Television ‘Green Kerala Express’, which begins on Doordarshan on March 1, is a unique reality show for local self-government institutions in Kerala.

Adat, right outside Thrissur town and on the banks of the scenic Puzhakal creek, claims to be a model panchayat for best practices in farming. The members of this panchayat are aiming to make their locality an “organic destination” and among the steps towards this goal are fields set apart for the cultivation of the organic ‘Adat’ rice and ‘Kerashree’ coconut oil.

Likewise Madikai panchayat near Kanhangad in Kasaragod district can be considered a model when it comes to watershed management. Drought, says panchayat president Sachidanandan, once the bane of life in the area is no longer an issue.

Model dairy village

Elappulli in Palakkad district, meanwhile, promotes itself as a model dairy village. Thanks to the dairy development scheme adopted by the panchayat in 2006, it now produces more than 2,400 litres of milk a day and in the process generates all kinds of subsidiary incomes for hundreds of households. So successful is the model that the members of its nine milk societies, says local veterinarian Suddhonanandan, now go by the name of ‘dairy executives’.

A litigation-free panchayat, a fallow-free panchayat, one that has a labour bank, one with resource pool of teachers, one that has a people's initiative for protection of women…dozens of such fascinating tales of grassroots-level efforts of sustainable development from across the length and breadth of Kerala is the focus of Doordarshan Keralam's (DDK) innovative social reality show ‘Green Kerala Express.'

Instead of the de rigueur hullabaloo of conventional talent hunts, in this first-of-a-kind reality show, it is the local self-government institutions (LSGIs) – panchayats and municipalities and corporations too – from across Kerala that will vie for the top spot.

And in each category, they will judged on the basis of the sustainability of the models that they have created for local self-development. Each panchayat will be evaluated on their performance in areas such as energy, water and land management, women's empowerment, social security, sanitation, education and so on.

“As a society, we in Kerala have achieved a lot – 100 per cent sanitation, electrification, literacy, health, availability of water, zero dropouts and the like. Grassroot-level intervention is a major factor in this success and there are a lot of unsung heroes in Kerala's socio-economic development. ‘Green Kerala Express' highlights the collective efforts of the people in utilising the grassroot- level talent in the community,” says G. Sajan, assistant director of DDK, who along with K. Mohankumar, deputy director of the Centre for Development of Imaging Technology (C-Dit) and Ajaykumar Varma, executive director of Suchitwa Mission, spearheads the show.

Travelogue

“This is not a fault-finding mission. Rather it is important for us to introspect and find out the good things about ourselves,” he adds.

The show is in the format of a travelogue and is being produced by DDK in association with the Ministry of Local Self-Government, Suchitwa Mission and C-Dit.

After extensive preliminary evaluations, out of the 999 panchayats, 150 were selected for the next round in the studio, where representatives from the selected panchayats present a short video of and argue for their models in front of an eminent panel consisting of two permanent jury members (Vineetha Menon, head of the department of anthropology, Kannur University and K.P. Kannan, former director of Centre for Development Studies), two technical jury members (such as environmentalists R.V.G. Menon and M.K. Prasad, agriculture expert R. Heli ) and a celebrity judge.

Viewers will also get to vote for their favourites via sms. From this 15 (at least one from each district) will again be short-listed for the next round, which will delve deep into the activities in each development sector.

In the end one panchayat, one municipality and one corporation will be selected as the winners. The winning panchayat will get prize money of Rs.1 crore.

“Only in Kerala with its impressive track record of grassroots level development can such a show happen. Not only is the show an opportunity for socio-development initiatives to get noticed but it also serves a platform for healthy competition among the LSG's to perform better,” says actor Padmapriya, one of the celebrity judges. She has a keen interest in sustainable livelihoods being a management graduate and student of environmental law herself.

“Execution of vision and working strategy will play a major part in the judging criteria,” she says as Vineetha nods in agreement and adds: “As does sustainability of the venture.” If ever there was a reality show with a difference, then THIS IS IT.

‘Green Kerala Express' starts on DDK on March 1 at 17.05 and 20.30.