Odisha has stood strong in the test of time. Battered by cyclones, marred by adversities and yet, today it is moving towards becoming an all-inclusive and progressive State by following a governance model that is truly 'people-centric'. Over the past few years, Odisha Government has laid down a strong intent and vision for Gram Panchayats to play a proactive role in State-building. In keeping with the bottom-up tradition, the State government has gone all out in improving the functioning of panchayats, making it stronger. And a pivotal role in the Panchayati Raj system of service delivery is played by the Panchayat Executive Officers or the PEOs.
In this write-up, we discuss the role of four PEOs of Odisha as Change Agents...
Udaynath Pradhan, PEO, Tikarpada Gram Panchayat, Angul Block, Angul:
Udaynath as the Panchayat Executive Officer (PEO) in Tikarapda Gram Panchayat and Purunakote Gram Panchayat of Angul Block which are about 60 kms and 50 kms respectively from the district headquarter. The area lies on a mountainous terrain where mobile connectivity is still a matter of concern.
As Village Level Worker, Pradhan joined in Athamallik Block and was assigned the charge of Kiakata, Lunahandi, and Purunamanitri Gram Panchayats. His responsibilities included selecting eligible beneficiaries for IRDP (Integrated Rural Development Program) loans, Disbursing Old age and Disability pension etc. Pradhan also assists beneficiaries to avail banking facilities.
"Under Proudhasiksha Abhiyan, I took the responsibility of educating senior citizens. Every evening, I used to teach alphabets, basic grammar, sentence formation and signature to the elderly people. Besides, I was also assigned the responsibility digging wells in my area. Being a drought-prone area, the 367 wells that we have dug so far, has been of great help to the native people. Pradhan treads the difficult terrains on a bicycle every day. "On a normal day I travel at least 45 kms on my bicycle and during the rainy season the situation worsens. At times, I have to take a boat because of seasonal rains and floods." Pradhan has consistently achieved a target a nearly 150 loans to beneficiaries per year.
Under MGNREGA the PEO works tirelessly to provide Job Cards to all eligible beneficiaries. The work has enhanced the standard of living of local people. In tribal villages of Tulsipal, the Rural Housing scheme was very popular. In 5 years, more than 100 beneficiaries of Tulsipal availed this scheme, he says.
Pradhan is also active during elections. He educates tribal people on the use of Electronic Voting Machines. The PEOs are de-facto Public Information Officers of the Gram Panchayats. Pradhan is responsible for creating awareness among people about the benefits of RTI Act, 2005.
He is responsible for verification of applications for new ration cards under National Food Security Act, and food security schemes of the State Government. Pradhan works as a facilitator for PEETHA (Peoples Empowerment – Enabling Transparency and Enhancing Accountability in Odisha Initiatives), under which he organises camps for educating people about Government schemes.
Pradhan has worked in Jagannathpur, Matiasahi, Bhogabereni, Tulsipal, and Purunakote gram panchayats. "I have always tried my best to deliver service to the neglected, destitute and needy. My focus has been on elderly people, widows and the disabled," he says. From distributing dry rations during floods, to managing medical camps during COVID-19, Pradhan has been at the forefront, taking the challenges head-on.
"The journey spanning three decades has been wonderful. It feels so nice when you realise to be an essential component of governance at the grassroots, and the most vulnerable sections of the society count on you," he adds.
Madan Mohan Sahoo, PEO, Sundarpur and Kantalbai Gram Panchayat, Tangi Block:
The Gram Panchayat is regarded as a melting pot for all schemes, programmes, and policies of the Government. As Panchayat Executive Officers, we are directly involved in implementation of all development schemes of different departments of the Government, says Sahoo. Sahoo has acted as an instrument of change for Sundarpur and Kantalbai Gram Panchayats in Tangi block. His USP has been implementation of poverty alleviation programmes in coordination with the Panchayat, Gram Rojgar Sevaks and JEs.
"I ensure the works under MGNREGA are utilised to their optimum capacity, thereby generating maximum employment," said Sahoo, who has been working as a PEO since 2011. Sahoo is a workaholic PEO who always travels an extra mile to make sure no beneficiary is left out. Under his supervision, 497 families have got houses under Biju Pucca Ghar Yojana and Prime Minister Awas Yojana. He has been instrumental in constructing community halls, libraries, and park for children in the GPs.
"We have engaged all migrant workers in their native villages to contribute and create community assets. I always aim for holistic development of my Panchayat by approving all community-based project and execution of GPDP Plan on priority basis," he says. Tangi is a cyclone-prone block where affordable disaster resilient houses are necessary. Sahoo has been successful in this endeavour as well.
