Transparency melas in Rajasthan encourage public participation in areas of accountability of voluntary organisations

A question that has been increasingly debated in voluntary organisations concerns their own transparency — converging at the realisation that to live up to their ideals, voluntary organisations should add to their own transparency and accountability to people.

While efforts can be made at various levels to create transparent working systems in voluntary organisations, one excellent way of achieving this objective is to hold transparency melas from time to time in which all the accounts and activities of an organisation are placed before the people, and they are encouraged to ask questions or seek any additional information.

A pioneering contribution in this field has been made by the Social Work and Research Centre (SWRC — also known as the Barefoot College) based in Rajasthan’s Ajmer district. This year, the SWRC organised six transparency melas covering its main campus as well as various field centres.

About 3000 people from 115 villages participated in these melas. Elected representatives of panchayati raj institutions, local government officials and teachers also attended these transparency melas. Various records relating to the work, achievements, expenditure, salaries, funds and sources of funds among others were displayed at these public hearings.

Preparations for easy-to-understand and interesting displays started several days back so that charts and tables could be prepared for presenting important information. Adequate time was given to the assembled villagers, officials and elected representatives of panchayats to go through the exhibition carefully before the proceedings of the melas started. Members of SWRC were present to answer any question or provide any clarification.

The second aspect of the transparency mela relates to the presentation of the work done by the voluntary organisation before the villagers. This presentation was made not just by SWRC members but also by members of various village committees (set up to implement these projects) as well as by beneficiaries themselves.

The third aspect of transparency mela relates to the questions raised by villagers, including elected representatives of panchayat raj institutions as well as suggestions made by them. For example, questions were raised as to why some of the village committees could not hold more regular meetings. Someone pointed out the different expenses for similar developmental projects undertaken by the committee. Another villager wanted to know how the voluntary contribution made by villagers in terms of their labour is accounted for in the budget for various projects. SWRC members tried to provide satisfactory answers to most of these questions right on spot, and also invited people for more detailed discussions later on.

A transparency mela is not treated as an end in itself but only as a part of the continuing implementation of a policy of transparency on the part of SWRC. The melas proved to be a good learning experience for SWRC as well. As Ramkaran, one of the main co-ordinators said, “They turned out to be a valuable source of suggestions for further improvements in the functioning of the voluntary organisation.” Also, in the process of preparing for these melas, SWRC members examined and re-examined many of their records so that any shortcoming in the maintenance of records could be identified.

The success of the transparency melas has deepened the villagers’ faith in the SWRC’s functioning so much so that they are now demanding for similar melas to be held by the government. Umgaram, Sarpanch of Kaadu panchayat, said at the transparency mela in Goverdhanpur that panchayats and government should also hold such transparency melas.