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Gram Swaraj Abhiyan


Western Orissa is a paradox. It is blessed with good rainfall, forests, minerals and rivers that can feed, clothe and nurture the development of all its people. But, despite spending hundreds of crores of rupees and a profusion of government and non-governmental projects, programmes and plans, the region's predominantly tribal communities remain poor and vulnerable to droughts.


After reports of starvation deaths in the KBK region in August 2001, Sahabhagi Vikas Abhiyan (SVA), Bhubaneshwar approached PSI to replicate its SMA (drought-proofing) work in western Orissa. PSI's initial studies revealed a picture of low resource productivity, high rural indebtedness and rampant corruption that siphoned away development funds from the intended beneficiaries. PSI then decided to support SVA to start Gram Swaraj Abhiyan, a process of self- reliant development in villages of Nuapada, Kalahandi, Bargarh and Bolangir districts. Initially the employees of BPL Innovision Group and the Prime Minister's National Relief Fund funded the programme.


The central activity of the programme is to establish and strengthen grassroots democracy by involving village communities in a process of collective identification and analysis of their developmental problems. The main outcome of this process is a comprehensive village development plan. Not only do the plans identify what is to be done but who will do it (i.e., village-level institutions), how it will be done (procedures, rules and regulations) and, where the resources will come from. The highest priority is given to activities for which resources can be mobilized within the village, then the Gram Panchayat, and finally from government schemes at the block or district level. While the planning process, which is inclusive in nature, builds tremendous capacities among the villagers, the implementation of the plans through internal resources alone helps build their self-confidence.


Till now development plans have been prepared for 324 villages. Gram Sabhas and Palli Sabhas (village bodies) have been strengthened in 118 villages through capacity building, regular meetings and the vocal participation of women in decision-making. In these villages there is a palpable sense of unity of purpose. School buildings and roads have been constructed or repaired and ponds cleaned through Shramdan. Government services have become more effective. Utilization of development funds has become transparent and productive because of the open monitoring at the monthly Palli Sabha meetings. Corrupt officials are being identified and made to restore funds. People have been able to retrieve common property resources like ponds, forests and grazing lands from encroachers, rent - seekers and other profiteers. All this is resulting in improved social and infrastructure facilities leading to improvement in income generation opportunities.


It would be fair to say that Gram Swaraj Abhiyan is a unique development programme in India. Its impact is beginning to be felt outside its own 324 villages. The Orissa Tribal Empowerment and Livelihood Programme (funded by DFID, IFAD & WFP) has sought PSI's help to initiate a similar approach in that programme. A number of VOs in Orissa have also made similar requests.

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Developed by: People's Science Institute, Dehra Doon, Uttarakhand, India