E-Gram Swaraj portal: the revolutionary first step

A Commentary

Dr Nupur Tiwary | April 30, 2020


#E-Gram Swaraj   #Ministry of Panchayati Raj   #Panchayati Raj Institutions   #rural development   #e-governance  
File photo of Bhitaura block office, Fatehpur.
File photo of Bhitaura block office, Fatehpur.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the unified e-Gram Swaraj portal and mobile app on the National Panchayati Raj Diwas. The eGram Swaraj portal/app will provide panchayats a single interface to prepare and implement their gram panchayat development plan (GPDP). The PM said, “Now, broadband has reached more than 1.25 lakh panchayats. Not only that, the number of common service centres in villages is also crossing three lakh.”

The focus of eGram Swaraj is more to boost planning, implementation, accessibility, monitoring, training as well as skilling.

Gram Swaraj portal/app will boost the followings:

i. Recording of all data about panchayats,
ii. The portal will boost  participatory local level planning by panchayati raj institutions (PRIs), to identify needs, levels of delivery and the enhancements desired by the people in each sector,
iii. Enhance  capacity by training and skilling to the PRIs (in the widest sense of the term) to perform their responsibilities efficiently,
iv. Put systems of accountability in place by duly empowering gram sabhas, so that citizens (the ultimate recipients of services,) are able to hold PRIs to account for any inadequacies in service delivery.

1) Recording of all data about Panchayats and Monitoring all the work via Gram Swaraj portal/app will help speed-up the implementation of projects in village areas
The Gram Swaraj portal and mobile application will boost e-governance in PRIs across the nation. This portal can play a huge role in rural development. Through this, the Common Service Centre can play a very big role, one is the work of data entry for the villagers, the data work of all the program details can be added to the details at the CSC.

It can also help in the recording of the following: gram panchayats’ internal processes and requirements (agendas, resolutions, voting records); proceedings of gram sabhas and progress reports about the actions taken; family data (family surveys, property lists, BPL lists, pensions, censuses); services data (education, health, water and sanitation); data about natural resources and biodiversity; databases on panchayat members and staffing details; availability of government and private infrastructure; village habitat planning.

The works of the Ministry of Panchayati Raj will be accessible through the Gram Swaraj portal. It can help those people who cannot have the access to the information about the works of MoPR, will be accessed through the Gram Swaraj portal on their own. The rural people will have complete information about any project status, and about any program and any funds of the panchayats. All common service centres have signed an agreement with Panchayati Raj that it will help and empower the Panchayats in their work

2) Gram Swaraj Portal will boost up Planning and Implementation of Gram Panchayat Development Plan (GPDP)
The platform will provide records of work from planning to the implementation in every village panchayat under Gram Panchayati Development Plan (GPDP). Under FFC a total of Rs. 200292.17 crore has been allocated to the GPs for 2015-20, with Basic Grant (90%) and Performance Grant (10%).

The FFC Award has created an opportunity for convergent plans at the GP level and leadership by Panchayats in providing basic amenities and services to the people. The GP Development Plans are also an opportunity for the community to be engaged in setting local development agenda and finding local solutions to development issues.

The e portal will play a very big role in GPDP, facilitate in converging all the resources over which the panchayats have command including FFC funds, state grants Own Source of Revenue (OSR), MGNREGS funds etc. MoPR has also impressed upon States to focus on GPDP training by way of orientation for the respective roles of the supporting structures at cluster, block and district levels in participatory planning. As per information available from MoPR, 2,40,040 GPDPs were prepared by the Gram Panchayats and approved across the country during 2017-18. Consequently for the formulation of comprehensive and effective GPDPs by Gram Panchayats, it is necessary that information regarding funds allocated to be spent within the jurisdiction of each Panchayat and the activities to be undertaken there, be informed to each Panchayat as a part of public disclosure. E gram swaraj portal can have a big role in this   to sensitize about the specific activities that are required to be undertaken and completed against the specific scheme to ensure necessary support on their behalf.

The e portal has the potential to contribute to participatory planning and institutionalizing democracy at the grassroots. It is high time that we discuss and arrive at some consensus as to how to utilize GPDP as one of the potent tools to localize SDGs and to help the Gram Panchayats become true institutions of local government and think and act beyond schemes, entitlements and external allocations and most importantly alter the current design and focus of capacity building.

3) e-Portal can  simplify and better define the Decision-making processes in panchayats
Systems that ensure that citizens have easy access to information have been put into place. If the right to information is to have any meaning, information will have to be streamlined and packaged in a manner that makes sense to those who seek it, through the e-Portal.

The record of voting by individual members in PRI meetings could become the most important mechanism of opening up the proceedings to the public, particularly if there is express provision in the law for disclosing the voting pattern to the public. Mandatory public display of PRI resolutions, along with records showing whether each member voted for or against, will enable the public to know how their members are performing.

4) Capacity Building of PRIs: Skilling and Training
Skilling and training are also part of the E-Gram Swaraj Portal application as it has been developed through active consultation on the basis of feedback from the various states. A whole budget line is dedicated to the e-Panchayat mission project. Training will be done intensively. There are video based conference sessions in cascading mode.

Under the scheme of RGPSA and Capacity Building – Panchayat Sashaktikaran Abhiyan (CB-PSA) the MoPR has provided assistance to States in the field of Capacity building and training almost on all counts and progressively up-scaled the facilities. The training programmes are organised by States for Elected Representatives, Panchayat Functionaries, Gram Sabhas, Panchayat Secretaries etc. throughout the year.

A total of 48,95,156 Panchayat Elected Representatives and functionaries were trained in GPDP and other trainings during 2015-16 and 2016-17, according to the ministry data. Trainings for a total of 67.76 lakh Elected Representatives and Functionaries of Panchayats, including 43.96 lakh for GPDP, have been sanctioned so far during 2017-18.

The portal can boost capacity development courses including online certification multimedia for Master Trainers, Experts and Elected Representatives. E-Portal will have an important role for ensuring propagation of best practices and functioning in an accountable manner. States have to take action for ensuring the comprehensive capacity building of Elected Representatives through E portal.

The portal can accelerate aligning Capacity Building with Sustainable  Development Goals (SDGs) and in facilitating quality preparation of Gram Panchayat Development Plans (GPDPs).

The challenges can be many

The e portal can streamline processes and  can make planning and execution a lot more easier but the challenge lies in the fact that a lot of work which is done by Gram Panchayat secretary or Panchayat Staff, who may/probably not know the use of a computer and the E-Portal application. So the foremost thing is that there must be proper training for not just the secretary but even other elected representatives and staffs.

There may also be resistance from social and political environment of the village, if we increase transparency in our village Panchayats through more information technology as everything is going to become transparent and more accountable through this platform.
It can make things easier for the administration at all level be it at the central/state level or even at the grassroots provided there is that willingness and openness to accepting it.

There might be lack of adequate community ownership, participation of people and social audit. It may not be possible to give reliable and timely availability of data every time. It may be difficult to control, supervise and ensure conformity of government instructions. Especially it is very difficult to maintain the trust of citizens if there is any problem which may occurs in portal.

However, the Gram Swaraj Portal can be positioned as a support to enhance decision-making system for Panchayats – a tool for transparency, disclosure of information and social audit, a means for better and convergent delivery of services to citizens, improving internal management and efficiency of Panchayats, capacity building of representatives and officials of Panchayats, and a medium of e-procurement.  

Dr Nupur Tiwary is Associate Professor in Rural Development at the Indian Institute of Public Administration (IIPA), New Delhi. The views expressed here are her own.

 

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