In an information packed media landscape which churns out news and entertainment 24 hours, seven days of the week, it is difficult to find the real pulse of rural India with its promises as well as failures. It is in this context that the Kerala Government in association with Thiruvananthapuram Doordarshan has initiated a very unique and one of its kind developmental programme titled Green Kerala Express: the first social reality show in Indian television history to select the best panchayat in Kerala which has developed sustainable development models.
This daily 40 minute interactive show which involves all the 999 Grama Panchayts, 57 Municipalities and five corporations in Kerala is a joint initiative of the Department of Local Self Government, Government of Kerala, State Suchitwa Mission, Kerala Institute of Local Administration (KILA), Centre for Development of Imaging Technology (CDIT) and Thiruvananthapuram Doordarshan.
Initially, all the local self governments were invited to join the competition by identifying a sustainable model in any developmental sector and producing a ten minute video on the project. More than 200 local self governments applied. The panchayats came out with impressive and imaginative stories on the collective effort of the people in harnessing the latent talent of the people at the grass root level. The stories covered sectors like water and land management, sanitation, environment, health, energy, education, social welfare, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS), women empowerment as in Kudumbasree, agriculture, food security etc. After the preliminary evaluation 150 Panchayats were short listed for the show.
Conceptualized as a travelogue, the production team from CDIT visited all the selected Local Self Governments (LSG) with the anchors traveling on a bicycle which was taken as a motif for a sustainable future. The visiting teams conducted a reality check at the village level by talking to the people and collecting impressions. They came back and produced two short films, one a cultural and historic profile on the village and the other a modified version of the developmental model. The selected panchayats were then invited to the reality show floor where the films produced by the LSG and the two short films produced by the visiting teams were screened. Based on the screenings and the questionnaire the five member jury interacts with the LSG representatives for about an hour and then they are given marks based on their performance.
Based on marks received 15 LSGs will be short listed for the final round where the jury will visit the finalist panchayats and evaluate them on ground. Based on a final elaborate jury interaction, the best three LSGs will be selected. The best LSG gets Rs One Crore as prize which is one of the biggest prize money in any developmental game show. The jury comprises of eminent personalities and sectoral experts from different fields.
The show commenced telecast on March 1, 2010 in Thiruvananthapuram Doordarshan at 5.05 pm, 8.30 pm and also at 11 pm for the Middle East viewers. After the telecast of each Panchayat the viewers were requested to give SMS marks and votes for the selected developmental model. The show is also layered with various messages and ideas on green and sustainability themes which can be practiced by any viewer at home or in the office.
A unique web portal www.greenkeralaexpress.org is created which will have all details on the show along with a youtube channel which has all the telecast episodes.
Green Kerala Express is unique in that it re-designs a very popular television genre for developmental and social communication. This is also a bold attempt in creating a paradigm shift not just in reversing the existing top-down developmental communication model but also in governance. It is indeed a rare experiment in which elected representatives are subjected to a social/expert auditing in a media platform. This has also turned out to be a very valid experience in peer learning and show-casing replicable good practices. By focusing on sustainable developmental models the programme has opened up more creative ways to address issues concerning the future of our planet ranging from climate change to renewable energy.
The participating panchayats are going back with renewed energy and commitment mainly because they are happy to get a platform where they could project some of their achievements. In the midst of a heavily commercialized media landscape which is filled with sensationalized and exaggerated stories, these green initiatives from the field come as a fresh air for the viewers who are getting fed up with the continuous onslaught of negative stories. As one panchayat President has succinctly put it, in the place of reality shows which make happy people cry, here is a real ‘reality show’ which consoles and helps those who cry and those who are really needy. As one jury member has put it if it was not for the Green Kerala Express he would not have come to know of the various developmental initiatives in areas which lie far away from the eyes of an urban centric media.
For a change Kerala has started hearing about various ordinary people who are working at the grass root level and trying to make small but consequential changes in the life of ordinary people.
There is a very visible absence of positive stories in media today. The argument is that there are more disasters, both man made and natural in comparison with good news. This new show has shattered this myth by going right to the heart of the panchayats in Kerala and discovering a treasure trove of projects that are doing a world of good to the society and the nation as a whole.
Sparks of light:
In Vellamunda a tribal hamlet in Wayanadu District they found out that not even one student has passed the SSLC examination in the last 28 years. Vellamunda has one fifth tribal population and the school enrolment rate is too low and drop out rate too high among tribal children. They provided books, bag, umbrella and uniform to all the children and transport to those children who are coming from far flung areas. A sumptuous breakfast and lunch was given in the school. In just two years it has started yielding result. There was 33% increase in enrolment and the drop out rate was sharply brought down. The first student passed out with flying colours in the SSLC exam from the school. A small step for the Panchayat. But a great leap for the local population.
