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news | June 14, 2016 | India | Rehabilitation

Women shine to improve public service schemes in Northeast India

Beneficiary Sita conducting a meeting - ACTED India, 2015

Better Access to Services in Remote Districts of Northeast India

With only 3.8% of India’s total population, Northeast India is notoriously excluded from policy making and out of reach of mainstream service delivery. The geopolitics –being hemmed in between Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and China, remotely far away from India’s central government–, and the cultural context – as both language and religion differ from the rest of the country– enhance this phenomenon. ACTED responds to this challenge by co-constructing effective governance, improving access to public services and information on welfare.

Since 2014 ACTED India has been working on a project to make access and quality of public services more readily available to remote communities, women and socially excluded groups. Here we look at the effort of two such women, as they strive to get their community better access to needed services.

Promoting access to basic services

In Northeast India (NEI), an area extremely remote and isolated from the central government, a large portion of the population is rural poor. Poverty is characterized by asset scarcity among upland communities, dependence on subsistence agriculture, low human capital, and high unemployment. In recognition of these challenges, the central government has specific schemes which provide assistance to NEI: welfare schemes that cover health, housing, education, and other basic services for certain groups of the population.

However, communities are often unaware of the existence of these schemes or how to access them; and the schemes are not always fully or efficiently implemented, with women often the first to suffer from this poor access to services.

Raising the lack of services through the Community Score Card (CSC) accountability tool

ACTED partners with the Public Affairs Centre, a recognised think-tank which in the past decades has designed leading-edge tools allowing citizens and civil society organisations to proactively engage in governance. Among them, the Citizen Report Card (CRC) approach, collecting feedback from users of public services and presenting it to relevant stakeholders to enable actionable reforms and influence policy, provides quantitative monitoring of ACTED current project’s impact. Meanwhile, this process was complemented by an additional tool known as the Community Score Card (CSC), allowing users and service providers to reflect qualitatively on services offered, and design a clear road map for improvement.

The Community Score Card (CSC) is a participative process aimed at assessing access to and quality of service providers by facilitating interface meetings between service users and service providers that lead to concrete action plans to improve the said services.

Petitioning the government for better service provision

Nabanita is an active member in a women’s Self Help Group (SHG) in Kuruwabhas village. During a Community Score Card exercise led by ACTED to rate government services, Nabanita raised the issue of the lack of latrines in the village to the local authority attending the event. After a discussion, she filed a petition claiming for basic sanitary services provision to her village, which has been deprived of it for years. With Nabanita’s leadership, and ACTED’s constant support in following up with the government, within a month’s time 25 households had been provided with latrines.

A Self Help Group (SHG) is an independently formed group that seeks to help members thanks to the collective resources of the group members.

Awareness-raising from the community

Sita, a community leader of Fulertal village, has been raising awareness about different government schemes, after she herself was reached by ACTED project. Even preceding the project, Sita wanted to help her community the best she could, so when the project started she took the opportunity to attend almost all activities organized within the EU-supported project, including several “village level information campaigns”. She has been actively working to make hundreds of families aware of the different government schemes available, and has recruited other women to join her in household visits and group meetings.

Nabanita says “I am very happy that now my village is likely to become a “nirmal” village (a village free from open defecation) soon.”

Sita says she is very happy to be part of the noble drive to raise awareness in her village about different government schemes and projects: “If the people come to know about their rights, the issue of underdevelopment will certainly take a back seat."