Gram Seva: striking out the line of retreat for the villages at the Line of Control
New Delhi/ 15th November, 2022 – AROH Foundation, a leading NGO in India, has been a pioneer in implementing holistic rural development projects (HRDP) in more than 100 villages in Chhattisgarh, Meghalaya, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh in the past decade. Encouraged by the impact of the previous models, AROH joined hands with the SBI Foundation to implement the flagship Gram Seva development model for five villages, namely, Issa Panj grahi, Gurdar Panj Garai, Rana panj garahi, Chak panje ke and Nau Behram Sher singh wala in Gur Har Sahai block of Ferozpur district. The project has been designed after extensive need analysis was done through interaction and focused discussions with the residents, government departments, local leaders, and especially the women of the villages. Each of the five villages had similar yet specific problems to be addressed. Within the tenure of the next three years, starting from October 2022, Gram Seva has put forward a spectrum of interventions under the sectors of: digitalization of villages, promotion of quality education for rural students, improvement of primary health services, improvement in accessibility to safe drinking water and sanitation, promotion of sustainable livelihood practises and improving farmers’ income, empowerment of rural women and youth engagement, environment protection, improvement of rural infrastructure for improved access to basic services, improvement in coverage of benefits and schemes of the government, and capacity building for participatory rural development.
The model took a bottom-up approach to transforming villages that will work towards building self-reliant (Atmanirbhar) villages that will continue to grow sustainably, thereby truly realising the Gandhian philosophy of Gram Swaraj. The project is expected to benefit a population of 4,500 people, including 1946 women and 2041 male in five villages.
Speaking more on the aspiring project, Dr. Neelam Gupta, Founder President of the AROH Foundation, told us, “It is to be noted here that although absolute poverty has decreased in the border areas, disparities in income and wealth have become sharper, resulting in a widening of the range of differences in education, life style, social life, and recreation patterns. And the dire need was for a focused and dedicated development model that could address the region-specific crisis in Firozpur and cater to the need. The Gram Seva programme is a region-specific comprehensive development plan to address the actual issues in an integrated manner. We have invoked community, especially women’s participation, as an essential tool for planning, implementation, and sustainability of the project. The idea is to reinstate Prime Minister Modi’s vision of “Suvidha Shehar ki ho aur Aatma Gaon ki” (facilitating urban facilities while restoring the essence of a rural setting).
The social sectors, especially education and health, have been suffering from serious deficiencies in terms of adequate infrastructure and service delivery. The paucity of teachers and absenteeism among the teachers are still common characteristics of the education system in border areas. The dropout rate among schoolchildren, especially girls, is higher. The higher education system is in quite a bad situation. The infant and child mortality rates are high. The grassroots-level health workers are there but are not adequately motivated to work in rural areas due to a lack of civic amenities. Due to poor access to quality reproductive health care, diseases like reproductive tract infections and sexually transmitted diseases are common among women. The sanitation in border areas is quite poor. The percentages of households having latrines are considerably lower in border areas than in non-border areas. The quality of the water, especially in some pockets in the border areas of districts like Firozpur, is not drinkable.
There is a general lack of skill formation and technical education, and there is also a lack of higher education among the population of bordering areas. The female work participation rate is also low, but women belonging to households of scheduled castes are found to be engaged in agricultural activities as agricultural wage labourers and also in other menial activities. In the absence of jobs and business avenues, the exodus of youth to off-shore destinations in hopes of finding greener pastures continued unabated this year. No wonder the only businesses that seem to be thriving are IELTS coaching centres and visa centres. Even traders have started shifting bases elsewhere. The problems of drug abuse and the distillation of illegal and spurious liquor are much higher in the border region. This negative approach, in total, is disturbing the social milieu of village life. Once considered a land of “prosperity,” the historic district of Firozpur continues to reel under the wretched economy juxtaposed with the ignorance of a dedicated development model.