KERALA: 7 years on

  • 30/03/2004

KERALA: 7 years on In Kerala’s Kozhikode district, there exists a village that doesn’t depend on government dole: Olavanna’s panchayat has been successfully running its own drinking water project since the 1990s. This is completely unlike the way the United Democratic Front (UDF) government functions. The Kerala Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency (KRWSSA), for instance, has borrowed Rs 300 crore from the World Bank to finance a Rs 450-crore drinking water and sanitation project in 80 panchayats. Loans have also been taken from other foreign institutions for roads, power and reforming governance. A Madhavan, president of Eramiyur panchayat in Palakkad district, also can’t go the Olavanna way. “The World Bank (drinking water) project has already started here,” Madhavan says sadly. “Tell me, how can they forget Olavanna?” asks A S K Nair, of the Centre for Earth Science Studies, Thiruvananthapuram. “Olavanna has become a metaphor for governance. Why hasn’t Olavanna been replicated is a question being asked with increasing urgency today.”

On December 17, 2003, the state planning board (SPB) announced that rural water supply schemes would be handed over to panchayats. But Madhavan and other panchayat leaders weren’t impressed. “The biggest problem is local bodies don’t want to take up water schemes because there are no clear guidelines,” says V Ramachandran, vice-chairperson of SPB. Out of 1,053 water bodies selected, only 166 have been transferred. Why?

Panchayats allege the government’s policy on managing water bodies is blind “The Kerala Water Authority selected schemes without consulting local government bodies. Most of these schemes are not working,” says P Kamalkutty, secretary, local self-government (LSG) department, Thiruvananthapuram. When people protested, the Kerala Water Authority (KWA) decided to ‘rehabilitate’ the schemes and give them to beneficiary groups of panchayats. “The KWA is unable to run these schemes. How do they expect the panchayats to do so?” asks Nair.

The confusion doesn’t end there. “The KWA was set up as an autonomous agency in 1986 to centralise water distribution. Now KWA has been declared unviable and the KRWSSA has been set up for this,” says Nair.

The Rs 450-crore loan makes people like R Shashi, president of a beneficiary group in Ayilur panchayat in Palakkad district, uncomfortable. “What if the state government backtracks from repaying the World Bank? Will the burden then fall upon us?” he asks.

Loans: reform clause attached
Panchayats and opposition parties are against government’s massive foreign borrowings. The modernising government programme (MGP), for which the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has given Rs 1,800 crore, is supposed to reform the state’s finance and governance, but critics say it will dilute decentralisation. MGP has 100 programmes for policy reforms in 20 government departments. But MGP believes that institutions delivering government programmes to the people have to be improved too. Therefore, 3,000 ‘service delivery’ institutions

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