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A “Problem Tree” Assures that Complaints are Quickly Addressed in Tamil Nadu

Kalesh Kumar's picture

The multi-colored ‘problem tree’ on the branch of a Banyan tree in Elamangalam Village in the Kadaloor district of Tamil Nadu grabs your attention. You see it as soon as you enter the village and English letters ending in immediately piqued our curiosity despite our lack of knowledge of the local language. This poster, placed around the Village Poverty Reduction Committee (VPRC) and established under the World Bank supported Tamil Nadu Empowerment and Poverty Reduction Project (TNEPRP - “Vazhndu Kaatuvom”), in Elamangalam and other villages in Tamil Nadu gives the title, addresses and phone numbers of all the responsible project leaders from the government and the World Bank to help solve any complaints.

This innovative Complaint Redressal System provides a timeframe within which a complaint is expected to get a response. If unsatisfactory, the plaintiff can appeal to a higher authority. Having clear time lines for escalation and resolution of problems is an essential cornerstone of good governance and social accountability in projects that are implemented at the grass root level. The last row of the poster has the name and email address of the project leader from World Bank and suggests 48 hrs as the time available for her to provide a response! The former project team leader confirmed to have received about 20 emails from across Tamil Nadu in her Washington office over two years reflecting the utilization of the system.

The beneficiaries in other villages also had stories to tell about the effectiveness of this sort of complaint redressal systems. In Keerapalayam Village, 14 hand pumps were distributed without any loss. Feedback prompted water pipelines to be more evenly distributed across the village. Taking the process to the next level, in some villages we visited like Pathur, the Social Audit Committee had also set up a complaint and suggestions box in a central location.

TNEPRP is an empowerment and poverty alleviation project implemented by the Rural Development and Panchayat Raj Department of Government of Tamil Nadu with World Bank assistance. The project covers 2509 Villages in 70 Blocks in 16 districts. The target population of this project are poor households, the most vulnerable including the physically challenged and the marginalized communities. The project follows the community driven development (CDD) approach where village communities identify their own needs, design and plan interventions and implement and monitor them.

An operation manual was developed by the community and project staff, listing the principles of the livelihood approach to poverty reduction and the institutions that should be established or strengthened. It includes guidelines on how procurement should happen, how finances should be managed and how social accountability should be handled. This involvement of the community in generating user friendly guidelines helps ensure that the community knows what third party oversight entails and a series of workshops ensured that the community was informed.

Communication materials targeted to rural households of illiterate and semi literate populace has been a hallmark of the project, pictorial posters (shown in pictures) are used to communicate community procurement procedures and processes. The project has thus far received much recognition for its pro poor approach and has set the stage for adaptation of its key principles in many grass root level initiatives of the state government.

How can this be useful for your community? 


Submitted by Geeta Shivdasani on
very nice kalesh ... this is great learning for me as I have keen interest in what actually happens at the grassroot level in Bank-funded CDD projects ...

Submitted by Kalesh on
Thanks Geeta. There are too many little experiences in the project where one get to touch and feel development and change. Let's try to capture as much we can...

If such boards could be electronically linked and there is a way to keep track of the pending work/projects, it would go a long way in ensuring a transparent and open redressal mechanism at micro level

Submitted by Kalesh on
thanks Utkarsh. Uplinking data from such systems would be great and IT platforms do have a major role to play in it. There are modest efforts begun to set up kiosks with citizen charters at local self Governements and service centres in some states in India. Hope your idea is picked up by projects.

Submitted by Karunakaran on
The report of Kalesh Kumar is very true. The most backward area in the state of Tamilnadu is the erstwhile Southarcot District. The funding of the WB has to a greater extent reached the grassroot level. The village mentioned by Kalesh - Keerapalayam is one of the model villages that got the presidents award and also visited by the former president Dr Abdul Kalam. The villages around Keerapalayam tried to follow its footsteps in implementation of the various schemes provided by the government. The board played an important role along with the officials who played the role well.

Submitted by Kamal on

A motivating writeup.

The concept of 'Proble Tree' can be improvised and converted into an online format ie., ekiosk run by the inhabitants of this area

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