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Logging on in Belandur (an Indian village)

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  • fredericknoronha
    http://www.flonnet.com/fl1911/19110440.htm From the FRONTLINE magazine Logging on in Belandur Belandur gram panchayat in Karnataka, which is the first in the
    Message 1 of 3 , May 31 12:00 AM
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      From the FRONTLINE magazine

      Logging on in Belandur

      Belandur gram panchayat in Karnataka, which is the first in the State
      to computerise its administration, finds that e-governance cuts costs
      and removes corruption, among other things.


      WHILE the pros and cons of introducing the tools of Information
      Technology in the rural areas are being debated at higher levels of
      government, Belandur gram panchayat in Bangalore Rural district has
      taken its first steps in e-governance. Situated about 25 km from
      Bangalore, this gram panchayat is the first in Karnataka to
      computerise its administration and aspects of governance. More than
      10,000 people in 2,500 households across five villages come under
      Belandur panchayat. What makes this project unique is that it is an
      independent initiative funded by the village development committee
      (VDC). According to panchayat president K. Jagannath, this factor cut
      down red-tape and other bureaucratic delays.

      Belandur is a comparatively well off panchayat, which is assured of
      year-round irrigation from the Belandur lake. (Rice cultivation and
      vegetable farming are the mainstay.) However, this prime water source
      is being polluted by the large-scale dumping of sewage from Bangalore
      city, an issue of major concern here. The main industry in Belandur,
      which is garment manufacture, employs a large section of women from
      middle-class households. There are also a large number of government
      employees living here, who commute to the city. Belandur has around
      95 per cent literacy. According to Jagannath, "Literacy is the main
      reason why we were able to launch successfully the e-governance
      project and persuade the people to cooperate."

      Paying tax at the Belandur gram panchayat. Belandur's e-governance
      project began with a single computer that was brought to the village
      in 1998 to replace the panchayat's old typewriter.

      Belandur's e-governance project started with a single computer that
      was brought to the village in 1998 to replace the panchayat's old
      typewriter. This brought Belandur to the notice of Compusol, an IBM
      and Microsoft joint venture company, which is currently involved in
      research and development of e-governance software packages to suit
      the Indian context. At present the panchayat office has three
      computers, one for each of the bill collectors. Working closely with
      the panchayat members and village residents, Compusol managed to
      devise software packages to suit the needs of panchayat
      administration, handling the recording of property details, tax
      collection, data management and so on. Since this was the company's
      maiden venture, the packages were provided free of cost. The only
      investment made by the panchayat was towards the purchase of
      hardware, a total of around Rs.70,000.

      The chief executive officer of Compusol, Subramanya R. Jois,
      said: "We just wanted to show everybody that e-governance in rural
      India is possible." He attributes Belandur's success to cooperation
      extended to the company by the village residents as well as the
      politicians who were involved. "It was the first time we saw
      politicians taking active interest and pushing the project through,"
      said Jois.

      The Belandur project has been an eye-opener for many people who
      considered e-governance as being synonymous with e-mailing and the
      Internet, said Jagannath. "Initially people related the computer to
      the television and entertainment and resisted the idea of investing
      in one. But once the applications and benefits were explained and
      shown, the whole village pitched in," he added. Following the success
      in Belandur, Compusol was approached by the MLA from Udupi, U.R.
      Sabhapathi, to do the same in his constituency. Now Udupi
      municipality has been computerised too.

      According to Jagannath, the software has changed the way the
      panchayat functioned, cutting costs and removing corruption in the
      process. Property-related records such as land revenue details and
      land dimensions are now stored in the computer. Records of bills paid
      are made available to members of the public. Since the software uses
      the local language, ordinary residents have experienced no problem
      with getting involved.

      In addition to speeding up processes such as tax collection and
      property transfer and reducing the workload of the three bill
      collectors, the e-governance project has set off other developments.
      Following the computerisation of tax collection, the panchayat has
      recovered huge outstandings. It has recorded a steady increase in
      collections and managed to mop up Rs.1 crore in 2001 compared to
      around Rs.14 lakhs that was collected in 1999. This has allowed the
      panchayat to channel funds for development projects such as
      macadamising roads and digging borewells. Now every household has
      daily water supply and pays Rs.25 a month as water tax. Belandur is
      also perhaps now the first village in India to have an underground
      drainage system: it cost the VDC around Rs.5 lakhs. The system has
      solved problems of clogged drains and slushy roads.

