At a time when an amendment to the Karnataka Panchayat Raj Act, 1993 is being heatedly debated in political and policy circles, the Government of Karnataka has taken a landmark step towards strengthening its gram panchayats. The Rural Development and Panchayat Raj department along with not-for-profit organization Avantika Foundation bagged the country’s first innovation project under the centrally-sponsored scheme, the Rajiv Gandhi Panchayat Sashaktikaran Abhiyan (RGPSA). The partnership was formalized with the signing of a MoU to this effect on December 30, 2014.


The innovation project will be piloted in 30 gram panchayats in Mulbagal taluka, Kolar district over a two year period and is aimed at improving governance and service delivery to citizens. Called the Gram Panchayat Organisation Development (GPOD), the initiative is in keeping with the spirit of devolution of funds, functions and functionaries to panchayats as embodied in the 73rd Constitution Amendment Act, 1993. Director-Panchayat Raj, Government of Karnataka, S M Zulfikarulla said he was looking forward to kickstarting the initiative. "The project promises to inject more institutional efficiency into gram panchayats and will serve to enhance citizens' faith in the panchayati raj system. It will act as a great boost to decentralisation."


“Potentially, with the funds that they have and can leverage, the powers they can exercise and the people resources they can recruit and access, GPs should be able to change the face of rural India. We need to recognize the contributions, which elected members can make, and create enabling environments and incentives for them to function effectively,” says Sonali Srivastava of the Centre for Decentralised Local Governance, Avantika Foundation who is spearheading the initiative in Mulbagal.


There is thus need for a concerted effort to strengthen the organisational capacity of gram panchayats. The GPOD innovation is an effort in this direction. The project will use Organization Development principles to strengthen the capacity of elected members of the gram panchayat and other officials with a goal to create tangible improvements in their performance as a local self government body. The rationale is that gram panchayats are organizations with tremendous potential that can successfully achieve results if they function as an organization with all components being aligned i.e. the vision, skills, incentives, resources and action plans.


The project will also strengthen citizen engagement under existing legal provisions such as social audits, as well as foster a better understanding and implementation of government systems such as Panchatantra, Panchamitra etc.


Avantika Foundation will also work with the State Institute for Rural Development, Mysore to develop a training curriculum to strengthen Gram Panchayats. “In all states, Panchayats remain woefully dependent on the state for their staff, training and development of physical infrastructure. Most Panchayat members spend most of their time negotiating with officers in higher levels of government, rather than carrying out their functions. The true meaning of good decentralized public governance is autonomy at the local level, coupled with responsiveness to peoples’ needs and a willingness to be accountable to people. The GPOD project will go a long way to ensure that the true ideal of Swaraj, or self rule, is achieved in Karnataka” says T R Raghunandan, former joint secretary, Ministry of Panchayati Raj, Government of India and former Secretary, Rural Development and Panchayat Raj Department, Government of Karnataka.


Says Ms Rohini Nilekani, noted philanthropist in the development sphere, “this is fascinating work to address governance and service delivery issues at the last mile, with the local governments and their elected representatives taking the lead, in the true spirit of decentralisation. The initial results of three years of work have been a revelation and has resulted in learning all around. Upscaling this intervention enables local governments to truly take charge of their responsibilities, and thereby assume ownership and accountability for their performance.


The innovation was piloted and successfully implementation in two gram panchayats of Oorukunte Mittur, Kolar district and Dibburhalli, Chikkaballapur in Karnataka over the last four years. The recommendations emerging from the GPOD have been included in the Twentieth Anniversery Report of the Expert Committee on Leveraging Panchayats for Efficient Delivery of Public Goods and Services chaired by Member of Parliament Mani Shankar Aiyar.


Key features of the rural innovation project

  • Gram Panchayat Organisation Development is selected as the country’s first innovation project under the centrally-sponsored scheme, the Rajiv Gandhi Panchayat Sashaktikaran Abhiyan (RGPSA)
  • MoU formalizing the partnership was signed on December 30, 2014
  • Project will cover 30 Gram Panchayats of Mulbagal taluka over two years