Getting to Grassroots of Underdevelopment

SEHU, an initiative of the Education Department of Gujarat engages degree students in collecting data related to primary needs of villages in the State

Published: 09th February 2015 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 05th February 2015 11:26 PM   |  A+A-

India was ranked 135 out of 187 countries for two consecutive years in the Human Development Index according to the United Nations Development Programme, indicating that little progress has been made on the development front. In this backdrop, the Social Enterprise for Human Upliftment (SEHU), an initiative of the Education Department of the Government of Gujarat was launched in 2011.

SEHU is a semester-long generic elective, part of the Technical Education Quality Improvement Programme-II available to degree students of selected disciplines in colleges of Sabarkantha and Aravalli districts including Ahmedabad. Students visit villages and conduct household surveys using the PAHELI (People’s Audit of Health, Education and Livelihoods) toolkit. Developed by Pratham, an NGO, PAHELI is an assessment of human development in a district based on the parameters of education and literacy, women and child health, livelihood, risks, vulnerability and availability of water and sanitation among five other development indicators. The toolkit is a 10-15 page questionnaire, available on a mobile app.

The household survey helps understand the provision of basic services at the village-level through key central government schemes like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, public health services, public distribution system, integrated child development services and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. “When students visit villages and conduct the survey, they get credits equivalent of one elective. These are BA, BSc and undergraduate social work students,” says Jayanti S Ravi, Labour Commissioner and Former Commissioner of Technical Education, Government of Gujarat.

“In a village you may find there is water. But some marginalised communities are discriminated against and deprived of it. To make sure everyone has access to water, one should also measure equity,” she continues adding that a ‘development flower’ is drawn after measuring the indicators. The length and breadth of a petal indicates the availability and accessibility of a particular development parameter.

Currently 80 colleges in the districts of Sabarkantha and Aravalli, and Ahmedabad are associated with it, some of them include Institute of Management, Nirma University, Ahmedabad; Dhirubhai Ambani Institute of Information and Communication Technology, Gandhinagar; Shamlaji Arts College, Aravalli district, and North Gujarat University.

“Through SEHU we have reached out to 592 villages out of 700 in Sabarkantha. The students do the mapping with a simple phone. We also give them a kit to assess water quality. They also assess and evaluate the reading, writing and arithmetic skills of villagers,” says Banchhanidhi Pani, Collector, Sabarkantha district.

The questions include those that are typically found in an NSS survey like “How many times do you have food in a day?” There are also questions about survival and land holdings. “After the data is collected we have the villagers look at it and identify the gaps. The Gram Panchayat then allocates the funds accordingly,” Ravi says.

“We started with Punsari village, located about 80 km from Gandhinagar, which shot to national fame after receiving the best gram panchayat award from the Ministry of Rural Development in 2011,” says Ravi. SEHU helps students appreciate the culture in a village, and identify and contextualise socio-economic problems at the grassroots level. “When you spend at least six months in a village, you get to see the conflicts, the dynamics and the power struggle,” Ravi adds.

AK Patel, Principal, Shamalaji Arts College, whose students were part of the pilot project in Bhiloda Taluk of Sabarkantha, says around 78 students have visited 39 villages so far and continue to participate in it. “We had one girl and one boy per team. The survey takes around 20 minutes per household. Apart from the mobile, survey form and water kit, the toolkit includes a measuring tape, weighing machine, children’s birth register, vaccination card and a salt kit to check if the salt used by the villagers is iodised or not,” says Patel. 

Hitendra Prajapati, 24, who was then a final-year BA student of Shamalaji College was part of the first 13 villages that the pilot project covered in 2012-13. “I went to Khalvad village. It would take over half an hour to cover a household; measure each member’s height and weight, take water and salt samples. On paper all government schemes were in operation, but going there showed us how many of those actually worked.”   

On an average, students cover 25-30 households. This way the survey covers around 125 households and 500 plus population in a village. “Initially, the students were taking longer than required. Data and information is usually authentic, as the students clarify right at the start that this is not to provide individual benefits. In some villages, the cooperation of the village panchayat president and talati (village level officer) is good, while in some others, it is not very encouraging,” says Ravi, of the challenges students faced.



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