The Government began from an area that needs maximum attention. Otherwise known for unity and clan solidarity, villages turn into virtual battlefields during times of elections. This is an all-India phenomenon and the situation is worse during Panchayat more than Lok Sabha or Vidhan Sabha elections. People who till then walked shoulder to shoulder become sworn enemies as relations often get strained.
The Gujarat government wanted to end this and they introduced the Samras Gram Yojana. The initiative was aimed at strengthening a culture of consensus and collective decision-making. Samras Grams are those villages that select their Panchayats unanimously through consensus. For doing so, the villages are rewarded- a Samras Gram is awarded Rs. 1,50,000 and those Samras Grams with women Panchayats are awarded Rs. 3,00,000. Gujarat has a total of 8044 Samras Grams and 40 of them are women-governed Panchayats. The Samras Gram Yojana has made representatives not only more responsible but also more humble and sensitive towards the grievances of the people. The mandate-oriented approach of the yesteryears has paved way for an approach of consensus and collective decision-making where everybody is an equal stakeholder.
After political consensus the Government tackled the menace of crime and social disturbances in the villages. Through the Paavan Gram and Tirth Gram Yojanas, the Government sought to strengthen the atmosphere of goodwill and social harmony among the villages of Gujarat. A village that is crime free for 5 preceding years classifies as a Tirth Gram while a village that is crime free for 3 years is designated as a Paavan Gram. A Tirth Gram gets an award of Rs. 1,00,000 and a Paavan Gram is awarded Rs. 50,000. Today Gujarat has 867 Tirth Grams and 206 Paavan Grams.
How villages can become centres of development rising above petty politics is something one must learn from Gujarat. There are 11,000 Nirmal Villages in Gujarat due to excellent standards of hygiene and sanitation. Lakhs of women in the state have joined Sakhi Mandals through which they manage financial activities worth more than Rs.1, 000 crore.
During my forays I also had the opportunity to meet various stakeholders who were building these institutions across Gujarat. Their mission was clear- to make villages centres of harmony, consensus, free from any disturbances where every section of society is self-dependent. Realizing that the process would be incomplete without providing facilities associated with the cities, the Government took equal care to ensure the same as well. First and foremost is the providing of adequate supplies of electricity to the villages. The Gujarat Government’s Jyoti Gram Yojana made a path breaking contribution in providing 24 hours, 3-phase power supply to our villages. Electricity in Gujarat is no longer restricted to urban areas only. 18,000 villages of Gujarat hosted the annual Krishi Mahotsavs that have deeply enriched the lives of our farmers. The state Government has also completed the construction of 6.5 lakh check dams, farm ponds and bori-bandhs for water conservation.
A village cannot call itself developed if it lacks access to the latest technology. Though cutting edge technology reached the cities first, the Gujarat Government is making rapid advances in taking technology to the villages. A major role was played by the e-Gram Yojana due to which the villages enjoyed continued broadband connectivity. The advantage of this can be seen in multiple fields. It has made grievance redressal much simpler and has brought the people very close to their Chief Minister, Minsters and other Government functionaries. At the same time, these villages require a balanced environment where work and leisure go side by side. With the Panchvati Yojana, parks and gardens were constructed so that leisure can complement a hard day of work.
Chief Minister Narendra Modi gave the con concept of ‘Rurban’- the rural spirit with world-class ‘urban’ facilities. Its gladdening to see the state work overtime to achieve this. The trends so far have been very encouraging. Just recently, the Gujarat Government awarded the Best Panchayat Prize to Punsri village in Talod Taluka. I was very impressed to see the advances it has made in all spheres. Among the many things, the village developed its own bus transport service!