Chil­dren's Swaraj

Kar­nataka turns gov­er­nance into child's play with kids' as­sem­blies


FOUR­TEEN YEAR- old Kavyasri M Y is known as “chief min­is­ter” in her vil­lage of Chit­temakki in Kar­nataka’s Koppa block in Chik­ma­galur dis­trict. Two years ago, when she was in Class VII, Kavyasri was elected as the rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the baal sabha— a chil­dren’s assem­bly on the lines of gram sabha where all kids be­low the age of 18 meet to dis­cuss is­sues that are of­ten over­looked by adults.

As chief min­is­ter, it was Kavyasri’s duty to bring is­sues raised dur­ing the baal sabha to the no­tice of the pan­chayat, which or­gan­ises the gath­er­ing once ev­ery year.The ini­tia­tive has brought re­lief in many ways to chil­dren in vil­lages, as well as el­ders.

For in­stance, trav­el­ling to school dur­ing the mon­soons was al­ways a dif­fi­cult task for 10-year-old Rachin CV, a res­i­dent of another vil­lage in the same pan­chayat. The rea­son—a small stream that falls on the way would al­ways over­flow dur­ing the harsh rainy sea­son at the Western Ghats vil­lage. “But that is a thing of the past,” says Rachin, adding proudly, “be­cause of us”. He and his friends par­tic­i­pated in the baal sabha in Novem­ber 2012 and passed a res­o­lu­tion in front of the pan­chayat mem­bers to con­struct two cul­verts (en­closed drains) and a soak pit on the stream. They were con­structed a year later.

Kar­nataka is the only state to or­gan­ise baal sab­has. It started the ex­er­cise through a gov­ern­ment cir­cu­lar in 2007.“In­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions like Unicef and other non-prof­its were sug­gest­ing a mech­a­nism to in­clude chil­dren in the decision process to check child trafficking, child labour, child mar­riage, dropout rates in schools and other prob­lems that chil­dren face. So the state gov­ern­ment de­cided to start baal sabha,” says Ninge Gowda, for­mer un­der sec­re­tary to the state gov­ern­ment, who is­sued the 2007 cir­cu­lar. Though im­ple­mented across the state, the cir­cu­lar does not make baal sab­has manda­tory.As a re­sult, only a few pan­chay­ats

have im­ple­mented it. “It is in nascent stage and needs to be made manda­tory, ”says Yalki Gowda, di­rec­tor, ru­ral de­vel­op­ment and pan­chay­ati raj.

Power of in­no­cence

Thippeshi G C, block ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Koppa block, points out that the rea­sons the baal sab­has are a suc­cess is that chil­dren are in­no­cent and apo­lit­i­cal, and speak openly about prob­lems faced in their houses and even in the neigh­bour­hood.The Koppa block has 22 pan­chay­ats that have 180 schools be­tween them. Ac­cord­ing to Thippeshi, 85 schools have de­manded in­de­pen­dent wa­ter sup­ply through res­o­lu­tions of dif­fer­ent baal sab­has. “We are also us­ing th­ese sab­has to meet our san­i­ta­tion goals,” says Thippeshi. “Last year, we con­structed 560 house­hold toi­lets with the help of chil­dren.”

The as­sem­blies are so popular now that they are at­tract­ing more and more chil­dren. Even bet­ter, they don’t just dis­cuss is­sues that can be solved at the pan­chayat-level but also those that need at­ten­tion at the block and dis­trict level.The res­o­lu­tion of the 2013 baal sabha de­manded spe­cialised sub­ject teach­ers, a games teacher and ad­di­tional class­rooms for all schools in the pan­chayat.

Chethan K Gopal, Chit­temakki pan­chayat de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cer, says, “Chil­dren raised the is­sue of fre­quent move­ment of sand-loaded trucks be­side the school road, which ham­per their move­ment after classes. The is­sue does not come un­der the ju­ris­dic­tion of the pan­chayat, so we raised it in the meet­ing of the block pan­chayat.We also sent a let­ter to the tehsildar,”he says.

The ini­tia­tive is also help­ing in po­lit­i­cal em­pow­er­ment of the chil­dren.“In the 2013 list of de­mands, we brought to the no­tice of the school au­thor­i­ties adul­ter­ation in mid­day meal. We also pres­sured the au­thor­i­ties to reg­u­larly clean the toi­lets,”says Kavyasri.

