'Earlier when the gram sabha (village council) prepared the labour budget and allocation of work under MGNREGA for the village, many people either did not get to participate or did not want to participate because of indifference towards the scheme. Even those in the gram sabha did not know how to make the budget, so the work plan that was submitted to the Janpad (CEO) was always very limited in scope and participation. Now all that’s changing.'

A silent revolution

A slow and silent revolution has been taking place in the village that is helping people decide what they want to do under MGNREGA, how and at what cost. 

Santoshi Mandave who is studying in her first year of college, says: 'We are now participating in discussions to decide what we want to do in the village under MGNREGA and at what financial cost. Everyone is now privy to the cost of each activity proposed under the scheme so no one can be accused of corruption. Even the implementation of the scheme is being monitored by the community, so where is the scope for making needless allegations against each other?'

Not so long ago, things were different. Sheila Mandave, a beneficiary, says: 'We were fed up of the corruption; in fact, we were so cynical we had stopped questioning the system altogether – "do what you want to do", we said. Middlemen (bichaulias) were everywhere and were practically running the scheme. From approving work to clearing wage payment – they had become integral to MGNREGA. No one questioned them. We just accepted the nexus of middlemen and corrupt government functionaries who were pocketing what was ours. Many like me were reconciled to toiling under the relentless sun in the hope of getting our wages in the distant future. No wonder everyone called it the ‘gaddha khodo, gaddha bharo’ (dig a hole, fill the hole) scheme.'

Winds of change

Things began to change in 2014 when PACS partner DISHA prepared the labour budget for the coming year. Roop Singh Kachlam says:  'What struck me was people were very curious to know how things worked in MGNREGA but there was no one to guide them. So we decided to take the community along with us every step of the way, starting from selecting beneficiaries, activities to be carried out and how to budget for them. When we shared this with the community in a meeting, they were very excited by the prospect!'

Roop Singh approached the women healthcare workers at the local Anganwadi (government-supported day care centre) and sought their help to identify the number of families in the village. This was supplemented with DISHA’s own survey to fill any gaps in information. 

He adds: 'We rolled out a sustained awareness campaign to make the community realise they had the power to decide the nature of work undertaken in their village. Our strategy was to facilitate this pivotal convergence – between the community, heads of village bodies, government departments and civil society organizations.'

Using participatory planning, DISHA took the community through the process of developing a social and resource map of the village, also including Panchayat (village body) representatives. The needs identified by them, based on available resources, led to the formation of a comprehensive plan. 

Sant Kumar Nareti, Sarpanch (head) of Khalmurvend says:  'People were excited. Before long, we had a wish-list of community demands: road, ponds, deepening of tanks, construction of steps for a bathing area near the village pond, levelling of farm land, composting, wells, poultry sheds, toilets, goat sheds, cow sheds etc. All these were decided by the community after a lot of debate and discussion. Earlier, we didn’t have these kinds of debates in the gram sabha.'

A ripple effect

One of the major reasons for the indifference towards MGNREGA was the lack of community participation in the gram sabha. The Sarpanch leveraged renewed interest in MGNREGA to get the community to actively participate in the gram sabha. 'As a result, there is increased pressure on functionaries to maintain ledgers to track weekly expenditure of MGNREGA works and present work and financial reports to everyone present at the gram sabha, ensuring optimum utilisation of funds,' he says.

Even the Janpad and MGNREGA Project Officer were supportive of the entire process. Finally, the total plan for MGNREGA activity in the village was pegged at Rs 26,00,000. 

Manu Matlam, a beneficiary, says:  'The villagers have now started viewing MGNREGA as a rights-based government scheme, not just another asset-creation scheme. Workers get in touch with the rozgar sewak (job officer) and demand work. A comprehensive shelf of work ensures that everyone gets something when they need it. Thus, 10 new roads have been completed while 125 houses are being built. Also, four ponds deepened, one new Anganwadi centre built, two stop dams constructed, a new bus shelter has been built, two cement stages built for the village school and a new common toilet for the village finished!'
Because the irrigation canals from the local dam have been repaired, the community is now able to water their farms. Not only has this led to better productivity of available land, but also enhanced availability of food grains and vegetables. It has also led to higher wages and most importantly – checked migration from the village.

Santoshi Mandave, a student in her first year of college, says: 'People don’t migrate any more from this village. Also, because of empowerment of women, where earlier only 25 women attended the gram sabha, today more than 150 attend. People are now spending money for their children’s education from MGNREGA earnings. More importantly, people’s mindsets are changing – they are more optimistic about the future and there is regular talk of how the community can progress more rapidly using newer ideas with everyone’s initiative.'

Buoyed by this success, DISHA supported the making of MGNREGA work plans for five gram panchayats - Sidawan, Khalmurvend, Pradhanchera, Batrali and Chiprel.

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