Magesh Ravi

Magesh Ravi

Artist | Techie | Entrepreneur

A self-taught UI/UX designer, full-stack web developer and passionate business owner. Lives in Tamil Nadu, India.

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Web application for village panchayats

"If people don't know what you're doing, they don't know what you're doing wrong."
- Yes Minister.

How it started

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.

  1. Functioning in a silo: The panchayat office failed to actively share information about the ongoing work. I'm not sure if this is entirely intentional, but it fueled the prevailing popular belief that the governing body isn't functioning.
  2. Lack of records: Most enquiries were verbal. They were either lost or forgotten regardless of their importance. 
    For example, information regarding a specific source of income to the panchayat has not been answered for more than a year in spite of being requested in every other grama sabha meeting.
  3. Access to information: The panchayat office does maintain some handwritten records. Unfortunately, they are not within the villagers' reach. As a result, people forget the resolutions and enquiries from the previous meetings. Transfer of officials makes things worse. One of the records was lost because the new secretary didn't know about it.
  4. Lack of awareness: Solutions were proposed without fully understanding the consequences. Examples,
    • A senior citizen proposed a resolution to cut down all trees in the government school because they blocked the streetlights. (I later learned he had commercial interests in those trees).
    • A middle-aged person suggested the stormwater drain in her street be filled with sand and made non-operational because it was a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
    • Another young chap suggested replacing the interior of the giant water tower with ceramic tiles to make cleaning easier.
  5. Lack of consensus: There were too many requests, often contradicting. For example, two people from the same street had similar requests - one wanted to clean the stormwater drain and the other wanted to close it down.

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,

  1. Active communication: A quarterly status report of works carried out by the panchayat to be published. This helps spread the goodwill about the local governing body.
  2. Documentation: Every request, complaint and resolution ever passed in a grama sabha meeting to be captured and kept for future reference.
  3. Transparency: All publicly available information will remain open. No signup or user registration will be required to access the stored information.
  4. Awareness: Improve awareness about various issues through blog posts and simple illustrations. The posts will also focus on sustainable long term solutions.
  5. Forum: A place to share and debate constructive ideas thereby freeing up the time for other grama sabha activities. This need not happen on the website. Reddit can be a ready-to-use solution.

 Current status

The website has 4 sections,

  1. Status reports
  2. Grama sabha
  3. Complaints
  4. Blog

 Reception

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.

The future

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.
 

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