      According to the residents, the panchayat's progressive outlook is
      responsible for the success story. For instance, of the 12 panchayat
      members, six are women, of which one is from a Scheduled Tribe. The
      post of vice-president is reserved for a woman candidate from the
      Backward Classes. Most of the members have studied up to Class VII.

      A borewell being sunk at Belandur. Computerisation has resulted in
      improved tax collection, and this has allowed the panchayat to
      channel funds for development work.

      Each member has read the Panchayat Act, said Nirmala Reddy, a member
      of the panchayat council. "Each and every resident of the village,
      including women, attend the gram sabha (village general body meeting)
      and make suggestions. I have never seen a suggestion being shot down
      because it came from a woman."

      This attitude is reflected in the literacy situation of Belandur too.
      The government Model Primary School here has 150 girl students and
      128 boys. However, the majority of the students belong to the
      Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. "The upper class people
      consider it a stigma to send their children to the government
      school," said Jagannath. Incidentally, many of the entrepreneurs and
      professionals who hail from Belandur passed out from this school. The
      school has kept up with the rest of the village by computerising its
      records, such as student particulars and enrolment details. From
      Class V onwards students are taught basic computer functions such as
      creating and handling files, word processing and drawing.

      Following the State government's inclusion of Belandur and its
      adjacent villages in the Karnataka Information Technology Corridor,
      the panchayat, ironically, is attracting more attention for its real
      estate value then its success with e-governance. "We have
      accomplished so much on our own, but the government is only
      interested in our land," said Jagannath. Moreover, panchayat members
      claim that the Karnataka Industrial Development Board (KIDB) and the
      government's single window agency, the Karnataka Udyog Mitra, are
      being unfair to the farmers by paying for their land prices that are
      substantially below the market rates. The rate fixed by the
      government is Rs.6.5 lakhs an acre, whereas residents contend that
      the land should be valued at nothing less than Rs.40 lakhs an acre.
      Around 27 acres (about 11 hectares) of prime land has been taken over
      by the government at the fixed rate and 300 acres (about 120 ha) more
      has been notified till date.

      Fearing that they will lose both their land and money, many farmers
      have sold their lands to private companies and developers. Around
      3,000 acres (about 1,215 ha) of rich farmland comes under Belandur
      and the four adjacent villages - Ambalipura, Devarabisanhalli, Harlur
      and Kariammana Agrahara. According to Jagannath, almost 50 per cent
      of this land has been sold to private developers. In a desperate bid
      to help retain their land, the panchayat has issued a stay order with
      effect from February 28, 2002 against further land acquisition by the
      KIDB, until all previous acquisitions are investigated.

      Ironically, none from the software companies or the Information
      Technology Department has bothered to visit the village and discuss
      the situation with the residents, claims Jagannath. "How can IT
      benefit rural people if their needs are totally overlooked by the
      State government and the software companies?" asked one resident.
      Around 140 acres (about 57 ha) of wetland has recently been earmarked
      for a leading software company. This raises the question as to how
      the IT sector will pay its debt back to the rural economy.
    • shazia haris
      Hi can someone please give me information on Punchait rules and role of indian women in decision making in that please? shazia
      Message 2 of 3 , Jun 9, 2002
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        Hi can someone please give me information on Punchait rules and role of indian women in decision making in that please?


      • Frederick Noronha
        Hi Shazia, The more-recognisable spelling would be panchayat . A friend in Goa (Kalanand Mani of Peaceful Society, peaceful@goatelecom.com) is in the process
        Message 3 of 3 , Jun 10, 2002
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          Hi Shazia, The more-recognisable spelling would be 'panchayat'. A friend
          in Goa (Kalanand Mani of Peaceful Society, peaceful@...) is in
          the process of setting up a website related to panchayats. But that could
          take a bit of time to get ready, since it's only in the planning stage.

          What might help is trying to do a search for the 73rd and/or 74th
          amendment to the Indian Constitution, which sought to devolve power to the
          panchayats and other local-administration bodies.

          Of course, what is said on paper, and the reality at the ground level can
          often be quite different. For instance, we've seen that some seats are
          reserved for women in panchayats, but in actual fact, the controlling
          forces are their husbands.

          On the other hand, there have been some (a few?) interesting cases where
          empowerment has taken place. Excuse me for straying away from ICTs. FN

          On Sun, 9 Jun 2002, shazia haris wrote:

          > Hi can someone please give me information on Punchait rules and role
          of indian women in decision making in that please?
          > shazia
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