By Biranchi Upadhyay, Managing Trustee, VSO India Trust
It is not usual to use a number as a title for a blog!
But people in Ainlapali and Khalia Munda villages of Kalahandi, Odisha use this number so fondly that I thought this should be the most befitting title. During my recent visit to these villages, people shared numerous accounts of how tricky issues were resolved by simply sending an SMS to this number.
Ganga Suna, a primary school, had only one teacher unable to cope with the demand of students. The teacher there had already run from pillar to post requesting an additional teacher to no davail. As the last resort he just sent a text message to which he received an immediate response and a teacher was posted within a fortnight. It saved him of Rs 300 each time travelling to the District Collector’s office for the same.
Pregnant women have received mosquito nets; elderly received old age pension, tube-wells have been set up; drains have been repaired and many more grievances have been addressed all amazingly and swiftly. I was really impressed to hear more and more people about how this small effort made a significant difference in restoring the trust of people in the system and its ability to deliver.
A lot of credit for the success of Samadhan goes to Mr. Bijay Ketna Upadhyaya, collector and district magistrate of Kalahandi. Though with initial reluctance, he embraced the idea, thanks to the persuasion by VSO and its partner Seba Jagat. Today, he has championed the project. I learnt that lack of collector’s engagement meant that this project would not have taken off successfully in Koraput district where it was first piloted and later scaled to Kalahandi.
Local people are genuinely concerned that whether this initiative will still be continued once the collector is transferred. When we shared this concern with the collector, he immediately asked Seba Jagat to write him a letter to ensure that this initiative is institutionalised beyond his tenure. I also felt confident that wherever he transfers, he will carry this initiative with him and not hesitate to ensure that his other colleagues embraced it as well.
There are some challenges too Samadhan needs to overcome. The number of complaints has remained low flagging connectivity, SMS language (English alphabet) and popularisation issues. The collector in our meeting discussed about a plan to further advertise and popularise this mechanism through all possible means available to the NGOs and the administration.
Samadhan, the flagship project of VSO India Trust is a perfect example of how collaboration between civil society and government administration can help poor and marginalised communities access their basic rights and entitlements. The project has immense potential for scale up as a successful initiative promoting accountable governance.