TANDO SOOMRO: In a province where everything appears to be going wrong, a small village is following a governance model that the Sindh government should take lessons from.
Tando Soomro village in Tando Allahyar district holds a public forum for its entire population in which the local landlord, Raees Imdad Ali Nizamani, goes over their expenses and revenues for the past year and takes suggestions for the budget next year. The money is raised entirely from voluntary contributions by the residents. Nizamani’s purpose behind this exercise is simple: accountability.
The public forum to discuss budgetary allocations in Tando Soomro village is being held at a site that can easily be mistaken for a wedding banquet. The villagers walk down a red carpet and take their place on the various sofas, chairs and charpoys spread under the canopy.
The agenda today is to discuss ways to generate Rs9 million as annual budget for the village to resolve issues of basic amenities. Soon, the middle-aged Nizamani wearing white cotton shalwar kameez enters the hall with a bunch of papers and starts a multimedia presentation.
“First of all, I am here to make myself accountable to you. Let us review the outgoing year’s budget and expenses,” says Nizamani as he reviews the funds allocated last year and presents a list of expenses with the names of a few defaulters. The village’s main livelihood comes from the 500-acre Asim Agriculture Farm where they grow mangoes, bananas and vegetable using modern technology.
Last year’s budget was mostly spent on street lights, municipal services in the village, a fumigation drive, drainage system, maintenance of government schools and dispensaries, security, filter plant and repair of pavements and roads inside the village.
Once he is done with the presentation, he invites people to raise their objections. “I have presented each penny spent on the village. Let this forum know if anyone has objections,” he says only to receive applause from an audience of 300 people.
“During the outgoing year that ended in May, you people contributed a large amount of Rs10 million seemingly because we had to the build main road to our village,” he says, referring to the main thoroughfare that connects Tando Soomro to Tando Allahyar city. He then moves on to the budget proposals for the upcoming year. “We have now slashed our budget to Rs9 million. Do you agree?”
The crowd rises to their feet and nods their approval. “Qubool aa [We accept],” they shout in Sindhi. The meeting is dispersed as the residents make their way to the lavish buffet with ice-cream for dessert. The catering for this event was also accounted for in last year’s record.
Taking matters into own hands
According to the villagers, the idea to run the village affairs on their own came from Nizamani and a few of his like-minded friends after some dacoits attempted to kidnap the villagers in the 1980s. Since then, the young men of the village joined hands to raise money for security. That was a turning point for the village, which now comprises around 500 households for its 8,000 people.
“Most of villagers are growers who cultivate bananas, mangoes and vegetables,” says Khalid Ahmed Nizamani, a small-scale landlord who contributed Rs46,000 this year. “There is no hard-and-fast rule but everyone has to contribute for the village. Personal contributions range between Rs2,000 to Rs2 million,” he adds.
The general body and the supreme council of the village are apex forums to make participatory decisions. Every villager who contributes funds for the annual budget becomes a member of the general body while the supreme council comprises 45 people who pay 80% of the entire budget.
“All the work is being done under a system and we have made different management committees to execute day-to-day work,” explains Nizamani, who contributes around Rs2 million every year being the ‘raees’. He points out that the members of the education, health, welfare and security committee work voluntarily without any remuneration. “Neither do we have any political affiliations nor do we accept any funds from NGOs and donors. We will do everything on our own for the welfare of our village.”
The system appears to be working flawlessly for Tando Soomro village where no garbage lines the streets. Every villager is bound to put his house trash in dustbins placed at every nook and cranny. There is an underground sewerage system, street lights and sanitary staff roaming on the streets.
“I can be held responsible if there is stagnant water after two hours of a heavy rainfall,” says Ghulam Qadir Khaskheli, aka Tiko Jamadar, who supervises the sanitary staff.
Even the minorities find a safe space where members of the Hindu scheduled caste enjoy the same rights as everyone else. “I paid Rs2,500 this year but no one has knocked at our door and forced us to contribute. It is totally voluntarily,” says villager Juma Bheel.
Meanwhile, the education and health committees keep a strict eye on missing facilities at the schools as well as the basic health centre. “The government doesn’t pay attention to the maintenance of the buildings,” claims Jumoun, scheduled caste Hindu who works as general manager at Asim farms. “It is the village committee that provides all the facilities needed for the students and patients., which is why the paramedics and doctors come regularly and there is 100% attendance at both girls’ and boys’ schools.”
To address security concerns, the villagers have erected a 12-foot-high wall surrounding the village. It cost Rs20 million and was completed in over 18 months, says Nizam. He also boasts of their no-kunda policy for electricity connections. “There is 100% recovery [of electricity bills] from our village,” he says.
Where Sindh landlords are notorious for perpetuating bonded labour, Nizamani has set a precedent by giving equal share to the farmers, 90% of whom belong to the scheduled caste. “You will find some farmers who drive their own cars to the field when they come to cultivate the land,” says another landlord Mehbood Nizamani, referring to a few farmers who work at Asim Agriculture Farm.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 22nd, 2016.
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