Not From A Bhavan In Delhi, How Indian Democracy Actually Runs From Villages

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If one thinks about it, managing an entire nation with a booming population of 133 crores is not remotely possible from a single room in Delhi. The reality, which we rarely realise, is that the administration of the country actually rests upon one concept – decentralisation of power.

No matter how many acts and ordinances are passed in the parliament or how many policies are debated, the functioning of the government depends upon the very root of the governance hierarchy – Panchayati Raj.

Twenty-six years ago, on April 24, 1993, the Panchayati Raj was officially enshrined in the Constitution following the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act (1992). A quarter of a century later, the concept is the main driving force of development throughout the country, one panchayat at a time. On National Panchayati Day, Efforts For Good takes a walk down the lanes of history to revisit the origin of Panchayati Raj in India.

No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank

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The soul of India lies in her villages

As per the 2011 census data, Indian demography constitutes 68.84% of rural distribution. Understandably, the figure was much higher at the dawn of the Independence era, when a newborn country was slowly warming up to the concept of democracy.

At the Asian Relations Conference in 1947, Mahatma Gandhi declared, “This is not India. You people are seeing Delhi. This is not India. Go to villages; that is India. Therein lies the soul of India,” – wrote R.V. Jather in his book Evolution of Panchayati Raj In India. His statement holds true for India since the times of ancient kings and mythical folklore, where decentralised administration featured heavily.

Local governance during the colonial regime

In the pre-independence times, the British have time and again tried to adopt decentralisation models to properly administer India from the grassroots level. Calcutta, Bombay and Madras, the precursive strongholds of the East India Company witnessed the introduction of a municipal administration in 1793, which evolved in policy and structure over the upcoming two centuries. Villages were under the control of regional monarchy at that time; they did not feature in British governance until 1863. By then, the colonial rule had penetrated the very veins of the country and further decentralisation was an urgent necessity.

The framework of local governance under the British evolved over the next few years, with the focus being shifted down the provincial pyramid, from states to districts to villages. The Government of India Act of 1919 mandated the creation of the Gram Panchayat system in eight major provinces.

During the Second World War, the British administration in India witnessed a chaotic setback, not only due to the rising nationalistic sentiments but also due to the failure of local governance, since village population became a neglected entity at the time of the biggest war in history.

Gandhiji & Ambedkar’s differences over local governance

Mahatma Gandhi, the proprietor of Grama Swaraj, first tabled the idea of self-sustainable village units. “This Panchayat will be Legislature, Judiciary and Executive combined, to operate for its year of office. Any village can become such a republic today without much interference,” he had described.

However, post Independence, when the Constitution was being drafted, somehow the crucial concept of decentralised governance did not find much prominence. In fact, the First Five Year Plan of 1952 completely overlooked the local governments. One reason often cited for this was the ideological differences between Gandhiji and B.R. Ambedkar in this regard. While Gandhiji advocated the importance of local democracy, Ambedkar was concerned about the existent casteism in villages which might hinder equalist legislation.

Balwant Rai Mehta – Father of Panchayati Raj

Balwant Rai Mehta, recognised as the Father of Panchayati Raj, came into the picture in 1957 when the government appointed him as the head of a committee to decide on the structuring of local governments. The Balwant Rai Mehta committee recommended ‘democratic decentralisation’ which paved the way for the establishment of Panchayati Raj much later.

Though the committee’s recommendations were made before 1960, implementation was halted due to an imminent agrarian crisis, political turmoil and two consecutive wars that marked the 1960s decade and the early years of 1970s.

Final recognition in 1993

In 1977, when the Janata Party government assumed power, the Ashok Mehta committee reiterated the need for establishing Panchayati Raj. The consideration was abrupted by a political turnaround. The same happened later as well during Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure from 1984 to 1989. The idea was there, but the question of local governance found little attention amid the tumultuous political scenario at the Centre.

Eventually, in 1993, officially Panchayati Raj came into being which segregated local government into three tiers, namely, Gram Panchayat at the village level, Panchayat Samiti at the block level and Zilla Parishad at the district level.

Panchayati Raj – evolution over the years

Since then, the attitude of the Central government towards Panchayati Raj can be deemed as quite lukewarm, though there had been occasional adoption of progressive measures like the enactment of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) in 2005 under the UPA-I regime. There had been consistent upgradation of the scheme in every financial budget ever since.

Perhaps another great success of the Panchayati Raj is 50% reservation for women in Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI) since 2009. Speaking from a grassroots level perspective, the Self-Help Groups (SHGs) constituted by women in Panchayats across India are highly effective in initiating immense socio-economical change.

Success rates differ from state to state

Recently, annual Panchayat awards were introduced in diverse categories to identify the best Panchayats in the country who have spearheaded substantial development. Still, the overall success of the Panchayati Raj in terms of development cannot be coalesced simply in binary terms. In states like Kerala, Panchayati Raj has been instrumental in bringing forth many changes, while states like Uttar Pradesh, Punjab or Jharkhand have grossly failed to utilise the local government institutions. At the same time, progress at Panchayati levels has stagnated in the traditional Panchayati Raj States like West Bengal, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat, with some isolated exceptions.

