In October 2019, I attended a grama sabha meeting for the first time in my life. The first time because I've never lived in a village governed by a panchayat before. Not sure about what to expect, I went there to be a mere spectator and observe the proceedings. The turnout involved a variety of people from the most senior of citizens to young adults.
The panchayat secretary headed the meeting in the BDO's presence. There was no panchayat president at the time as the local body elections were due for more than two years.
The first item on the agenda was the expense report. Surprisingly, the report did not mention the opening balance, income or the closing balance. It was just that - the expense report. Some items had a very vague description. For example, an item marked as "new inscription" had cost Rs. 1.75 lakhs of the panchayat's fund. No additional information was enclosed. The inscription's whereabouts remain unknown.
The next item was the status report. Just as the details of work carried out was being read, accusations about the panchayat not functioning started pouring in. Complaints, arguments and verbal duel filled the next few hours. Finally, when all chaos settled in, no new resolutions were passed because a whole lot from the previous meeting remained unfulfilled.
After the meeting was over, the entire exercise felt a bit pointless. There were no action plans to prevent what had happened earlier or improve things from the state they were in.
This episode was running through my mind for a few days and I wanted to try and fix this for the next meeting. I tried to summarise my observations about what felt wrong during the meeting.
The above list is neither complete nor the only ones that need improvement. It's just the first step in a thousand-mile journey.
So, I decided to set up a website for my village manampathy.com to solve the above issues. The objectives I set for myself are,
The website has 4 sections,
The response has been better than I expected. I see regular visits to the website every day. The first feature request for "complaints" came in after grama sabha and status report sections went live. Within a few weeks, I had it implemented and 10 complaints have been reported since then. The panchayat office has agreed to actively look into the complaints section regularly and provide resolutions at the earliest.
I hope to open-source this project to help other panchayats get their version of the website. Besides, collaborating with a larger community can bring-in valuable ideas and speed up things. It's not ready to be open-sourced yet but will get there.
Please do get in touch if you wish to get a similar website for your local body.