Gram Sabhas are supposed to meet twice a year. Not many villagers know this

A few days back, around 2,500 villagers fell victim to a mysterious fever in Uttar Pradesh's Sitapur district. When Gaon Connection visited some of the villages here, it was found that they live in unhygienic conditions. When asked why don't they raise these issues in gram sabha meetings, most villagers drew a blank

Ranvijay SinghRanvijay Singh   13 Sep 2019 5:48 AM GMT

Gram Sabhas are supposed to meet twice a year. Not many villagers know this

Shyama Devi, 80, moves towards her cot holding a packet of bleach in her shaky hands. Showing bleach to her son standing by the cot she asserts, "If I apply this on my cot, the mosquitoes won't bite me." Sensing her fear the son, Raj Bahadur, tells her: "Amma (mother) one doesn't put this on cots, but in drains." He takes the chemical from her.

The fear that Shyama Devi grapples with, is shared by residents of half-a-dozen villages from Gondlamaublock in Uttar Pradesh's Sitapur district. They all dread falling prey to a contagious fever and mosquito-borne diseases. This year a mysterious fever has claimed 25 lives making about 2,500 people ill in Gondlamau block. Doctors have attributed it to the uncleanliness of the affected villages.

Shyama Kumari lives in the Natval Grant village which falls in Gondlamaublock. This village of 300 people has also fallen victim to the contagious fever. Last year, this village lost 10 people to the contagious fever and this year about 20 villagers suffer from it. Seeing the filthy state the village is in, it seems that despite being in its 5th year of operation, the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has not even been heard of here.

Another resident of the village, Raj Bahadur Chaudhary, 38, said: "So many people have died because of the filth, but no official takes any notice. Our village doesn't have a drainage facility so accumulated water breeds mosquitoes. We have complained several times to the Pradhan (village head), but no one listens. Our village doesn't see any measure of cleanliness being taken. We have one sweeper who doesn't come often."

Raj Bahadur Chaudhary

To show Gaon Connection team the level of uncleanliness in the village, Raj Bahadur takes it to the heart of the village and pointing out to the pits in front of several houses says: "Village women store water from their houses in these pits in absence of drains." He added: "These women digging up a pit in front of their house, place a plastic drum in it so as to accumulate the water used by their households. They take it out then and throw the water within the village because they do not have any other option."

Yet another villager Dulari Devi, 65, is found sitting outside her house. Seeing the camera, she speaks up. "Saheb it is very difficult," and pulling by the hand, takes across to a gutter full of murky used up water. This gutter fills up every two days following which I empty it out. Without any drainage, we have to do it so. Please do this much that a drain is constructed." She added: "My household doesn't even have a toilet facility; we all defecate in the open."

The Union government has kept a target of a clean India by 2019 under which toilets have been made swiftly. As per the data uploaded on the website of Swacch Bharat Mission (Rural), so far, 2,58,485 gram panchayats have been declared Open Defecation Free (ODF) with 5,99,469 villages have been freed from open defecation.

Following this, even the Narval Grant gram panchayat has been declared ODF. This gram panchayat has four villages where a total of 240 toilets have been made. The reality, however, seems different. One can easily come across half-finished toilets and people going out for defecating in the open.

Yet another villager, Nand Kishore Chaudhary, 45, showing a half-done toilet says, "Our Pradhan has had this made. The beneficiary didn't get any money. Filling up his bank accounts with money, he has left this half-finished." The toilet so shown holds junk on its roof and supports a vine on its door.

Why don't the villagers raise the issue in the meetings of gram sabha? In answer to this question, Nand Kishore said: "We are not informed about the meeting's time or date. There is no announcement to this effect. When and who makes the work plan we don't know. The gram pradhan doesn't listen to anyone. Whom should we address our woes?"

It is compulsory for a gram sabha to meet at least twice each year—one after Kharif crop harvest and the other following rabi harvest. Members should be notified 15 days prior to the meeting. Gram pradhan has the right to convene the meeting of the gram sabha. At any given time, he may even convene an irregular meeting. All these meetings include charting out work plans. People of Natval Grant, however, maintain that they are never informed of any gram sabha meeting.

Uncleanliness is the main risk factor for mosquito-borne diseases

When gram pradhan Balak Ram was approached regarding the village woes, he said, "My panchayat is quite small and so doesn't get appropriate funds. We are doing whatever we can. A drain is being constructed with chamber made and pipe already laid." When told that the said works were yet unfinished, he assured of their speedy completion. About the gram sabha meeting, he stressed that everyone is called when such meeting is convened.

Regarding the issue, Sitapur's District Panchayat Raj Officer (DPRO) Indra Narayan Singh told Gaon Connection, "I had visited Natval Grant Village. Pavagework was being undertaken there. The secretary whom I had directed the charge has not attended to it well. I have ordered an enquiry against the said official."

About the matter of the villagers not being informed about the gram sabha meeting, DPRO says, "You yourself know how many villagers attend the meeting. They may attend only if they stand to gain personally otherwise not. People should regularly attend such meetings with social welfare in mind."

It is not that only Natval Grant villagers are kept in dark regarding the gram sabha meeting. The National Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Institute run 100+ Cluster Development Programmes. Its coordinatorPankaj Kalki informs, "Most of the villages are unable to learn about the meeting of the gram sabha. If at all the meeting is convened, the work plan formulated therein doesn't favour the villagers. This is problematic."

He added: "Gram sabha meetings are crucial due to the work plans made as per members' needs. Like somewhere drainage is required, somewhere road, the water tank—such requirements are raised in the meetings. Whichever plan is made in the meeting, the same is conveyed to the gram panchayat which puts it in order of priority and making a draft plan resends it to the gram sabha informing the villagers which all works have been included in the work scheme. All gram sabhas must work on the same line. But nothing happens in reality which results in situations like that of Natval Grant."

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