METRO PLUS

On a ‘green' drive

NITA SATHYENDRAN

Seven panchayats from Thiruvananthapuram district have been shortlisted for the Green Kerala Express on DD. Nita Sathyendran takes a look into the innovative initiatives of five of the participants

Green Kerala Express, Doordarshan's (DD) one-of-a-kind social-reality show for local self-governments, has been chugging through every nook and cranny of the State in search of innovative, sustainable schemes for grassroot-level entrepreneurship and social development led by panchayats. Of the 150 panchayats in the fray for the title of the best panchayat there are seven from Thiruvananthapuram district – Kudappanakunnu, Kizhuvilam, Sreekaryam, Karakulam, Vattiyoorkavu, Kunnathukal and Aryanadu. “Like the others short listed for the show, these seven panchayats are in the running for the sustainability of their socio-development models. Each of their initiatives highlights the collective efforts of the locals in utilising the grassroots-level talent in the community,” says G. Sajan, assistant director of DD Kerala, who along with K. Mohankumar, deputy director of the Centre for Development of Imaging Technology and Ajaykumar Varma, executive director of Suchitwa Mission, spearheads the show.

Vignettes of the innovative schemes in five of the panchayats in the fray…



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Karakulam

This panchayat has a successful project in place for growing dry land paddy (locally known as karanellu). As you drive by Karakulam you can see patches of karanellu being cultivated on vacant plots, in front yards, inside the Government L.P. School and even on rooftops! “We started by cultivating 28 cents of land, now the acreage has gone up to 15 hectares,” says R. Preetha, Karakulam panchayat president. “The patch in the school is taken care of by students themselves, which is an educational opportunity in itself,” she adds. Again Karakulam has another ace up its sleeve with the ‘Operation Olympian' youth scheme, where local children are given training by professional coaches in a variety of sports such as softball, handball, and swimming. And the aim? “To send a sportsperson from Karakulam to the Olympics, of course!” says Preetha.



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Kizhuvilam

A 100-member strong ‘Tozhilsena' (labour bank) is the core of Kizhuvilam panchayats' activities to promote paddy cultivation and cooperative farming. This panchayat, which is right next to Attingal town, has a scheme that offers paddy saplings for free. “Ideally paddy cultivation should be a collective effort. If farmers are given saplings instead of seedlings (as is commonly done) then they have to plant their fields immediately. This is a way to work towards koottukrishi (cooperative farming),” says Kannan, the panchayat president. Nowadays apart from providing labour, the panchayat even offers a ‘package deal' to farmers, where they can get help for everything from planting the saplings to harvesting.



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Vattiyoorkavu

The focus of this panchayat is on the health of its populace. It has set up a ‘Cuba model health system,' in which each person in the panchayat, irrespective of economic status, is given a unique identification number. Each person is categorised into four depending on their medical history and given free routine check-ups. “It is to bring the doctor, patient and care-giver under one umbrella,” says panchayat president Pazhaniyar Pillai. For around a 100 persons in dire need, the panchayat also provides palliative care. For the past two years, the panchayat has also been running a free litigation camp in association with the Legal Services Authority to settle disputes out of court. “The camp is held every second Sunday and so far over 750 cases have been resolved,” says Pillai.



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Kudappanakunnu

For Anil Kumar, an agricultural labourer living in ward one of Kudappanakunnu panchayat on the outskirts of the city, employment opportunities in his chosen field were once few and far between – not least because of lack of land to cultivate. Then three years ago when the panchayat in collaboration with the local Krishi Bhavan implemented the ‘Karshika Karmasena' project, his life changed forever. The panchayat trained him – and about 25 other youth like him – to operate farm machinery and by collaborative efforts with the local populace created opportunities for agricultural work. Today Anil Kumar earns about Rs. 350 a day working in what he calls the “fields” (read empty plots and front-yards) where he helps cultivate a variety of mostly-organic fruits and vegetables that are later marketed and sold through the Karshika Vipani Kendras. “Thanks to this initiative, I have a steady income,” says Anil Kumar, with a gratified smile.

Sreekaryam

It is in the field of education that Sreekaryam panchayat has come up trumps. The panchayat has created an outstanding support system for the six Government schools under its purview. One of the innovative schemes is a bank of teachers from a merit list maintained by the panchayat. Each teacher is given Rs.200 a day from the panchayat funds. “Children should ideally be given 1,000 hours of classes in school in a year. With this teachers' bank we ensure that there is no shortfall,” quips A.P. Murali, the president of the panchayat. The panchayat also runs the ‘Padanaveedu' (after-school coaching and cultural activities for economically backward students) and the ‘Kumaripariraksha' holistic health scheme (for school girls). “Come June, we also hope to start a magazine for students by students,” quips Murali.