Hi, this is Shubham Gupta, SBI Youth For India 2017–18 fellow working with Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (India), a non-government development organisation, in Dharampuri block, Dhar district, Madhya Pradesh, India.
The place I’m working at is largely inhabited by the largest tribal group of India, i.e. Bhil community. The village of Kachhwanya has a population of approx. 2600, and is about 18 kilometres from the nearest town, Dhamnod.
After many field visits, I have realised that one of the major problems in our villages is the poor state of local governance. The Panchayati Raj members and the village community barely know about their roles and responsibilities and the powers that the Gram Sabha has been given in 73rd amendment of the Constitution.
Another issue I observed here is the low-level of digital literacy among the youth. Even, if someone wants to learn computers, they have to make the daily commute to Dhamnod to attend any computer training class which is definitely not a workable solution.
Once, during a conversation with the community, I got to know that even basic ICT services like photocopying, application form filling, etc. are not easily accessible. The nearest photocopy shop is at about 8 kilometres on the highway. Thanks to unpaved roads and lack of public transport facilities, along with the ₹30–40 commute charges, it would cost an entire day’s wage to a daily wage labourer to get their documents photocopied.
I felt that it was important to have ICT infrastructure in the village itself. If provided with a computer and an Internet connection, information on any government scheme/services or about any competitive exam could be easily accessed. So, based on my observations and the need of the community, I decided to take the challenge head-on and contributed my bit to solve these long existing issues of the village.
Now, under Rajiv Gandhi Panchayat Sashaktikaran Abhiyan 2013, the Government of India has provided each Panchayat building with a computer system complete with printer and scanner. But, there is a huge gap between the Government of India’s initiative to go digital and the villagers’ ability to go digital. That gap isn’t the infrastructure it’s the knowledge. The tools to go digital have been provided by the Government of India, but the knowledge to use them has not been provided. Hardly anyone knows how to use a computer. So what happens when people don’t know how to use something? It means nothing to them. It could be there or not there — it’s all the same. No one bothers to ask about it or its well-being or its resting place!
If you observe, both the issues I have taken up compliment each other. Working on one would automatically help solve another. To set up a working e-panchayat, first I had to empower and motivate the panchayat members and the community to unanimously raise the issue in Gram Sabha of January 26 and pass the resolution to repair the e-panchayat infrastructure.
The beginning of the project has had some minuscule highs but a lot of lows for sure. I started by visiting all the 17 villages that AKRSP(I) is working in Dharampuri block, one by one. After missing the project finalisation deadline by almost 2 months, I finally succeeded in identifying the problem, thankfully, which could be resolved to an extent, in the limited 9 months time I was left with.
Based on my conversations with the panchayat members, the community and their response towards my suggestion, I decided to begin my intervention in the Kachhwanya Panchayat without any further delay.
Fast forward to January 26 2018, Gram Sabha was held and there was an unexpectedly high attendance of more than 120 people, whereas the previously held Gram Sabha of October 2, 2017 had seen the attendance of only around 20 people in all.
Although beyond my expectations, the response and participation from the community was the result of the regular meetings with them and moreover their willingness to bring a positive change.
So, the resolution passed and I started working on setting up a fully functional e-panchayat with the help of the community. It took around 2 months from convincing the panchayat and motivating the community, to getting everything repaired from panchayat electricity connection to computer and printer.
Meanwhile, during this process, I also started giving basic computer literacy classes to 9th and 10th standard students in the village high school. I wanted to make sure that at least this batch develops some interest in computers. Those classes also helped me a lot in building a good rapport with the tribal community.
I feel grateful for getting the chance to give at least basic computer knowledge to more than 100 students of standard 9th and 10th combined from December 2017 to February 2018 and introducing them to the laptop, projector, and mouse which they had seen and operated for the first time then.
Coming to the present, after combined efforts, everything in e-panchayat is in its place. Today, Kachhwanya is the only panchayat among all other surrounding panchayats having a fully functional e-panchayat. People have started coming to learn how to use a computer, inform themselves about various government schemes, taking photocopies of their documents, etc.
Talking about the impact and the outcome of my intervention, the entire repair cost of ₹4400 was borne by the panchayat. The community participation in the Gram Sabha meetings has increased to a great extent and they start questioning the panchayat members about the ongoing developmental works and raising their voices for their needs, more openly. Till date, more than 300 people have benefited from the e-panchayat. People from other villages have also started coming to avail the services provided at half the rate in comparison to the market. The village youth and the kids have started coming to learn computer and to play games. More than ₹10,000 of the community has been saved, indirectly. The panchayat has earned the profit of around ₹1800, a part of which is given to the locally trained youth as an honorarium and the rest is kept for the maintenance of the e-panchayat.
Now, as my fellowship period is going to end soon, a group of local youth have been identified and are being trained by me, who, once I leave, will be able to handle minor technical issues, and can help in the smooth operation of e-panchayat.
“I would like to be remembered, if I am remembered at all, as being a catalyst for change in the world, change for good.”