There are two important components of the Nirmal Gram Puruskar (NGP) process, where a Panchayat (Local government) in India gets award for keeping its surrounding environment neat and clean on all sanitation and hygiene parameters.
The first one is selection or proposing a gram panchayat for NGP and another one is the process of NGP selection and award.
Within these two processes, apart from the implementation of the Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) as such, we need a robust system of NGP selection and award, and for this purpose there are certain important considerations we must work out. The present scenario is such that there are neither adequate provisions for cross-verification and monitoring, nor does the system allow them to function in a transparent manner. There is further political interference and weak administrative will and functions, at the district and state levels. I must say that, if there is a will there are ways to align and improve the NGP system as it should have been. There is need to focus on following issues:
- The general the practice is that, at block, district and state levels, the administration works on ‘targets’ in TSC, and these targets are met on paper. The responsible officials just pass on their tasks to lower level functionaries, or get them from NGOs or other agencies working in these panchayats. Those panchayat secretaries or presidents who are smart enough to understand the value of NGP get their panchayat included or entered in online system and prepare for the show.
- Therefore, here we must ensure that the block/district and state proposing a gram panchayat as nirmal, should be thoroughly reviewed and be made accountable for such proposition. This must contain an element of thorough scrutiny by district level officials and fixing of responsibility at each level for false reporting and poor performance in TSC.
- Now, when the application comes to the Government of India, they have a roster of credible agencies for the verification of NGPs. Here again the Department needs to improve the coordination mechanism between officials at DDWS and those in the Monitoring section of Ministry of Rural Development. The selection of agencies is done by the Monitoring section, while approvals and further processing is handled by the DDWS team. In the real sense, the situation is that there are but a handful of credible agencies those can really understand the nuances of the NGP selection process or its future implications in sustainability terms.
- Let me explain the above point with an example from the financial point of view. In the year 2007-08, for verification of one NGP, the agencies were paid at the rate of Rs 4,000, which included all expenditure (staff cost, field travel, administrative cost, etc., till the submission of final report to DDWS). The guidelines say that there should be a thorough process and in real terms, it takes 2-3 days to verify a panchayat by involving key sanitation experts. Such an expert in sanitation will charge the agencies more than Rs 4000 per day, and agencies also need to pay for other costs including travel, boarding and lodging. The alternative is to conduct the verification within the cost and make a profit of 40-60 per cent.
- So, we can understand how much they pay people for doing the verification; in the real sense it is not done by experts, but by field-level data collection people, who have a very basic understanding of the whole process. Therefore, there is the need to closely monitor these credible agencies doing verification and those passing the role or subcontracting it to other agencies or people. There were a few agencies actually following the verification process, who were later questioned at national or state level for not approving majority of NGPs. This led to deductions of payment of such agencies.
- Therefore, within present system of cross-verification, entering the verified data sets and monitoring the role of verification agencies, DDWS should hire a competent agency that can do this with utmost care with the help of experts. Merely hiring an agency that has the lowest financial quote will have the ramifications which we are seeing now. Here, we must ensure that we have the best people or agencies doing scrutiny of verified data and monitor them on random basis during the process. This will help a lot in getting the genuine Nirmal Gram Panchayats for the award.
- Apart from the process of counting the number of infrastructure facilities, the community mobilization process needs to be understood by the verification agencies in detail. So the activities related to focus group discussions, inter-personal communication and meeting the key informants during the verification process must be monitored closely by the agencies and should be recorded properly. This will also help in future in case there is any dispute on claims from the verification. Also, where there are problems in the panchayat, the agencies should bring out such evidence.
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