The government is focusing on rural development by better enabling the rural governance institutions. The block administration performs an important role in this process. BE’s Saptarshi Deb spoke to Shubho Sinharoy, Block Devlopment Officer, Durgapur Faridpur Block, Paschim Bardhaman to understand the role that the block administration plays in the developmental process of rural India.
Q) How does the block administration ensure accountability of the various government run programmes?
A) First of all, the administration is accountable to the people and there are various means to ensure accountability. We emphasise on several display mechanisms to highlight the various mission mode schemes. Display boards are mandatory and necessary details, regarding the various schemes, are mentioned in these display boards. This is one sort of accountability. Additionally, the Right to Information Act has enhanced accounatbility substantially. We regularly get a number of applications from various stake-holders as well as from the general people and under the RTI Act, we are legally bound to answer all such queries.
Besides, in our district, we are trying to implement a programme called ‘Janotar Duare Prashasan’. Under this programme, the entrire block administration along with the Gram Panchayat (G.P) administration regularly visits villages to meet the villagers. Six to seven such visits are organised during a year. People ask us many questions and approach us with thier problems. We try to solve these problems then and there and if that is unfeasible, we work on thier problems subsequently and get back to them. Right now, there is a clear emphasis on acountability and transparency. When the performanance of block and panchayat administrations are evaluated, emphasis is given on the achieved degree of accountability and transparency.
Q) Regarding MNREGA, what are the efforts that are being made to expand its scope and purview?
A) You see, MNREGA is a very flexible scheme and you can achieve two purposes through this programme. One is to ensure livilihood and the other is to create sustainable assets in our villages. Various governmental policies have expanded the scope of MNREGA.
Our block is arid and vegetation is scarce. We have large coal fields and lack of vegetation causes environmental hazards. There has been instances of landslides. Using MNREGA, we are trying to go for large scale afforestation and plantations. We have categorised plantations into two parts namely forestry and orchards. Using the MNREGA, we have initiated mango, guava and sweet lemon orchards. We have engaged Self Help Groups (SHGs) to maintian these plantations. These SHGs are compromised of women from Below Poverty Line (BPL) families and these projects are generating employment for them. We have ensured market connectivity of these forest products and fruits. We have also ventured into other ancilliary activities like bee-keeping and inter cropping of vegetables.
We are also building capital assets like cremetoriums and ICDS centres through the MNREGA programme. The first ICDS centre to be build through the MNREGA programme in West Bengal was in our block.We have also used the MNREGA to build beautiful eco-parks and markets and also used it to construct irrigation canals. Poultry sheds have been constructed though MNREGA. Our efforts have been widely appreciated by various stake-holders. We have tried to use MNREGA to create capital assets that can help to further create employment oppurtunities.
Q) How do you enhance capabilities of the panchayat members?
A) The Block Development Officer (BDO) and the block administration is the custodian and the supervisor of the G.Ps that fall within a block. We have various training mechanisms and the elected members of the various G.Ps, Panchayat Samities and Zilla Parisads hailing from our block, are regularly trained in all the programmes that are being run in our block. Presently, there are about 146 schemes that are being run and for each sheme and we ensure seperate trainings for each module. This helps in capacity-building. Additionally, the elected members work in collaboration with the block administration in implementing various developmental schemes and this collaborative process also helps them in getting acquainted with goverenment procedures. For example, the budget for the G.P needs to be passed by the B.D.O. Even for shemes such as Rupashree, that provide financial assistance to to-be married women, the B.D.O is the disbursing authority. Such schemes are operated by the block administration with close consultation with the elected representatives. Additionally, almost all panchayats in West Bengal are under the World Bank funded Institutional Stregthening of the Gram Panchayat Project (ISGP). The ISGP has a rigourous training module and each district has a seperate ISGP cell that also ensures a certain degree of hand-holding.
Q) How do you supervise the developmental projects undertaken by the panchayats?
A) First of all, the G.Ps hold regular Gram Sabha meetings which are the general body meetings attended by the villagers. The B.D.O is invited to be present in thse meetings. The B.D.O or his assigned representative attends these meetings. At the Gram Sansad level meetings, the B.D.O or his representative is also invited to attend. The proposal for any developmental work at the rural level generally comes from the Gram Sansad level meetings and these meetings are held twice in a year (In May and November) and a action plan is prepared for the whole year and that plan factors in the suggestions of the block administration. Additionally, as I mentioned earlier, the budget is vetted by the B.D.O and that is done after a detailed feasibility analysis done by the block administration. Right now, the G.Ps are getting large amounts of funds. The Central Finance Committee (CFC) funds are going directly to the G.Ps. They are also getting money from ISGP and the performance based grants. The government has made the B.D.O accountable to supervise these spendings. For ISGP, CFC and performance based grants, the government has asked the G.Ps to send all the bills to the B.D.O. The B.D.O is also empowered to send enquiry teams to see the progress of the developmental projects. These teams comprise of the Panchayat Devlopment Officer (PDO) and an engineer associated with the block administration. Often, joint enquiries are also organised with the ISGP team. Only after the B.D.O recieves clearance from these enquiry teams, he recommends payment. Even for the MNREGA, the B.D.O is the block programme officer and the MNREGA master roles are issued by the B.D.O. Additionally, the B.D.O is the disbursing authority for the housing schemes.
Q) What are the efforts taken on your end to strenthgen the education and health sectors in your block?
A) The West Bengal government has opted for universialising a comprehensive Gram Panchayat Development Plan (GPDP). The formulation of this plan is a compulsory pre-requisite of attaining developmental grants. The government has stressed on the health and education sectors and has pushed for prioritising these sectors within the GPDPs. The B.D.Os have recieved clear intsructions to well-monitor the spendings on health and education. This has ensured a substantial increase in spendings in health and education at the rural level. Additionally, the state government has other schemes to enhance the educational sector and they are also being being run simultaneously.
Q) How does the block administration interact with the general public and how do you respond to thier demands?
A) I can speak for our block and our doors are always open. We are open to interact with people who come to our office with various issues. In absence of the B.D.O, the other officials of the block administration perform the required duties. We also have help-desks to guide the rural citizens. However, for rural areas, the people are quite familiar with the block office and are not hesitiant to approach us with thier problems. People approach us to obtain the B.D.O’s recomendation to get financial relief for health issues from the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund. Many approach us for inclusion in housing schemes like Indra Awas Yojana and Geetanjali. Many citizens also approach us with matters related to EPIC cards, ration cards and Aadhar cards. After any major natural disaster, we are approached for relief. We are also sought to resolve land related disputes.
Q) What social and environmental initiatives are taken by your block administration?
A) Our block has been declared an Open Defaecation Free (ODF) block. To ensure this, we could manage to get local artists, religious leaders and school children on board. School children, especially girls, are being motivated to act against social evils like child marriage. We have also developed solid liquid waste management centres in all the G.Ps in our block. We are producing organic manure and that are being used in our orchards. We have also ensured toilets in all households of our block.