Logging on in Belandur (an Indian village)
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.
SROBONA ROY CHOUDHURY
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,"
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.
- 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?