Stronger at the grassroots: On strengthening Panchayati Raj Institutions

Synopsis: About PRIs, role played by them in COVID-19 crisis, need to build their capacity further so that they can deal with these kinds of situations in stronger way.

Introduction 

The Panchayati Raj was first adopted by Nagaur in Rajasthan on October 2, 1959. It has expanded vastly. There are now 2,60,512 Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) represented by about 31 lakh elected members across India.  

What are PRIs? 

This is a system of local self-governance, where people in the villages participate in the decision-making process. It is the backbone of democracy. They also provide a platform to build consensus and making resolutions in the community’s interest.

The People’s Plan Campaign and Vibrant Gram Sabha Dashboard, rolled out this year, aspire to strengthen the Panchayati Raj system by making gram sabhas more vibrant.

How PRI played a key role in tackling COVID-19 crisis? 

Unlike other disasters like earthquakes, COVID-19 is an unusual crisis as it is long-drawn and affects people everywhere.

When the traditional top-down disaster response system was compromised during the bad months of the pandemic, it was PRIs that played a remarkable role.  

Helped reduce risks– responded swiftly and thus helped people recover quickly. They provided essential leadership at the local level. 

Performed both regulatory and welfare functions– For instance, during the nationwide lockdown, PRIs set up containment zones, arranged transport, identified buildings for quarantining people and provisioned food for the incoming migrants.  

Effective implementation of welfare schemes like MGNREGA and the National Rural Livelihood Mission – This quickened the pace of recovery while ensuring support to the vulnerable population.  

Bridged the trust gap between the community and the officials– They did it with regular engagement with frontline workers like ASHA workers and Anganwadi workers through committee.

Organised community-based surveillance systems – It involved village elders, the youth and self-help groups (SHGs). The purpose was to keep a strict vigil in quarantine centres and monitor symptoms in households.  

Mobilised citizens for COVID-19 vaccination.

How we can further build the capacity of PRIs? 

The Yokohama strategy pointed out that it is important to focus on disaster prevention, mitigation and preparedness rather than disaster response alone, to reduce vulnerability. In this light, certain initiatives can be taken to build the capacity of PRIs:

– Include disaster management chapters in Panchayat Raj Acts and make disaster planning and spending part of Panchayati Raj development plans and local-level committees. This will ensure citizen-centric mapping and planning of resources. Various insurance products customised to local needs will build financial resilience of the community. 

– Conducting regular location specific training programmes for the community and organising platforms for sharing best practices. This will strengthen individual and institutional capacities.  

– Assigning roles to individual members and providing them with the necessary skills. It can make such programmes more meaningful.  

– Community-based disaster management plans are needed as the community is usually the first responder in case of a disaster. We also need to take the traditional wisdom of local communities which will complement modern practices. Moreover, financial contributions from the community should be encouraged through the establishment of community disaster funds in all gram panchayats.

It is the high time to make disaster resilience an inherent part of the community culture. 

Source: This post is based on the article “Stronger at the grassroots” published in The Hindu on 8th October 2021. 

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