26-year-old Akis Naseer has his hands full post his election as the Sarpanch of Jam ola lower village in Rajouri, Jammu & Kashmir. Be it the road construction in the villages or getting access to the latest government schemes, people start to hoard outside his office in Jamola from the dawn itself. Though overwhelmed with the love and respect that he is receiving from the people, he is aware that fulfilling their demands is a challenging job.
Akis’ knowledge of public sense and duty was rooted in him since his childhood days. His father often reminisces the days when a young Akis went about helping the neighbors and advising them on public policy. He had always unhesitatingly accompanied his acquaintances to local government offices for speedy grievance redressals.
Finally, on the advice of his father, Akis decided to contest the Panchayat elections and at the age of twenty-four went on to become one of the youngest Sarpanch’s of the state. Revealing his motivation for contesting the elections for Sarpanch, Akis remarks,” my dream behind contesting Sarpanch election was to make Jamola lower top-ranked Panchayat in the country.”Akis’s hard-work rapidly paid off and within two years of becoming the Sarpanch, Jamola lower won the National Child-Friendly Panchayat Award 2020. His hard-work was recognized not only in Rajouri but outside as well. Jamola lower Panchayat had a special mention at Mission Samrithi conference held in Chennai.
Greater Devolution of Powers Post Article-370
Akis considers himself lucky enough to be working in a post-article-370 period. He comments, “earlier the devolution of powers to the Panchayats was only on paper. Local bodies didn’t receive any funds and were left to fend for themselves . . . despite several petitions and requests, minimal funds were released for the local bodies thus leaving them at the mercy of the authorities”. He maintains that post abrogation of article-370, things have changed at a fast pace. As per the directions of the union home minister, the bureaucracy has intensified the process of devolution of maximum powers to the local bodies.
Akis also makes sure that he makes the best use of the current opportunities for the betterment of the people of his area. He chairs all the Gram Sabhas in his village which consists of representatives from twenty-eight departments and formulates a developmental plan. He even attends all the ward Sabhas of his village given the fact that it is not mandatory for a Sarpanch to attend any ward Sabha. Constant follow up is done on the agreed-upon actions to ensure its swift and flawless implementation. Thanks to the new government regulations, the earlier descending approach has now been transformed into an ascending approach, placing the village Sarpanch at the top of the administrative hierarchy in the village.
Akis maintains that effective changes have been implemented in the working structure of the Panchayati raj institutions which was not the case earlier. He observes that the departments and officers are now accountable to Panchayats. Akis now directly or indirectly releases the salary of various staff and workers working in the Panchayat, making the staff more accountable to him which was not the case earlier.
According to the latest regulations introduced for the seamless functioning of the Panchayats, the village Sarpanch will now head the village level Biodiversity Committee along with all the Sarpanches of J&K, thus making Sarpanches responsible for the state forest land falling in their villages.
A dedicated young Sarpanch
Young Akis’s dedication towards his work has earned him the National Child-Friendly Panchayat Award by the Ministry of Rural Development, Govt. of India. He completed vital immunization pro-Gram of all the children of his village in a time-bound manner. He has also organized several health camps for children of his village. In a widely appreciated gesture, Akis started a library at his village for developing a culture of reading among the students of his village. He has also formed a village-level committee which regularly checks on the mid-day meal given to the children studying in all the nine schools of his village. In a unique initiative, Akis has started a new trend in this village, where the village level toppers of 8th, 10th and 12th standard are awarded. He is working towards ensuring lesser school dropouts and due to his concerted efforts; the schools are now witnessing significantly lesser dropouts.
He is working towards providing vocational training to the youth of his village and it is due to his persistent efforts that a number of youth in his village have started their own businesses. Akis is now working towards making his Panchayat a 100% solar-powered village and has also achieved notable success in his ambitious effort.
Akis has built a reputation for himself and his village on his own terms. He aims to work further for the people. His journey is graced by various awards and the most recent that he qualified for is the National Youth Award. The Young Sarpanch believes that Awards are just milestones in the philanthropic journey he has chosen for himself.
Akis observes that many people had opposed the abrogation of article 370 initially, but after witnessing the enormous development it has ushered in the small villages and towns of the region, they have realized the futility of their initial misgivings. He also notes that after the abrogation of the article-370 followed by the devolution of the powers to the local bodies, people of the region have started taking a keen interest in the democratic process. As the region is freed from the political hegemony of a few families, more and more youngsters desire to be a part of the power structure from which the subjects of the region were deprived until now.