In Muhamma in Alappuzha, the Panchayat conducted a health survey and found that there are about 370 patients who are terminally ill and most of them require palliative care. Strangely this is one per cent of the total population. The Panchayat initiated a volunteer corps of 85 people which has representation from experts and laymen who visited the houses to provide medical, palliative and the much needed social support to the patients.
Adatt in Trichur declared itself as an organic village converting 2500 hectares of paddy land to totally chemical free farming and marketing its own brand of Adatt rice even in the capital city. “Our beloved poet Sugatha Kumari consumes only Adatt rice” says a proud President.
Elappully in Palakkadu has created a dairy village with the proper coordination of the related government departments, milk societies and Kudumbasree thus producing a four fold increase in daily milk production every day. This has been made possible by proper coordination at the village level of almost all developmental departments along with education and health departments.
Nilambur has declared itself as a dowry free village by involving more than 3000 youth who are yet to be married.
Kudappanakunnu has developed an agricultural technician corps by renaming agricultural labour and with the formation of a karma sena has converted 250 ha of land for cultivating vegetables and fruits along with garden rice.
Madikkai and Kodom belur have come out with striking experiments in water conservation and rain water recharging which has helped in raising the ground water table in the neighbouring Panchayats as well.
Koratty is experimenting with garbage disposal by providing segregation and bio gas projects in about 670 households and intends to cover the all the families during this plan period.
Bud schools in Choornikara and others have provided care homes for special children and about 60 children are picked up from the houses in the morning and dropped back in the evening.
Koothattukulam has conducted a gender status study based on which they have interesting projects on women empowerment including a unique ‘panchari melam’ troupe owned by women.
Many Panchayats like Palamel, Perambra, Veliyanadu, Karakulam, Edarikode etc have declared themselves as fallow free Panchayats and in the process by integrating MGNREGS- good news for a state which has lost more than five lakh ha of paddy land in the last two decades.
There are also voluntary initiatives in various Panchayats for bio diversity conservation. In Kankol- Alappadamba individuals have donated about one acre of sacred groves to the Panchayats for conservation. Kadalundi has a major mangrove conservation project.
Green Kerala Express: a new paradigm in media
Green express aims to create an alternative narrative of the society deviating from what mainstream media chooses to depict. It raises voice for the silent people, brings out unnoticed initiatives at the grass root level and kindle hope about the future. It also tells us the importance of decentralization and the ‘principle of subsidiarity’ in Indian planning which suggests that many of the local level issues can be identified and solved at the local level itself.
The visuals from the country side bring about a new perspective to rural planning in Kerala. It is the MGNREGS which has been instrumental in converting fallow land which has been lying vacant for more than two decades. It is difficult to get workers for the scheme in Kerala because of the already existing high wage rate even among women. 80 per cent of workforces who are coming for the work are women and many of them very old. It is a pitiable sight to watch them clear mud and separate plastic and glass from 20 year old stagnant pools. But what is resulted is an amazing growth base for agriculture. In the beginning it is the Kudumbasree groups which cultivate the land by giving a nominal rent to the owners. But in two to three years time the land will go back to the owners to decide on what to cultivate. This calls for an immediate legislation on land use pattern, ownership and fallowing of cultivable eland. As Dr.Kannan puts it what these women do is not just manual work and it should come under the category of capital investment and the workers have to be given additional incentives more than the existing wage, food, uniform and medical care including free medicines.
As Reema Narendran writes in the New Indian express “Panchayats are no longer just license issuing bodies. They have become cradles of unique development models be it in the sectors of agriculture, health or education. The births of several such silent and inspiring movements have been brought to light by Green Kerala express.”
It is in this context that a media experiment like Green Kerala express becomes more relevant. Sadly, our main stream media has lost all interest in reporting livelihood issues. If at all they report it is just to play up some political story. One doesn’t mean to say that political reporting has no place in developmental reporting, but striking a proper balance is more important. This project has created a steady flow of stories from grassroots even in other channels. Nobody can ignore the real rural Kerala and its pulses any more.
(The project has been conceived and Directed by G.Sajan, Assistant Station Director, Doordarshan Kendra, Thiruvananthapuram
(Mob:09446073366,email@example.com) and K.Mohan Kumar, Deputy Director, CDIT, Thiruvananthapuram)