India: In rural Bihar, citizens begin to take pride in local government

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Strengthening government institutions at the local level led to an increase in women's participation in the political processes Strengthening government institutions at the local level led to an increase in women's participation in the political processes

Palanpur, a small village in Uttar Pradesh, India, is a fascinating example of rural transformation. Renowned economists Himanshu, Peter Lanjouw, and Nicholas Stern have evocatively told the story of this village in their eminently readable 2018 book – ‘How Lives Change’.

The book talks about the important role that institutions, education, human capital and connectivity play in improving the lives of rural people, in a complex web of socio-economic conditions.

We have also observed how these very issues - specifically inclusion and access – have played out in the World-Bank funded Bihar Panchayat Strengthening Project which sought to improve local governance in Bihar, one of India’s poorest states.

Our first survey confirmed the importance of institutions in improving the lives of people in rural Bihar. A second survey has now reconfirmed these findings by expanding its coverage and interviewing a larger set of people, including 3,000 residents in 133 villages. 

The survey data yields valuable clues about how ordinary citizens rate accountability, responsiveness and inclusiveness, and repose trust in key institutions. 

A key driver of change was the creation of a fully functional panchayat office buildings.  These Panchayat Sarkar Bhawans are fully equipped with computers, waiting areas, ladies’ toilets, and even breastfeeding rooms.

The survey found that village residents were now overwhelmingly proud of their panchayats (village level governance institutions). They said that since these Panchayat Sarkar Bhawans have been built, government services are now available in their own villages. As a result, they no longer need to travel long distances to obtain birth and death certificates, claim pensions, etc. 

In one of the survey interviews, Kalpana Devi, the Mukhiya (elected village head) of Mohanpur village in Bihar’s Madhepura district explained the difference these new offices have made.

“Without a proper office, we were not able to get any government paperwork done in our village,” she said. “There was no place for government officials to sit and interact with the people. Essential paperwork took a long time to complete. And women didn’t come because there were no toilets or drinking water. 

Earlier, she said, village council meetings were not held on time, and people were seldom aware of the various government benefits available to them. But now that their panchayat has an office, they have put up notice boards, raising residents’ awareness about the government programs that are available to them.   

She added that these buildings have also allowed community members to host meetings to discuss local problems and to collectively undertake new development works for the benefit of the community. These include the issuance of job cards to unemployed youth – including to women – constructing cowsheds and roads, planting trees, helping with electrification, and setting up a local marketplace in the panchayat building.

Significantly, in a traditionally patriarchal society, the inclusion of women-friendly facilities has helped boost their self-confidence and encouraged them to come forward and interact with government officials.  This has ensured that their voices are heard during the planning and implementation of government projects.

Overall, survey data and testimonials from the president of the Gram Panchayat indicate that more citizen-centric governance is resulting in more inclusive development for rural communities in Bihar.

Importantly, the creation of a space for all stakeholders to interact with the state machinery is helping build a long-absent culture of trust between the people of rural Bihar and their government .

Nuts and Bolts of the Survey Findings, Micro Analysis of Drivers of Change

Over 90% of the respondents (in all age groups) felt comfortable accessing the local governments with permanent office buildings


Ease of Access to Local Government Offices and Services (Gender wise break-down)


Increase in Women Participation in Political Processes: Freedom from fear, vacillation and uncertainty


Ease of Access to Local Government Offices and Services (Gender wise break-down)



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