Countdown to panchayat polls, meet Haryana's changemakers

  • HT Correspondents, Hindustan Times, Haryana
  • Updated: Aug 26, 2015 17:44 IST

The countdown to the panchayat elections in Haryana has begun. After 6,075 panchayats completed their tenure last month, the state government decided to lay down the minimum academic criteria for candidates. The Punjab and Haryana high court, however, stayed the ordinance promulgated by the Manohar Lal Khattar government for fixing educational requirements. Though the polling date is awaited, the election scene is hotting up with parties trading charges. Hindustan Times connects with eight sarpanches, awarded for development and leading change during their five-year term, to share their experience, feat and views on the academic criteria.

Ramanand Kaushik, 53

Village: Dattaur, Rohtak

Education: Class 10

Achievement: Awarded the Rashtriya Gaurav Gram Sabha Puraskar (2013-14) by President Pranab Mukherjee

What got his village the award: I became sarpanch after retiring from the army. We worked together to set up a sports complex in six acres. Beautician training was given to 65 girls with help from Punjab National Bank and NABARD. Streets were cemented and a sewerage system built. Regular meetings were held to discuss issues from sanitary facilities to job opportunities. The villagers provided land free to widen streets. We solved our issues amicably within the village.

On the academic criterion: It’s a bold step that will help eradicate corruption and end monopoly of panchayat secretaries and block-level officials.

Will he contest again: If people of my village ask me to, I will. I fulfil the conditions.

Rajbala, 35

Village: Sultanpurian, Sirsa

Education: Class 4

Achievement: Won the Swachh Village Award from the Haryana government on August 15, 2015

What got her village the award: I was focused on the construction and repair of drains and streets from Day 1. Tired of heaps of slush, garbage and broken drains and streets, people were supportive. We got help from state agencies too. We undertook green drives, planting saplings in and around schools, the gurdwara and water works. A pond was dug for village slush and dirty water. All villages can be made ‘swachh’ with a little effort.

On the academic criterion: I think it is a step forward. Education and computer knowledge are a great help.

Will she contest again: I don’t wish to contest, but it will depend on what the villages wants.

Surja Ram (56)

Village: Abdulagarh, Ambala

Education: Class 4

Achievement: Nirmal Gram Puraskar, 2013

What got his village the award: Abdulagarh was like any other village. Mosquitoes were a menace. We focused on cleanliness and hygiene, creating awareness at panchayat meetings or group talks against garbage and littering. The issue was discussed with block development officials. Drains were repaired and garbage cleared. Though some indulged in politics, most people were for clean surroundings. Getting work done from government agencies is not easy. I had to make many rounds of the BDO office. Things took longer than they should have.

On the academic criterion: It’s a welcome decision. While education helps, delivery varies from person to person. While some educated people can have biases, likewise, some illiterate people can deliver.

Will he contest again: I’m not interested to but I want to continue working for the betterment of my village.

Urmila Devi, 65

Village: Sailba, Yamunanagar

Education: Class 4

Achievement: Nirmal Gram Puraskar, 2013

What got her village the award: We did not have pucca streets or drains and there were garbage dumps everywhere. When I talked to people, they wanted quick solutions. We tried telling them to stop throwing garbage. There was hardly any response initially, but we did not give up. We worked as a bridge between the official agencies and villagers. Construction and repair of drains and streets and clean environment in and around the village school and pond were undertaken with the support of the community. That’s how we made things work.

On the academic criterion: I am in favour educational criteria. Bina padhai ke koi kya kar sakta hai? Na woh afsaron se baat kar sakta hai aur na hi unki baat achche se samajh sakta hai.

Will she contest again: No, I contested because my family wanted me to become a sarpanch.

Sushma Bhadu, 32

Village: Dhani Miyan Khan, Fatehabad

Education: Class 4

Achievement: Led change by discarding the ghoonghat (veil). Nirmal Gram Puraskar, 2013

What got her village the award: I was elected sarpanch in June 2010 and faced difficulties initially. In 2012, I discarded the ghoonghat with the backing of my family and several women followed. I spoke against it publicly at panchayat, school and other meetings. My agenda was also to push development works. Though official agencies did not cooperate, together we undertook cleanliness and plantation drives in the village, especially in and around the school and cremation ground, to show the difference. Good intentions work.

On the academic criterion: It is a very good step. An educated person with good intentions can do much better than an illiterate or semi-literate person.

Will she contest again: No, I have decided to study further. My husband is supportive.

Raj Singh, 38

Village: Asan, Sonepat

Education: Class 12. Took admission in BA, but left in 2nd year

Achievement: Awarded Rashtriya Gaurav Gram Sabha Puraskar, 2010-11, by then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh

What got his village the national award: Besides getting the villagers and panchayat members involved in decision-making through regular gram sabha meetings, we set up a sewerage system, constructed cemented streets and installed streetlights. Thereafter, we took steps to improve the sex ratio. The awareness campaign is showing positive results as the number of girls born in my village this year is 48 against 25 boys. Last year, 120 girls were born against 100 boys.

On the academic criterion: It’s a good decision that will help bring much-needed electoral reforms. Basic educational qualification should be fixed for assembly and parliamentary elections also, but it is a good beginning.

Will he contest again: No, I’m not keen.

Seema Devi, 24

Village: Chausala, Kaithal

Education: Class 12

Achievement: Led change by discarding ghoonghat (veil). Honoured by district administration on January 26, 2013

What got her acclaim: My biggest achievement has been the overwhelming response of villagers to my stand against the age-old tradition of ghoonghat. I got elected in 2010, but I became a leader only when I shunned the veil. Till then, I was just a rubber stamp at home and as sarpanch. While there was opposition from my husband and in-laws initially, they later encouraged me to prove myself. Now my village has Haryana’s only e-health centre. It offers free medical help to people of seven villages through tele-medicine. Before 2010, the villagers had to walk 2km to fetch drinking water. Every household has water supply now.

On the academic criterion: An uneducated sarpanch is prone to exploitation if he/she depends on others to understand official work.
Will she contest again: I want to concentrate on my three children. This time, a section of villagers is working to elect the panchayat unopposed.

Rani Devi, 45

Village: Sunheri Khalsa, Kurukshetra

Education: No formal education

Achievement: Nirmal Gram Puraskar for 2013

What got her village the award: I won the election by 10 votes, but then gained support of all sections for inclusive development. After Rs 3.4 lakh allocated by the zila parishad for a common chaupal was exhausted, the villagers contributed Rs 65,000 for its completion. Road network strengthening and construction of anganwadi were also our priorities. The cremation ground was beautified. If people rise above their political leanings, things can be improved. Barring one instance when some people tried to create a hurdle in the village’s nomination for the award, I never faced any opposition.

On academic criterion: As I was unable to read or write, I had to depend on my family and others for paperwork. An educated representative can definitely perform better.

Will she contest again: No, I won’t be contesting.

(Contributed by Rajesh Moudgil, Vishal Joshi and Neeraj Mohan)

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