By Anjali Makhija
Kalsara is a small village in Alwar block of Rajasthan with a population of 4,724 and 831 households. With little exposure and understanding about the power of self-governance, people in this village knew little about their role as members of the gram sabha. They did not realize they could lead the path to their own development.
In a needs assessment survey conducted by Sehgal Foundation in 2014, findings illustrated that panchayat members and male voters in this village used to participate in the gram sabha, but the women rarely attended. Women either did not feel the need as they did not consider their voices to be important enough, or they believed that only men are supposed to attend gram sabhas. Mahila gram sabhas were never held in this village. Most village development plans were never even approved by gram sabhas. Development work in the village was carried out at the discretion of the sarpanch and/or government officials who spent the funds directly in the villages according to their whims.
When Sehgal Foundation started working in this village in 2014, the first step was initiating the formation of a Village Information and Support Group (VISG) in the village. A VISG consists of members of village-level institutions such as panchayats, School Management Committees (SMCs) and Village Health Sanitation Water and Nutrition Committees (VHSWNCs), and key people in the village. The foundation initiated microplanning in this village in 2015 with the VISG members. Using this inclusive and participatory process, a community identifies its needs, prioritizes them, and prepares development microplans. Subsequently the gram panchayat submits the plans and proposals to the district office to access funds and implement projects, thereby undertaking village development!
In December 2015, Sehgal Foundation facilitated this process of decentralized planning by engaging with the Kalsara community to identify and prioritize the needs, find out about the history of the village, prepare social and resource maps of the village, and hold mahila gram sabhas. A gram sabha was held to prepare and approve the development plan based on needs identified. For the first time in this village, women participated in large numbers in the mahila gram sabha, and the village development plan was approved by the gram sabha, also for the first time.
The development plan was submitted to district officials, and the panchayat periodically approached the departments for the release of funds. As a result in 2016, various development works were implemented in Kalsara. Three roads were built, 184 toilets were constructed, children were enrolled in ICDS centers, roads and nallis were cleaned, veterinary services were facilitated, and two bore wells were installed. VISG members took a lead in facilitating this works and women leaders emerged during the development journey.
Kalsara is now on the path of development and becoming a model for other villages to emulate. Microplanning triggered the process and will hopefully create a ripple effect to bring about many more development initiatives in the village.
(Anjali Makhija is director, Strengthening Village-Level Institutions at Sehgal Foundation.)