Kussi Amma Sera was in an angry mood on Thursday morning. “Balanna Nangi, Grama Niladhari mahattaya sanduda hitiye neha (See … the Grama Sevaka was not there on Monday),” she told Mabel Rasthiyadu and Serapina. “Samahara vita eya rajaye karyalayakata yanna aeti (Maybe he went to some government office),” opined Serapina, chatting under the Margosa [...]

Business Times

Grama Sevaka blues


Kussi Amma Sera was in an angry mood on Thursday morning. “Balanna Nangi, Grama Niladhari mahattaya sanduda hitiye neha (See … the Grama Sevaka was not there on Monday),” she told Mabel Rasthiyadu and Serapina.

“Samahara vita eya rajaye karyalayakata yanna aeti (Maybe he went to some government office),” opined Serapina, chatting under the Margosa tree.

“Namuth pasugiya satiye-th eya hitiye neha (But last week too he was not there),” replied a furious KAS. Venturing an opinion, Mabel Rasthiyadu said: “Samahara vita ohuta veda godak aeti (Maybe he has a lot of work).”

They continued their conversation with KAS still angry saying she needed an important certificate from the Grama Sevaka to get some public matter attended to.

As I sipped my morning tea and reflected on the week’s happenings which were filled with political news and speculation on whom the main ruling United National Party (UNP) would offer as the presidential candidate, the telephone rang. It was Karapincha Perera, the tea-kade gossip, on the line, wanting to discuss politics.

Realising the office of Grama Sevaka was a good topic, I asked Karapincha Perera what he thought about the role of the Grama Sevaka. “They are an important pivot in society and my experience is that they are available at all hours,” he said.

“But have you had any occasion when the Grama Sevaka was not in his office and you had to wait for hours,” I asked, reflecting on Kussi Amma Sera’s experience. “Not really,” he replied.

We then went onto to talk politics and the UNP dilemma of deciding on its presidential candidate while all other major political forces have announced their candidates.

For the record, the Grama Sevaka is probably the most important government official in Sri Lanka and the main liaison between the government and the people. According to Leelananda De Silva, a senior retired public official, prior to the creation of the post of Grama Sevaka, it was the village headman who was the main government official in the village and he came under the then Kachcheri system (now District Secretariat).

Often, when the headman retired, his duties were normally taken over by his son. They were in the village that they worked in.

Headmen were selected by the Government Agent. In 1962, the system was changed by then Minister Maithripala Senanayake who replaced the headman with the Grama Sevaka being assigned those wide ranging duties. Mr. de Silva said that while in the past this role was played by men, today there are women who also serve as Grama Sevakas.

In the good old days, the village headman was the most respected person in a village, in addition to a teacher who also commanded respect. But today, does the Grama Sevaka who performs a more wide-ranging role than the earlier headman, command the same respect? Not really, more on that later.

There are more than 14,000 Grama Sevakas under more than 330 Divisional Secretaries across Sri Lanka and they come under the Home Affairs Division of the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Their duties are far ranging. These include the issuing of various permits, gathering of statistics, maintenance of the voter registry and keeping the peace by settlement of personal disputes.

According to one Grama Sevaka, their work involves everything from the cradle to the grave. They also issue residence certificates (even for gun licences and when someone has to appear in court), assessment reports, recommendation for timber permits, permits for animal transportation, among others. They are also apparently responsible for keeping track of criminal activity in their area and issuing a certificate of residence and character on behalf of residents when requested by them.

But they work under trying circumstances, particularly in urban cities like Colombo where their offices are small and in run-down buildings. They don’t have proper office furniture or office equipment. While they have decent offices in villages sometimes a room in a comfortable home, it’s not the same in Colombo and the suburbs where they lack basic facilities.

The fact of the matter is that you need a Grama Sevaka for everything and in today’s context, there is a need to uplift the role that he/she performs. Salaries are around Rs. 30,000 which includes hiring office space and today, this wage is a pittance compared to the role of the Grama Sevakas and their position in society.

Some years ago there was a shortage of nearly one thousand Grama Sevakas. These positions could be filled, for example, by unemployed graduates who are constantly protesting on the streets demanding jobs. However, the position needs to be elevated in terms of respectability and maybe even a name-change to fit current-day needs and priorities.

While Grama Sevakas are generally well spread out in the outstations, in Colombo and the suburbs they have a far greater area to cover which is one of the reasons why they may not be at their office on the specific days of the week they should be there – Monday, Thursday and Saturday. It is then that public frustration mounts.

The Grama Sevaka also doesn’t have any other officers helping him or her which should be a requirement if they are to provide a proper service to the public. Some years ago, a model Grama Sevaka office was inaugurated at Kirillapone in Colombo with comfortable seating for clients and other facilities in a decent environment but it was not pursued in other areas.

The Grama Sevaka is also an important link with the private sector for various documentation needs, etc.

Time for another cup of tea? This time, in walks Serapina handing over a cup of tea and saying: “Mahattaya, onna Kussi Amma Sera kaa-gahanawa Grama Sevaka gena (There, Kussi Amma Sera is shouting about the Grama Sevaka),” I laughed, accepted the tea and wishfully thought of a new era where the Grama Sevaka would command the same respect a Divisional Secretary would command in an area. Let’s give the Grama Sevakas the dignity that they deserve.

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