"Pensions schemes like the MBPY, IGNOAP, IGNDW, and IGNWP have been implemented successfully in our gram panchayats. The ration distribution is strictly done on time. No destitute is left out for not being able to turn up at the centre. We personally make the resources available at doorsteps."
Other responsibilities of the PEO are - ensuring drinking water during summers, community participation in Swacchh Bharat Mission, listing out beneficiaries under KALIA scheme, facilitating 'Jana Sunani' (grievance redressal), PEETHA scheme and Ama Gaon Ama Bikash programme.
The project Transformation of High School under 5T has been an experience of lifetime for Sahoo. Modern amenities such as smart classroom, e-library, science labs and others in Rural Schools is a revolution envisaged by the State Government. The community activity during the peak of COVID-19 was also an experience he would never forget. "Our efforts saved lives. Being a COVID warrior was a matter of pride," he says.
"During my tenure as a PEO so far, I sense serving the almighty while I help people as a grassroot level worker. I strongly believe, the rank and file hardly matter when it comes to serving mankind, what matters is the intent, and an honest one. Sincerity and integrity are the cornerstones of my work which will be there with me forever," adds Sahoo.
Chandan Kumar Sahoo, PEO, Bantala Gram Panchayat, Angul Block, Angul
Chandan is working as the Panchayat Executive Officer of Bantala gram panchayat in Angul. He has been engaged with the Panchayati Raj & Drinking Water Department since last two decades. Chandan started working as a Panchayat Secretary in 2002 and was promoted as a PEO in 2009.
"I have learnt a lot during my tenure as a Panchayat Secretary which gives me a leverage while discharging the duties of a PEO today. I am proficient in record- keeping, selection of beneficiaries, managing finances, and overseeing developmental activities," says Chandan attributing the skills to his work as a Panchayat Secretary.
"I have worked tirelessly to provide job cards to beneficiaries of my Gram Panchayat. I still vividly remember the first project taken up under NREGA of Kurumtap GP - overhauling of a tank and construction of a road. The teams visiting these projects post completion praised those whole-heartedly."
Chandan adds, MGNREGA was a revolutionary scheme for creation and improvement of Panchayat assets. It enhanced standards of living of common people by offering a job guarantee to earn their livelihood.
"As PEO, it is our primary responsibility to increase revenue of the GP. The prime source of revenue for GPs is auction of existing property. While, I was working at Chhendipada GP, the income of GP was negligible. The construction of Market complex was undertaken under 4th State Finance Commission. It helped to increase the revenue Chhendipada significantly, amounting to nearly Rs 4.5 lakh a year," said Chandan.
He has been a versatile PEO with hands on experience over a number of schemes and projects. Be it the Sampurna Gramin Rojagar Yojana (SGRY), 'Mo Kudia' Scheme, PEETHA, Food Security, Mukhyamantri Kalakar Sahayata Yojana, Mo LED, etc. All these have been successfully implemented and executed under the supervision of Chandan.
"I was assigned an additional charge of Ambasarmunda GP from May 2005 to March 2009. It was a hilly, interior Gram Panchayat with almost zero network connectivity. The people there mostly belonged to scheduled tribes and were uneducated and highly superstitious. It was a challenge as well as a learning experience to create awareness among the masses there," he adds.
"Like several other PEOs we have interviewed, Chandan echoed the feelings in helping the disabled, elderly and destitute. I have tried my best to deliver pensions to them on time on priority."
The 40-year-old PEO, has gathered immense experience of working together with people and believes in the strength of community participation. Born in Mandarbahal village of Athamallik Block Chandan has five sisters. "I am the only son, and my parents had a lot of expectations from me. Today, as I serve the needy, they feel gratified and are happy," he adds.
Every difficulty in the path of discharging my duties have proved to be a learning experience, said Chandan, who has been instrumental in implementation of 'Biju Kanyaratna Yojana' (BKRY) in the year 2016. The programme was launched on pilot basis in Angul, Dhenkanal and Ganjam. "As Block Nodal officer for BKRY, I had organized various sensitization programs to create awareness among school children, PRI members and general public. After three years, the increasing sex ratio proved that the scheme was a real success in Angul district."
As Block Social Security Officer in charge, I undertook the complete responsibility of building an old age home at Patakmunda GP of Chhendipada Block in the year 2020. The old age home has facilities to accommodate 300 people. Many senior citizens who felt neglected by family have shifted to this facility and are living happily. Chandan has worked as the in-charge Welfare Extension Officer during which he managed 3 Ashram Schools with 1,500 students. During the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2020, Chandan supervised temporary medical camps, free kitchens, accommodation of migrants, apart from creating awareness among the common people on healthy practices.
