Three Indian projects will receive U.N. Public Service Awards this year. The awards are given for projects that fight poverty and promote sustainable development.

The projects are Mass Contact Programme of Kerala, Swavalamban of District Administration of Dhanbad in Jharkhand and Graamin Haat programme of Department of Cottage and Rural Industries in Madhya Pradesh.

The Kerala government’s Mass Contact Programme, initiated by the Chief Minister’s Office, was launched in 2011, with the main aim of combating red tape and bureaucracy in administration. It enables interaction between the people and the government by encouraging them to approach the government directly to get their concerns addressed without delay or corrupt practices.

Under the programme, the Chief Minister visits each town and organises massive events where people can address their queries personally. By going directly to the people and ensuring direct access to decision makers, the programme has improved accountability in the State. The initiative has reduced the time usually taken to respond to complaints and actions and has fast tracked problem solving.

Before the Mass Contact Programme was started, there was a low follow-up rate on complaints received from citizens. Characterised by high bureaucracy, the State faced efficiency challenges and a very low responsive rate, which led to a large volume of complaints. Complaints about government officers were not entertained properly by the senior officials and people had limited options for solutions to their problems with public services. This led to piling up of files in departments and government Secretariat, with 1,32,000 files pending in Secretariat by mid-2011.

The Swavalamban initiative of Dhanbad administration has improved disbursement of pensions in the district. Before the implementation of the initiative, the largely manual process of disbursement in the payment of pensions, particularly registration of new pensioners, was very cumbersome, tedious, involved lot of paper work, inefficient, non-transparent, and provided unreliable information. A pensioner had to wait days, weeks or months and sometimes had to pay bribes to get entitlements.

The initiative has cut down the time from three months to a maximum of three days, by automating payment and creation of direct cash transfers into pensioners’ bank accounts. Payment through Business Correspondent in remote rural areas has dramatically improved the delivery of services. In addition, the database of all pensioners was digitised with the help of a new software. Monitoring at district and government level has been simplified making it only a mouse click away.

Women empowerment

The Madhya Pradesh government’s Graamin Haat has helped in women’s empowerment.

Although women comprise almost 50 per cent of the population of Madhya Pradesh, their participation in the decision-making process at all levels is very limited. Women also have no control over resources and their contribution to the family and society remained largely unrecognised.

The Haat Development Committee that operates weekly markets (haats) decided to create Women Self Help Groups (WSHGs) that would operate its own haats. The first such initiative took place in Digwar village 10 years ago. It was the first time that a haat was managed by rural women who were illiterate and inexperienced in managing such enterprise. Women now not only had an important place in the haat and thus in society but also control over resources.

The initiative has now expanded to 1,775 shops in 36 haats benefiting almost 1,800 sellers and 4,15,000 villagers from 217 villages. The initiative provided women an opportunity to acquire management skills, operate a business on their own and improve overall living conditions in their communities. This in turn created a new sense of self-confidence and earned them respect in the family and society.

It also allowed women to gradually become part of the governance of their community.

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