A modern compass for traditions – The New age Sarpanch of India

Ankit Ashok Bhai Shah (Montu bhai to his people) is a 36 years old Sarpanch from Pavi Jetpur Gram Panchayat of Chota Udepur district whose philosophy of governance is simple. It is about access to services and opportunities to improve quality of life for people without uprooting them from their traditional base.

Start thinking on the word ‘Sarpanch’ and chances are the image you will conjure would be of an aged figure wearing traditional dhoti kurta and administrating the village affairs in a conventional – often orthodox- way, of sorts.

But, things are changing. Armed with the power of education and perspectives rooted in their cultural ethos but synthesized with modernity informing their judgement, there is a fresh infusion of energy and vitality into the 3rd tier of our governance. And Ankit Ashoka Bhai Shah’s story is one that will give evidence to this fact.

Ankit Ashok Bhai Shah (Montu bhai to his people) is a 36 years old Sarpanch from Pavi Jetpur Gram Panchayat of Chota Udepur district whose philosophy of governance is simple. It is about access to services and opportunities to improve quality of life for people without uprooting them from their traditional base. When asked about his source of motivation and objective in life, he simply replies “Someone needs to come forward and lead the community that has been marginalised since ages and not been integrated with the mainstream. As an informed citizen, I took the decision to bring change. Being an elected representative, I wanted to shoulder the responsibility of providing the facilities to my fellow villagers that are as good as nearby cities like Vadodara.”

Pavi Jetpur is a Taluk with a population of around 10,000 where the majority populations belongs to SC and ST category. Since he became sarpanch Ankit(Montu) Bhai Shah has made it his full-time work to fulfil his vision i.e. Sapane Ka Jetpur. (The Jetpur of dreams)

Addressing the Young minds at the Vision India Foundation’s Bootcamp (PBC’17)

Montu bhai is not unique only because he is a young Sarpanch but also for his innovative approach in governance. He started his political career in his teens as the GS of the High School and eventually became the District Mahamantri of Bhartiy Janta Yuva Morcha. After completing his graduation in commerce stream from a top university in Vadodara, he chose to come back to a tribal village and serve his people.  For the next decade, Montu Bhai participated in various socio-political activities and worked his way up from the grass roots to become the Deputy Sarpanch. During this decade, he carefully cultivated his network from the bureaucrats to the top ministers of Gujarat Government as he knew that the success of his dream lay in synthesizing the governance structure with the realities and aspirations of people and not in substituting it.

When he assumed office as the sarpanch, his first order of business as the village head was to ensure that every family should get access to basic facilities like Road, Storm-water drainage, Electricity, Water, Hospital and Education. In his effort to get closer to his people and their ambitions, he started living with them, away from his family –- It was one of the promises I had made during my campaign – to provide facilities like cities in village itself. I will change the face of the village during my 5 years tenure and I have imagined what kind of place I want Pavi Jetpur to be. No matter what efforts I need to put for that but I shall not stop till it happens.”

Speaking of his roots, it needs to be clarified that Montu Bhai is not from a political family – most members of his family are settled abroad.  With characteristic zeal, he co-opted the well-to-do family members and made them contributing partners to fund the developmental work which could not be done by government funds. His reputation for action and being incorruptible inspired his family and other members of the village to make active contributions to support his vision of village development. He has raised more than 88 lakh Rupees from Govt. and Private to fund projects like Deendayal Upadhyay Awas Colony for poor people, Open Gym, Enjoyment Park, Wi-Fi in Village, Bio Gas plant. He has created a non – political committee in the village for designing and implementing various need based projects. This resulted in active participation of the community leaders of all sections.

Tribal families could light their house for the first time

Montu Bhai has an eye for talent and a vision of how talent can be channelled to drive progress. In a place where there were no full-time staff to look after panchayat related work, he has created an active team. To bring efficiency and transparency in governance, the panchayat under his leadership has gone online with all the records related to the government welfare schemes available for anyone to access.

A culture of efficacy – Process and Accountability

Perhaps the biggest change that the current leadership has ushered in is a sense of accountability by creating feedback mechanisms that close the loop between the effort and the result. Each member of the cleaning staff has a specific area assigned for cleaning and his/her card must be signed by the assigned community members to maintain his attendance of that day. The Gram Panchayat tractor collects door to door waste. Salary of the workers is linked to their respective work. The tractor songs and ringtones reinforce the theme of ‘Swachhta’ and creates an elevated purpose amongst the staff while also generating greater social recognition for their work.  Cleanliness seems to be a natural by-product when people feel good about themselves and their area of work!


Connecting Opportunity with Need

Montu Bhai pioneered a unique concept of people to people interactions that foster interdependence and a sense of community. Using the occasion of his birthday strategically to generate awareness amongst people, he started the ‘Manavta Ka Mela’. His birthday event became the platform that connected the richer households who had disposable items such as a Clothes, Utensils and Electronics which were received by the sections that had a use for them in an atmosphere of trust and respect.

Naturally, all this work has not gone unnoticed by the community. Facilities such as the Enjoyment Park and open Gym built based on the funds he generated have created a rare sense of ‘commons’ amongst the community.

Some other initiatives

To improve the quality of education and health of the students, he initiated Adarsh Balak Yojana to recognize outstanding students, weekly and annually, at Gram Panchayat events.

Another achievement is the Lokkalyan Mela’ initiative where villagers can avail benefits of government schemes at their doorstep without having to come to Panchayat. In a remarkable execution of the ideal of ‘Government at your doorstep and Governance in plain sight’, all bureaucratic and political leaders go to each ward and listen to problems at an appointed time. Most issues are resolved real time. This reduces the burden on the Panchayat meetings where common issues can be bought up for discussion.


A Vision for Future:

He recently presented his vision and experience of bringing development to a rural area with top bureaucrats and elected representatives. He also has initiated the team of ‘Star Sarpanches’ with Mr. Himanshu Bhai Patel and other dynamic sarpanches for cross developmental sharing and building community of good leaders. 

Sarpanch and his active team of Pavi Jetpur Gram Panchayat.

Since he became Sarpanch, Montu Bhai’s work has generated much excitement and has created a sense of purpose amongst all the ward and Panch stakeholders. They share a common vision for the development of Pavi Jetpur Gram Panchayat.

Suryabhan Jadhav | VIF

(The author, Suryabhan Jadhav, is a Development Associate (Constituency Management) at Vision India Foundation, and is presently working in the Chota Udaypur District of Gujarat)

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