Efforts For Good take

Imagine one of those gigantic machines you find at factories. Outwardly, the fully automated robotic giant might evoke awe, but malfunctioning of a single cog will send the entire mechanism into complete disarray. Such is the significance of the local governance units or Panchayati Raj in the context of Indian administration.

However, the hype around national politics often shifts the average citizens’ attention from development in his own village to certain vague political doctrines which hold little relevance in everyday life. The outlook can be mended only if the Central government pays more attention to the devolution of power and maintains better cognisance of the work done at Panchayat levels.

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‘Happy Fridge’: The Key To Bridge Food Wastage And Hunger Problem In India

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Rahul Khera and Gautam Jindal, volunteers (aka hunger heroes) at Feeding India, were among the many Delhi NCR residents accustomed to seeing hungry children pick up half-eaten burgers or stale sandwiches from the dustbin and savour those with the brightest smiles. Like many others, they also had the will to promote equitable food distribution but was perplexed about the approach, until they learnt about the community fridge initiative which has gained unprecedented success in Saudi Arabia and few other European countries. Meanwhile, community fridges were already being installed outside restaurants or in public places in a handful of cities like Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Coimbatore and Kochi.

Say Goodbye To Throwing Away Excess Food Because Now You Can Donate The Food To The Needy – Happy Fridge

Thank you for overwhelming response for the Happy Fridge concept. We need more funds from you to install more fridges like this across India. With the limited funds avaialble Feeding India was able to install three fridges only. Kindly donate here http://bit.ly/happyfridge

Posted by The Logical Indian on Saturday, October 27, 2018

Needless to mention, with a shocking 103rd rank in the Global Hunger Index and a food wastage estimate of around Rs 58,000 crore – India was perhaps the best country to implement such an initiative. With Gautam’s help, an enthusiastic Rahul invested his own savings to install a ‘Happy Fridge’ outside his residence at Sun City, Sector 54 in Gurgaon. Set up in 2017 by these Feeding India volunteers, the fridge in Gurgaon has inspired the NGO to scale up the project across India.

No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank

‘Happy Fridge’ fostered many smiles

It didn’t take long for the local residents to learn about this laudable endeavour. They welcomed it, as wastage of excess food was a recurring problem in almost every household. “Intimating the localities was no mammoth task, thanks to social media. However, it was difficult to spread the word among those who actually needed the food,” shares Rahul, who went from auto stands to slums, inviting rickshaw pullers, ragpickers or roadside vendors to avail the community fridge any time they feel hungry. “The security guards of our residential complex played a huge role in explaining how the fridge works to the beneficiaries,” he adds.

The operational and maintenance costs of the ‘ happy fridge ‘ are being maintained diligently by the community members.

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Making memories, sprouting awareness

“I remember one young man who had arrived from a village looking for some menial day job. Somehow he had run out of his paltry savings and had no money to buy one decent meal a day. For about a month, our happy fridge was his solace, till he earned his first salary from a housekeeping job,” shares a jubilant Rahul.

In another incident, a truck driver returning in the wee hours of midnight was starving after a whole day’s hard work. He had run out of cooking fuel at his home, so our fridge was at his rescue.

“The residents keep all sorts of palatable dishes in the happy fridge, ranging from dry snacks, fruits to cooked meals. Sometimes, they even keep raw vegetables, to ensure not a single bit of good food ends up in their trash while other people go hungry to bed,” reveals Rahul.

On an average, each happy fridge supplies around 10-15 meals in a day. The gratitude and pure smiles of the hungry souls after a fulfilling meal are more than enough to continue to motivate Rahul and his neighbours. In fact, inspired by him, many other communities in the Delhi-NCR region set up community fridges in their areas.

Feeding India will set up 500 Happy Fridges

Since the past few years, Feeding India has been a prominent organisation working in the forefront to solve the hunger problem in India. Primarily, they were involved in redistributing leftover food from weddings and parties among the underprivileged people in different cities of India. Their volunteers, better known as “Hunger Heroes of India”, worked actively to bridge the gap between food wastage and food crisis.

“We used to get a lot of calls from individual households to collect their excess food. However, unfortunately, we lacked the manpower and planning to launch our programme on a door to door basis. We were desperately looking for an alternative when we learnt about the community fridges,” shares Srishti Jain, co-founder of Feeding India.

After interacting with Rahul Khera and other campaigners of community fridges, Feeding India decided to amplify this extraordinary project throughout the length and breadth of India. Presently, they have launched the #FightFoodWaste campaign to install 500 community fridges – nicknamed ‘ Happy Fridge ’. So any passer-by – be it a kid going to school without a lunchbox, or a labourer returning home late at night with no promise of a dinner – can now grab a pack of biscuits or a bowl of ‘dal-chawal’ (rice & lentil soup) to satiate their hunger. Click here to contribute for ‘ Happy Fridge ‘ and ensure India never sleeps hungry again.

Feeding India also urges everyone to make a promise to stop wasting food and instead consider donating it to those in need.

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Quote
It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote
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