Quest for Good Governance
In 1997, Arundhati Roy introduced Aiymanam to the world through her Booker-prize winning novel The God of Small Things. Twenty years later in 2017, Aiymanam gram panchayat in Kottayam district in the South Indian state of Kerala was in the news again as India’s first fully digitalised panchayat ward. It was among the first panchayats to get ISO certification.
The person behind all such bold initiatives was Mr Arun Kumar N, former Panchayat Secretary of Aiymanam and presently secretary of Manarcaud Panchayat. He says all his efforts are rooted in his dream of establishing a seamless good governance practice in our country. He was in the news again as he along with the panchayat vice-president put on a Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to repair a damaged water pipe at Covid First Line Treatment Centre (CFLTC) to restore water supply to patients as no plumber was available despite being offered Rs 10,000.
“The motivation to implement people-friendly good governance came to me when I faced some disappointing incidents in government offices. I wanted to change it. I learned more about the best practices and successfully implemented it,” says Arun Kumar.
The Aiymanam Grama Panchayat has now become a role model for good governance. The front office begins functioning at 9 am as people don't have to take leave to avail services. A checklist of documents is given with all applications. To prevent corruption, applicants are given details of the panchayat president, secretary, deputy director, and vigilance in case the service is not provided within the stipulated time. The public can evaluate the performance of all officials and they are analysed weekly. Complaints or suggestions are discussed and solutions found.
Arun Kumar says, a change in the attitude of government servants will make a big difference in society. “Every government employee should try to look at situations from the point of view of people who come before them with applications or requests. If they could put themselves in their shoes, their attitude will change automatically. A transparent grievance or feedback mechanism is the core of this change process. The general public should get a chance to share their feedback on the government services they use. And the government employees should be open to correct their flaws. For that, the employees should get the right training.
Along with general modules they should also be taught how to handle people, develop positive attitude and stress management. Training provided to them should be related to local environment.
“Employees should be allrounders to offer different services. For eg. if an officer who is in charge of sanctioning a birth certificate is on leave, applicants are forced to wait until he or she is back. If another officer is able to offer the same service this could be avoided. Moreover, when a particular power is vested in one person, the chances of corruption are too high.”
“You don’t need to bribe government servants or use agents to enjoy the benefits of being an Indian citizen. Always be brave enough to share your honest feedback,” he advised.
Arun Kumar says digitalisation of government offices is not yet complete. Government employees spend 70% of their working hours in search of old files.
In a decentralised system, the gram panchayat is the lowest yet most powerful unit of governance in India. They are the first to reach out to people in times of disasters. Hence, their systems have to be citizen-friendly and flawless.
Digitisation Goes National
Two years after Aiymmanam Panchayat went digital, the Union Ministry of Panchayati Raj signed an MoU with Common Service Centre SPV to convert 2.5 lakh gram panchayats to 'digital’ to provide speedy delivery of services in rural areas and promoting rural BPO. In September 2020, the Panchayati Raj Ministry has set up a unified tool e-Gram Swaraj portal for effective evaluation and monitoring of works done by grama panchayats. e-Gram SWARAJ unifies the planning, accounting and monitoring functions of Gram Panchayats. For the year 2020-21, around 2.43 lakh Gram Panchayats have finalized their Grama Panchayat Development Plan on e-Gram SWARAJ.
Among states, Haryana has announced a digitisation initiative for 6,197 gram panchayats under 'Gram Darshan Scheme' to ensure all activities of villages are co-ordinated in a single digital platform. Gujarat launched Digital Seva Setu involving 14,000 grama panchayats to provide government services online. All villages are being connected through optical fibre network.
• Engineering, Management Students can be involved with digitalisation and efficient governance of panchayats through internship or academic projects
• School students can visit panchayat offices to learn about grassroots governance