Panchayats have a crucial role to play in the transformation of rural India. As part of their mandate of preparing the Gram Panchayat Development Plan (GPDP) for economic development and social justice, Gram Panchayats enable communities’ participation in local governance and development. From June 2020 to January 2021, with support from UNICEF and the State Institute of Panchayat and Rural Development (SIPRD), we ran ‘Bridges to the Most Vulnerable’ programme to strengthen local governance institutions in Assam. The intervention was spread across 13 districts, covering 30 Gram Panchayats.
Drawing on our long experience of working with communities and setting up participatory processes of planning and development, we were able to mobilize communities, facilitating the participation of more than 35,000 vulnerable people, including children. This mobilization was achieved across Dhubri, Goalpara, Barpeta, Nalbari, Kamrup, Morigaon, Darrang, Biswanath, Lakhimpur, Jorhat, Tinsukia, Dhemaji and Majuli districts of Assam, amid the challenges posed by the pandemic. Working with vulnerable communities in villages in these districts, we further developed tools and processes for social mobilization to enhance community participation in local governance processes effectively.
We celebrated the Gram Panchayat Development Planning as Panchayat Utsav in collaboration with these 30 Gram Panchayats. We also organized Women and Children Gram Sabhas. There were specific lists of issues raised by community-based women and children submitted to the respective Gram Panchayats for incorporation in the Gram Panchayat annual action plans. To enhance children’s protection and their participation in the local planning processes, we also facilitated Gram Panchayat Child Protection Committees’ formation in collaboration with the District Child Protection Units and Gram Panchayats. Besides, we organized convergence workshops with various departments to help ensure the holistic development of the Gram Panchayats. Our intervention has helped deepen the perspectives of Panchayat functionaries on the issues and rights of community members and has strengthened local governance.
We were able to build on the humanitarian support we had rendered during the peak time of the pandemic, when we supported more than 9,000 families in the state to access the various social protection schemes under Gram Panchayats and other allied line departments. During those months, we also carried out a drive to support returnee migrant workers to get job cards and work under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).