Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Doable mandate for Gram panchayats: Vanam Jwala Narasimha Rao

Doable mandate for Gram panchayats
Accountable and Performing 
Gram Swaraj not utopia
Vanam Jwala Narasimha Rao
The Hans India (08-11-2017)

With about 1,04,000 local level People’s Representatives, 16,000 Panchayat Raj employees, 30,000 Safai Karmacharees and Rs. 12,000 crores of budget what the Panchayat Raj System is delivering to the people in Telangana is a million-dollar question. Perhaps, if only a practicable, doable and socially responsible Panchayat Raj Act aiming at a Good Village Concept, as the requirement of the state is brought in, then, there is a possibility to change the system.

SK Dey who was India’s first Union Cabinet minister for Cooperation and Panchayat Raj is remembered as the man who pioneered and steered community development in independent India. He firmly believed that democracy cannot be practiced by government servants and stressed that the fruits of democracy ought to reach every village. Dey’s commitment to developing grassroots democracy prompted the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to hand over the reins of Rural Development in newly independent India to him. After Nehru’s death, Dey resigned from the ministry and dedicated his time to build Panchayat Raj institutions in the country. His pet project was the Community Development Programme the concept of which was rooted in his belief that the community could help itself rather than looking “towards the government as Mai-Baap.” His model of community development is characterized by a three-pronged strategy namely, “development of the area”, “coordinated administration” and “development of the individual and the community”. 

Panchayat Raj which thus was a community development movement later was politicized and compartmentalised. Gone those days when there were community radio sets in every village and sarpanches were involved in educating people on various developmental activities that the state and centre takes-up. This is exactly what the Government of Telangana and the CM KCR has in his mind when he wants to totally rejuvenate the Panchayat Raj system in the state. A performing and functional panchayat raj system where it will be a self-driven and village driven is what he thinks to bring in. The system should be totally revamped and restructured for better results including an accountability clause for village level officers and local body representatives. It requires a surgical treatment as it is totally an ailing structure now. The whole thing should be viewed as a process driven approach rather a program driven approach. In this backdrop we need to think of an Act in the context of Telangana State and the prevailing situation in Telangana and that is how the duties and responsibilities are to be included in the Act.

Whatever any government does at the macrolevel or at the state or central government level, will not be effective, until and unless it is done at the microlevel or at the local or grassroots level. Sarpanches the real epitomes of grassroot level panchayat Raj system over a period in Indian Local Self-Government have turned-out to be through great anarchy, the best example of which is, none of them ever bothers to even conduct a gram panchayat meet or Gramsabhas meet which is a constitutional obligation. It is a rare phenomenon for any village to go for a local audit also. All villages look like dumping yards with all sorts of garbage and debris scattering all over and the sarpanch never-ever bothering about it. The sarpanches instead of attending to their constitutional and societal obligations concentrate more on contracts and petty contracts which is the money earning mechanism. The same is the case with the MPTCs and ZPTCs.

Of late sarpanches started shifting their total responsibilities on to MLAs and hold them to ransom. They question them as to what they have done to his or her village as if it is their job. For instance, the prestigious green cover program, the Telangana ku Haritha Haram, which envisages involvement of local leadership, is totally neglected by sarpanch and gram panchayat. They are seldom aware that the program aims at planting 40,000 saplings in every village for which there are adequate nurseries. We don’t find either a graveyard or a dumping yard or a cleanliness mechanism in the village. Villagers never pay house tax. The weakness of government in getting these done is that they are political. As a result, the whole panchayat raj system has met with a serious accident requiring a fresh beginning to it from scrap.

Against this background the state government wants to conduct elections to panchayat raj institutions before the present term of sarpanches expires on 31st July 2018. Prior to that the government thinking is to increase the number of Grama Panchayats by 4000 to 5000 so that the total would be anywhere 13,000 to 14,000. Thandas, koyagudems and chenchugudems will be converted as Gram panchayats. Depending upon its size the government would be providing funds ranging from Rs. 10 Lakhs to Rs. 25 Lakhs to each panchayat. In addition, through different sources the Gram Panchayats will be encouraged to mobilize its own resources.  Since any Finance Commission will be sympathetic to local bodies the next Commission may allocate and keep sufficient funds at the disposal of local bodies and panchayat raj institutions.

For all this it is absolutely necessary to totally revamp the Panchayat Raj Act. The Act shall empower the Government to remove the sarpanch whenever it wants on grounds that he or she is not performing as required. Ultimate idea is to bring in a Performing and Functional Panchayat Raj System. The sarpanch either has to perform or perish. The Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao is keen to present a performing panchayat raj system to the people, experiment with that and get excellent results at the grassroot level before the general elections are held in 2019. This also envisages a comprehensive training program to all the elected sarpanches and their deputies in the gap period between their election and their assumption of office. This would equip them with the concepts and what should be the real performing panchayat raj system well before they take over the reins. The whole Panchayat Raj system will be accountable, transparent and citizen friendly. In all probabilities the legislation to this effect will come in the present Assembly Sessions itself.

The Act should envisage quality monitors and performance indicators. It should enlist all that a gram panchayat requires to do in the existing situation. The villagers’ current needs need to be analysed and a citizen charter like model need to be followed to make the sarpanch a functionary sarpanch and a performing sarpanch. The villagers’ needs will have to be made as Rights of them and they will have to be made mandatory for the sarpanch to attend to. The proposed Panchayat Raj Act should reflect this for the all-round development of the village. The proposed Act should also make the local bodies function efficiently and the government should have the powers to take action against erring local body representatives. END

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