B. Rani Devaraj
President, Jakkanarai Gram Panchayat, Block Kotagiri, District Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu
Rani is a first time contestant and the seat she contested for was one that was reserved for women. There were four contestants for this seat and out of 3,300 she obtained 2,500 votes. She has studied up to Class XI. She decided to run in the elections because she wanted to improve the health and sanitation needs of the people in the area. Additionally, she wanted to solve the drinking water problem and ensure that all houses in the community obtained electricity and that the village streetlights were functional and well maintained. However the challenges were many and she was not sure how all this could be achieved.
She attended the Women’s Leadership Workshop organized by The Hunger Project. According to Rani, the leadership skills she learned at the workshop helped her deal with the challenges of her panchayat. She says that the training gave her an understanding of how a panchayat works, especially her role in it. After her training, she was able to exercise her leadership and hold meetings with other panchayat members. According to Rani, elected members who have attended The Hunger Project’s Women’s Leadership Workshops are very cooperative as they are all united in recognizing the need to bring about changes in the panchayat.
Rani’s panchayat has a population of 12,000 with Scheduled Tribes (ST) and Scheduled Castes (SC) in the minority. She says she gives preference to the ST and SC population because they are economically disadvantaged. Her priority is improving education and educational institutions in her panchayat. Her other area of focus is health and women’s development.
Rani has concentrated on the infrastructure development of educational institutions as she feels that the children in remote regions should learn in a safe and enriching environment. She has fought hard to sanction the following funds for the development of her panchayat:
- Rs 100,000 for the playground in the Government High School;
- Rs 200,000 for building a retaining wall in the Government Primary School;
- Rs 700,000 for providing drinking water to the Government High School;
- Rs 250,000 to lay a volleyball court in the Government Middle School;
- Rs 200,000 for roof repair of two middle schools;
- Rs 25,000 for providing games and sports materials;
- Rs 300,000 for the establishment of a Community Library; and
- The panchayat also provides 100 poor children educational assistance every year.
As a woman, Rani attaches importance to the health and dignity of women and girl children and believes that if their health is looked after, the community’s health will be maintained. Accordingly, she has accessed the following funds for the construction of community latrines for women and girl children:
- Construction of two sanitary toilets for women for Rs 550,000;
- One community toilet at cost Rs 200,000;
- Provision of safe drinking water has been made in nine villages at the cost of Rs 450,000; and
- The cost for the provision of water pipes at Rs 594,000.
In addition, she has implemented various development schemes for the welfare of the community in her panchayat. She has constructed 74 new houses under the Group Housing Scheme for Rs 2,516,000 and repaired 48 old houses for Rs 535,000. Sixty-eight new street lamps have been provided and 83 families have been provided free electricity. Twenty-three sodium gas lamps and 2,000 color TV sets have been distributed. In total, under the Sampoorna Grameen Rozgar Yojana (a central government sponsored wage employment scheme) a total of Rs. 16,500,000 has been spent.
Rani has also managed to raise resources for the panchayat through taxes, such as the collection of rent from shops built by the Panchayat, as well as income generated from ten acres of tea plantation land. Rani has dedicated her time and energy to ensure the development of her panchayat. She feels she owes this to her people as they placed their confidence in her. She believes that there is no scarcity of resources in India, but that what is lacking is the distribution of these resources to the poor and the marginalized. According to Rani, The Hunger Project training has taught her to include in her agenda those who are less fortunate than her.
October 18, 2008