"These 20 years of service have given me ample opportunities to work at grassroot level of this three-tire system of Panchayati Raj, and enriched me as a person. My journey has been fulfilling and satisfying," he added.
Santosh Kumar Mishra, PEO, Cheliapada Gram Panchayat, Angul Block, Angul
Santosh Kumar Mishra works as the PEO of Cheliapada Gram Panchayat in Angul block. He has been working with the Panchayati Raj & Drinking Water Department over the past 30 years. It has been a commendable journey during which Mishra delivered services to common people at the grassroots.
Mishra joined the Department as a Village Level Worker at Parjang Block and was assigned the charge of Sarang GP. "My primary responsibilities included selection of eligible beneficiaries for IRDP (Integrated Rural Development Program) loans, Disbursing Old age/ Disability pension etc. I was assigned the task of assisting beneficiaries to avail banking facilities. Every day, I used to travel more than 30 kms by cycle. During that time, the roads were not good, it was a tedious task. But I enjoyed every bit of my job," he adds.
In the year 1993, Dhenkanal district was bifurcated to create Angul district. The district administration invited suggestions from the existing VLWs regarding their place of posting. "As my hometown was Talcher in the newly created Angul district, I chose Angul and was transferred to Chhendipada Block."
Mishra was assigned the charge of VLW of Chhendipada GP. In addition to his own duties, Mishra was assigned the responsibility of Gram Panchayat Extension Officer. "As GPEO, I conducted auctions, organized meetings, inspected GPs and ensured proper maintenance of GP records. In the year 1999, I got transferred to Kaniha Block in Angul District. In Kaniha block, I was assigned the charges of Kaniha and Hariharpur GPs."
During his posting at Kaniha block, Mishra efficiently handled a flood situation Bijigol Gram Panchayat. The villages of Sagadipal and Languabeda were cut off from the mainland due to heavy water logging in the Tikira River, a tributary of Brahmani. Along with the Supply inspector of Kaniha block, Mishra travelled by boat to provide dry ration to the people marooned there. A free kitchen centre was opened there for two days. "I spent the night there to ensure smooth management of distribution of food among affected people and their overall wellbeing."
As GPEO in charge, Mishra conducted the 2012 Panchayat Elections smoothly with the help of all stakeholders. "In the meantime, EVM was introduced for the general elections of 2004. I had attended the training by district administration on EVM operation and later on conducted the same training at various villages of Kaniha block to create awareness among voters."
As PEO, I have responsibly distributed pensions to elderly and the disabled. Mishra prioritised helping out the widows and the physically challenged persons. Many beneficiaries have been provided tricycles and hearing aids during his tenure. Reaching out to the beneficiaries and delivering the services in a hassle-free manner has always been on top of his agenda.
In 2012, I was transferred from Kaniha and was posted to Pallahara Block. I was assigned the charges of Khamar GP. During 2017-18, inclusion of new ration card holders for SFSA and NFSA was conducted. As PEO, I was responsible for verification of application and selection of eligible beneficiaries. More than 1100 household from my GP availed the benefits at that time. The PEETHA (Peoples Empowerment – Enabling Transparency and Enhancing Accountability in Odisha Initiatives) scheme was launched by Odisha Government on December 3, 2018. It was introduced to pass information about Government schemes to rural population. "Under this scheme, we organised camps every month (for three months) at Panchayat-level and educated the people," says Mishra.
During this time, ‘Mukhyamantri Kalakar Sahayata Yojana’ was introduced, under which artists availed a pension amount of Rs 1200 per month. "Total 38 artists of my GP got benefitted in the scheme. More than 900 people availed Madhubabu Pension. Every household of the GP availed 4 LED bulbs (Per Household) under 'Mo LED' Scheme," he adds.
Working and delivering under pressure has been the hallmark of Mishra. He has been successful in discharging almost all duties assigned during this long tenure. The PEO has been awarded on multiple occasions for his services. From enhancing revenue generation of the GP to saving lives during COVID-19 pandemic, Mishra has always led from the front.
"During the pandemic period social stigma was prevalent among the villagers. More than once law and order situation arose due to arrival of migrants. As Nodal officer of the GP it was my responsibility to arrange food and shelter for migrant workers, shift them to TMCs, make sure that they don’t leave the boundary to interact with the locals."
"I have always tried to work among people and cater to their needs. It has been a satisfying career which is going to end in February 2022, when I retire. I have no regrets, rather lovely memories of helping the needy. I thank the Odisha Government for this noble opportunity to serve people," he added.
‘Service to mankind is service to God’ ~ Swami Vivekanand
‘There is no higher religion than human service. To work for the common good is the greatest creed’ ~ Woodrow Wilson
The commitment and sincerity to serve people which is depicted in the aforementioned stories are a testimony to these immortal quotes.