Bridg­ing the Gap

Seva Setu, Gu­jarat CM Vi­jay Ru­pani’s novel project, brings the state’s schemes for the poor right to their doorstep

India Today - - INSIDE - By Uday Mahurkar

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.

Fol­low the writer on Twitter @UdayMahurkar


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