Chil­dren’s as­sem­blies are prov­ing a suc­cess in other places too.The Hoshangre pan­chayat in Udupi dis­trict is another place where baal sab­has have got work done. The fenc­ing of a pond was car­ried out after chil­dren passed a res­o­lu­tion for the same.“We had to cross the pond to at­tend school, and it was dan­ger­ous dur­ing the rains.A few years ago,a boy drowned after slip­ping,” says Sfoorti, a class IX stu­dent.Now that the fence has been con­structed, el­ders too re­alised its con­ve­nience.“We were un­aware of the prob­lem the chil­dren faced.It came to our knowl­edge be­cause of the baal sabha,” says Man­jul­nath, a vil­lage res­i­dent.

Ini­tia­tives in the past

In­dia’s ex­per­i­ment with the idea of in­clud­ing chil­dren in the decision-mak­ing process started in 1992 when it signed the UN con­ven­tion for pro­tec­tion of child rights. A year later, the Union Min­istry of Hu­man Re­source De­vel­op­ment started a baal sansad (chil­dren’s par­lia­ment), for which stu­dents were se­lected from dif­fer­ent states. “De­spite be­ing suc­cess­ful, the ini­tia­tive was stopped in 1999,” says Teja Ram, who was re­spon­si­ble for the co­or­di­na­tion of the chil­dren who par­tic­i­pated in this par­lia­ment. The next ma­jor ini­tia­tive came in 2001,when the undp-funded Kishori pan­chayat, a pan­chayat for girls, was launched in Muzaf­farpur dis­trict of Bi­har. “Girls in the 6-15 years of age group were en­gaged with their moth­ers in pan­chayat meet­ings. They were quite ac­tive and un­der­stood is­sues re­lated to health and ed­u­ca­tion bet­ter than other women, ”says B K Sinha, who steered the project.But even this was closed two years later.

Chal­lenges ahead

The Kar­nataka gov­ern­ment is yet to pass a law seven years after the ini­tia­tive was started. This un­cer­tainty is one of the rea­sons the ini­tia­tive has not been up-scaled de­spite its suc­cess. “We are go­ing to rec­om­mend that baal sabha be in­cluded in the state Pan­chay­ati Raj Act,” says Karanataka leg­is­la­tor Ramesh Kumar, who is head­ing a 15-mem­ber com­mit­tee on the Act.

T R Raghu­nan­dan, for­mer joint sec­re­tary of Union ru­ral de­vel­op­ment min­istry, be­lieves the ini­tia­tive of baal sab­has also needs fo­cus and should learn from Nepal, which is suc­cess­fully run­ning a sim­i­lar model.

In 2011,the Nepal gov­ern­ment adopted the Na­tional Child Friendly Lo­cal Gov­er­nance strat­egy. Un­der it, the gov­ern­ment pro­motes par­tic­i­pa­tion of chil­dren in pan­chayat plan­ning so that their voice can be heard.The gov­ern­ment also spends 10-15 per cent of cap­i­tal grants for the pan­chay­ati sys­tem on is­sues raised by chil­dren. Some of the is­sues brought forth by the kids in­clude sep­a­rate toi­lets for boys and girls, lack of safe drink­ing wa­ter and lack of qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion. “The Kar­nataka gov­ern­ment needs to learn from this ef­fort and strive to sus­tain this ini­tia­tive,” he adds.

The other chal­lenge is that sev­eral of the de­mands made by the baal sab­has do not fall in the ju­ris­dic­tion of the pan­chayat. “Chil­dren will lose in­ter­est if their res­o­lu­tions are not met, ”says Gopal. Raghu­nan­dan sug­gests that chil­dren should be ed­u­cated about which depart­ment is re­spon­si­ble for what func­tion. “If the re­cruit­ment of teach­ers is not un­der the am­bit of pan­chay­ats then the chil­dren should be trained on how to ap­proach the au­thor­ity re­spon­si­ble. This will au­to­mat­i­cally in­crease the am­bit of the ini­tia­tive and make it ef­fec­tive, ”says he.

This cul­vert in Kar­nataka's Chit­temakki pan­chayat in Chik­ma­galur dis­trict was built after the vil­lage kids passed a res­o­lu­tion in 2012

The pond in Hoshangre pan­chayat in Udupi dis­trict was fenced on chil­dren's de­mand

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