Bridging the Gap
Seva Setu, Gujarat CM Vijay Rupani’s novel project, brings the state’s schemes for the poor right to their doorstep
Bhavnaben Jagatsinh Parmar, 41, lost her husband in 2005. For 11 years, she had no clue she should have been getting a widow’s pension from the Gujarat government. With two school-going children and a mother-in-law to take care of, the farm worker from Memadpur village in the state’s Sabarkantha district had been surviving on the Rs 100 she earned daily and another Rs 1,500 she made every month selling milk from her buffaloes. Last month, Seva Setu, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani’s flagship programme bringing the state’s welfare services to the people’s doorstep, recognised her eligibility for widow pension and changed her life.
Bhavnaben had attended a Seva Setu camp, catering to some 25,000 people from Memadpur and nine adjoining villages, on December 30. Beginning February 1, she will start drawing a monthly pension of Rs 1,000. Another camp held on December 31 in Ahmedabad district’s Virochannagar village turned Laxman Halaji Parmar’s fortunes around. The 45-year-old backward caste villager, who scraped a living tilling his less-than-an-acre farm, has been enrolled under the Mukhyamantri Amrutum Yojana, Gujarat’s ambitious health scheme providing free treatment to the extremely poor for seven ailments, including heart and kidney diseases and cancer. Laxman had been eligible for the scheme for years, but remained out of its reach as he couldn’t afford to travel with his family to Prantij, the taluka headquarters, for the mandatory registration and documentation process. “I had been trying to do the trip for the past three years, but there was always paucity of time and money,” says Laxman. “I feel extremely gratified to have got the health card at my doorstep.”
The Seva Setu camp in Virochannagar also benefitted Kailashben Bhaljibhai Thakore, a 40-year-old from Khoraj village who was widowed two months ago. She was not only registered for pension but also got Rs 20,000 as grant under the Sankat Mochan Yojana for widows. Kailashben was also enrolled for the Mukhyamantri Amrutum Yojana, although she had qualified five years ago. “The camp has proved to be a boon for me,” she says.
Seva Setu was launched on November 5 last year. Within two months, it has created a wave among Gujarat’s poor—cause for much optimism for the ruling BJP, which had lost the panchayat elections to the Congress in November 2015. Already, many are seeing it as a bridge helping the BJP reconnect with the masses—according to one claim, in the panchayat elections held on December 27 last year, over 70 per cent of the posts of sarpanch have gone to BJP supporters. It is also being viewed as a new experiment in core governance at the micro level.
Rupani, who was made chief
minister last year and got his first ministerial appointment only in 2014, is both the architect and beneficiary of Seva Setu. The programme has helped him blunt critics’ charge that he is inexperienced in core administrative work. In 2015, as a member of the Anandiben Patel cabinet, he had experimented with Seva Setu in the urban areas of his Rajkot constituency, bringing revenue and municipal officials together at camps and delivering welfare services to the poor. As chief minister, Rupani thought of replicating the idea throughout the state. The experiences of two district collectors who had conducted similar experiments—Swaroop P. of Sabarkantha and P. Bharthi of Panchmahal—helped him fine-tune it. S. Aparna, principal secretary to the chief minister, and principal secretary (revenue) K. Srinivas were tasked with monitoring it at the micro level.
Seva Setu literally operates like a one-stop shop. The collector or deputy collector and taluka-level officials set up a camp covering 10 villages. The patwari of each village identifies beneficiaries. At the camp, seven counters work in tandem to complete the registration of applicants. By the end of it, the beneficiaries walk away with eligibility certificates or cards for various welfare schemes. Rupani explains his vision: “Seva Setu is part of our commitment to good governance at the micro level.”
Bureaucrats concur. Sabarkantha deputy collector Ajay Chaudhary, who held the camp in Memadpur, says: “In my entire career, I have never seen such quick delivery of government services.” Harshvardhan Singh Solanki, the Ahmedabad deputy collector behind the Virochannagar camp, adds: “The micro-level operation ensures there is no room for manipulation of figures.”
Camps are held every Friday or Saturday or on both days. Most district collectors have, on their own, added services, such as vets for cattle, training villagers in digital payments. Swaroop says the USP is “delivery at the doorstep”. “Services that would have taken the poor days, months, and even years, to access and pinched their pockets are being delivered at their doorstep in a matter of hours.”
With assembly elections due in Gujarat this year, Rupani plans to hold four rounds of Seva Setu camps, cover the state well in time and reap the dividends. The going has been good so far. Till December 31, 1,136 camps were held in the rural areas, covering over 11,000 of the 18,000 villages and benefitting 0.805 million of the total 0.830 million applicants. In the urban areas, 159 camps were held, benefitting 0.275 million of the 0.287 million applicants. In all, 0.125 million got Aadhaar cards, more than 0.2 million were issued income and caste certificates and around 70,000 were covered under the health scheme.
The exercise has, indirectly, highlighted the work done by Narendra Modi during his 13-year tenure in Gujarat. For example, the number of widows and old-age pensioners left to be covered under Seva Setu turned out to be low as most of them had already been enrolled. Among those left out was Wazir Khan Pathan, 63, from Kalana village in Ahmedabad district. He herds goats and largely subsists on village donations. Seva Setu has given him a monthly pension of Rs 400—and a reason to smile.
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CM VIJAY RUPANI WITH AN APPLICANT AT A SEVA SETU CAMP IN RAJKOT