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Originally produced for UNICEF

Avoiding corruption

A. P. Singh, Former Deputy Development Commissioner, West Champaran, Bihar

The best thing about the Convergent Community Action (CCA) programme is that there was no big money involved. Whenever big money comes into the picture, the vested interests come around and everyone wants a share. With CCA, in the beginning there was a lot of interest from many people looking for opportunities. When they saw that there was no money, they disappeared out of the picture and it was easier to get on with the job.

In 1995, when I became the Deputy Commissioner for West Champaran, I found the Government side of the CCA strategy was organized. Some women's groups had been formed, the group leaders and link people had been selected, there were some health activities going on, like iodine testing in salt, but the government support was lacking. For example, the water and sanitation department was uninterested. They were engineers and not community minded.

It was very hard to get them to meetings where the women could talk about water problems in the villages. The health department was not meeting expectations either, partly due to the frequent transfer of the Civil Surgeons (the Civil Surgeon is responsible for overseeing all health services in a district). Interaction with the police was zero, absolutely nil. Some police officers were completely opposed to the programme. My own officers at the district level were suspicious because some saw CCA as an attempt to cut down on their own power.

The Block Development Officer (BDO) occupied a very important position because he was the one responsible for calling the Block Level Task Force meetings. Most BDOs were not sensitized to CCA though and were certainly not used to having women come into their office to demand services and action.

Despite these problems, with strong leadership from the District Headquarters in Bettiah we were able to set the meeting up and keep them running. In the first year we concentrated on social services and we were able to make sure that the nurses were going out to the villages to give immunizations, and that teachers were showing up to teach. In the second year we started awarding some construction contracts to the women's groups, for road building and community centres. There was some opposition to this but because of the leadership from the district level we were able to leverage some projects for the women's groups.

Parmar Ravi Manubhai
District Magistrate, West Champaran, Bihar

For the women here, coming out of the house is a revolution but we are helping these women to go far beyond the walls of their homes. We are making it easy for them to obtain loans without cumbersome paperwork. We are facilitating their access to services, giving them the opportunity to complain when these are lacking. When we respond, when we listen, we help to give the women a sense of legitimacy in their communities.

People listen to them and they become a very positive force for change.

There are many government programmes for helping people who live below the poverty line. One strength of the mahila samitis is that they can help identify who should benefit from these schemes. Sometimes there are abuses. People sometimes come forward who do not really qualify. But these women in the villages, they know absolutely who is poor, whether they carry the government card of certification of poverty or not.

Many officers in the government do not understand why it is important for the women to take on these roles. We need to set an example, to instruct them but also to educate them and give our officials more orientation about what we are doing with these women's self-help groups, and why.