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MP’s all-woman panchayat prioritises better school, anganwadi facilities

The sarpanch and 20 panchayat members of this all-women panchayat were elected unopposed this year.

IANS | New Delhi |

“Children are often deprived of education as there are no government schools in this village. To attend school, they have to travel almost 5 km to Pandariya village,” rues Bhairon Singh Jatav, a farmer who owns a 1.25 acre farm.

Jatav isn’t the only one to be irked by the lack of a government school in Adampur Chhawani, Phanda Janpad of the Bhopal district.

Ballobai, a labourer, says, “Our village suffers from lack of good roads, electricity and drainage facilities. But these problems are small as compared to the lack of educational facilities here that affect the future of our children.”

“There is no school or anganwadi centre here. Ten years ago, an anganwadi was set up in a rented accommodation. The structure is lying in a shambles today. For the last five years, it is being used as a shelter for animals,” Ballobai laments. She believes it to be wiser to elect women to the gram panchayat as they “might take the access to educational facilities more seriously compared to previous male representatives”.

The sarpanch along with 20 panchayat members of this all-woman panchayat were elected unopposed this year. The panchayat members elected by this village of 3,842 people are a heterogeneous lot comprising graduates, those who are contesting elections for the first time, and also those who have only studied up to fifth grade.

Interestingly, although the sarpanch’s seat was reserved for a Backward Caste (OBC) candidate without specific gender priority, 22-year-old housewife Krishna Rawat has been elected as the sarpanch. The previous panchayat was though led by a woman, Shakun Neemnarayan, the rest of the members were male.

A resident, Misribai, told IANS: “Besides education, roads, and drainage, the garbage dump in Adampur is a big issue. The stench and leachate from this dump have contaminated the waters of Adampur and Haripur villages too. We sincerely hope that our women-only panchayat tackles this issue.”

Earlier this month, IANS had covered the landfill disaster impacting almost 200 families of Adampur Chhawani Gram Panchayat, which seems to be the piping issue this election.

Roadmap for developmen

Sarpanch Krishna Rawat, a postgraduate who was elected unopposed, told IANS that a roadmap for the development of Adampur Chhawani was underway.

“We have decided to renovate the building in which the anganwadi was functioning in the past, and get it up and running. A year and a half ago, when I moved to this village, I saw children attend schools in neighbouring villages. This made me prioritise the setting up of a government primary or middle school here.”

Explaining the seriousness of the landfill issue, she added: “There was a lot of opposition by villagers when the landfill was shifted here by the city corporation. It now turned out to be a major problem for the village. The only solution to the landfill is to ensure that it is maintained with due diligence. We will start off by filing complaints. If these produce no results, we will resort to protests.”

Rawat believes that the leachate from the garbage landfill is affecting the water resources of neighbouring villages, and orders of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) are not being followed.

Based on the prize money announcement to an unopposed all-women panchayat, newly-elected Rashmi awaits disbursement of the amount for the school construction plan. CM Shivraj Singh Chauhan had declared a 15 lakh cash incentive for a collectively agreed upon all-women panchayat.

“Furthermore,” she points out, “There have been no roads built in our village since 2019. Neither are there enough drains, the few existing ones are in a state of disrepair. We have commenced work on building drains while preparing to handle the other jobs in due course.”

Echoing Rashmi’s development views, her colleague, Seema says that they intend to send across the anganwadi and school construction plans to the Zilla Panchayat soon. “If necessary, we shall take it up with the local MLA, and the Chief Minister too.”

Explaining the closure of the local anganwadi, former sarpanch Neemnarayan says: “The anganwadi was functioning from rented premises in the past. But owing to the dilapidated state of the building, it had to be shut down for safety reasons. We were planning to renovate the building when the panchayat elections came by. Hence, nothing could be done.”


How an all-woman panchayat came into being

Recounting the process, Bilkhariya Mandal Prashant Thakur, ex-deputy sarpanch told IANS, ‘Initially, the villagers had proposed my name as the sarpanch but following CM’s announcement, I thought of an all-women panchayat. We agreed to have my younger brother’s wife Krishna’s name proposed instead. Further, the village elders and ex-panchayat members agreed to it.”

Commenting on her family proposing the candidature of daughter-in-law Krishna for the post of village sarpanch, mother-in-law Kusumbai said: “When my son first recommended my daughter-in-law for the position, I was hesitant, wondering how she’d juggle our home with administrative responsibilities. But today, I’m proud of her for taking on the reins of the village.”