Opinion | Why should nonprofits engage with local governments?


By Binoy Acharya

30 November 2019

Kamala Mallik from Sarakata village in Ganjam district is benefited from the water and sanitation facilities at her doorstep. Photograph by Ajaya Kumar Behera

In recent years, sanitation and open defecation free (ODF) villages have received added emphasis with the government promoting the house owners to build their own sanitation systems and provisioning increased resources for the same. In most cases, non-availability of the household-level water supply increased the drudgery of women. Gram Vikas worked closely with the Government of Odisha to build not only sanitation services but also the supply of piped water by improving and using local water sources. 

Over the years, Gram Vikas has developed a robust participatory approach for construction as well as maintenance of the water supply and sanitation systems covering the entire village. The village-level committee, promoted under the programme, creates a special fund for future maintenance and expansion to reach out to new households. However, Gram Vikas has not developed any strategic engagement with the gram panchayats. 

The scope for engagement with village governments 

In 2015, the Ministry of Panchayati Raj (MoPR) came up with a capacity development framework conceived for effective implementation of financial devolution under the 14th Finance Commission (FFC). This was based on the collaboration between the Gram Panchayat and self-help groups for participatory planning under the Gram Panchayat Development Plan (GPDP). 

The FFC created an enormous opportunity for financial devolution and decentralised planning to address economic development and social justice as provisioned under Article 243G in the 73rd Constitutional Amendment. The Ministry of Finance issued guidelines for the release and utilisation of grant by the local bodies. The guidelines stipulate that gram panchayats prepare proper plans for the basic services within the functions devolved to them, as per state laws, before incurring expenditure under the FFC award. 

The Gram Panchayat (GP) level plans have to be participatory involving the community, particularly the gram sabha. The Gram Panchayat Development Plan (GPDP) should have a clear component for addressing vulnerabilities of the poor and marginalised people and their livelihoods. This is in the form of an integrated poverty reduction plan that converges with labour budgeting and projectisation exercises under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). 

VWSC meeting at the Anderghai village in Gajapati district. Photograph by Ajaya Kumar Behera

Promoting the active participation of village collectives 

In the present context of devolution, Gram Vikas may think of promoting the participation of existing village level collectives, like the SHG network listed in the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM), or any other village-level organisation to work closely with the GPs. This mechanism enables panchayats to develop participatory plans and make effective use of resources under the development schemes in convergence with the FFC resource. It also provides feedback to the Gram Panchayat (GP) through community-based monitoring. 

In the same way, Gram Panchayats can also ask the collectives for identification of beneficiaries and engage them in monitoring the functioning of public schemes. This process will ‘convert the passive participation of the poor in the gram sabha into an active churning of opinion, feedback and expression of needs’ as stated by the MoPR.

 Gram Vikas’ engagement with the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) will strengthen decentralised governance. It will be an opportunity not only to create water and sanitation systems with people’s participation but also to enable a local governing system affecting management, maintenance of local water resources, pricing, and any other social factors which affect these systems.  

For example, the unregulated extraction of underground water is increasingly posing a threat to the water tables. This is an opportunity for Gram Vikas to galvanise the flow of entitlements to the poor and develop democratic equations that will culminate in responsive, good, water governance for equity and justice.

The community members of Bilasahi and Mantosahi village of Gajapati district repairing the intake well damaged due to Cyclone Titli. Photograph by Ajaya Kumar Behera

Improve participatory management of the common property resources

Gram Vikas may engage with PRIs to improve participatory management of common property resources particularly local water bodies and citizen’s access to public programmes and promotion of participatory economic development. 

Water and sanitation issues cannot be fully addressed without looking into the governance framework. When local water bodies are neglected, there is an increase in the number of privately owned sources, unregulated water use in terms of over-extraction and poor maintenance. These will first affect the poor as they are dependent on the commons. 

Increasingly, the resource-rich dominant communities have been extracting water from the common resources and underground for commercial purposes without investing in the management of those resources. In terms of governance of water and ecology, the traditionally dominant communities have reduced their primary stake on the commons as they have the option to use the privately-owned water sources. Conversely, the poor continue to depend on those community resources for drinking as well as for livelihood, particularly use of water for animals including small ruminants. 

The onus of management of common property resources is currently with no one. It is in the best interest of the poor that the Gram Panchayat take charge of the management of the commons with the support of newly formed collectives. The Panchayati Raj Institution (PRI) is a constitutionally mandated space, which can be effectively used to provide legitimacy for leadership. 

Decentralise water governance 

Decentralised water governance and active involvement of village-level collectives can push the agenda of sustainability, equity, inclusion and social accountability on water use. Soon, the villages will move from mere sanitation services to solid waste management. Community-based water management will develop social regulations and local governance on restricted use of groundwater and protect them from fluoride, nitrite and other contaminants. 

Personal hygiene practices, water testing and purification are also neglected areas that need attention at the community level. Hence, investing in the decentralised water and sanitation governance system, keeping PRIs at the leadership level, is a long-term and robust solution. 

For more than 30 years, Gram Vikas has articulated and practised its commitment to build potable water and sustainable sanitation systems covering the entire village. An engagement with Gram Panchayats on the issues of water and sanitation will open up many more avenues beyond the creation and management of structures created under projects.

A woman from Kandha Tirigochha village collecting water from the third tap. Photograph by Ajaya Kumar Behera


This featured article by Binoy Acharya is part of a series of opinion pieces by leaders and experts in the development sector reflecting on Gram Vikas' work in relation to social issues, solutions and government.


Binoy Acharya is the Director of UNNATI - Organisation for Development Education. UNNATI is an issue-based, strategic educational support organisation working with people’s collectives, NGOs, elected representatives in local governance and the government in Western India.


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