Before I proceed, I would like to tell you that I’m from a rural area and so I have dared to write this.
After reading India Today’s article “Killing Fields of Bihar Villages” http://t.co/iUNmpb53, I felt I should write an article regarding the negative sides of the much hyped Panchayat Raj system. I feel the negative aspects outnumber the positives. I may be wrong, but still…
Though the system of Panchayats can be dated back to British era in India, the 73rd Amendment to the Indian constitution in 1992 made it a constitutional institution, thus the 3- Tier Panchayat Raj system was introduced. The 74th amendment introduced Urban Local Bodies and obviously, expectations were high. The 73rd Amendment contains provision for devolution of powers to the panchayats and responsibilities to the panchayats both for preparation of economic development plans and social justice, as well as for implementation in relation to 29 subjects listed in the 11th schedule of the Indian constitution.
The panchayats receive funds from3 sources,
• Local body grants, as recommended by Central Finance Commission
• Funds for implementation of centrally sponsored schemes. Ex: MGNREGA
• Funds released by the respective state governments as recommended by the State Finance Commission.
Panchayats have a reservation system enabling a certain ratio of reserved for SCs, STs and Women- which are regarded as the Weaker sections of the society. Yesteryear’s Panchayat system was only limited to solving local issues and disputes and was always headed by Powerful Men, or basically rich landlords.
Coming to the actual image of these Panchayat raj institutions, they are not living upto what was expected from them. If what it was supposed to do for India was done, our villages would have been self-sufficient, there wouldn’t have been migration to urban areas from rural areas and there would be no social problems. But what we get to see today is a totally bleak image. Villages are still the same. Water, sanitation, roads… nothing has improved much. Only the pocket size of these panchayat members has grown big.
Some of my observations regarding these panchayat institutions:
1. The system of reservation has given these institutions a major blow. Not that having all seats as General would be any different. When a seat is reserved, the usual contender of that seat goes for a candidate who acts according to his whims and fancies. In any rural setup, the labourers, usually belong to these reserved categories. In many cases, they are illiterate too. So when a seat is reserved, they are the ones who will be looked for. They are made to contest the seat. They become puppets at the hands of the rich. This can directly lead to massive misuse of funds. When so much is spent on developing our rural setup with these institutions, why are villages underdeveloped?????
2. Reservation for women in most cases, has not succeeded in empowering women but has empowered their husbands/brothers or their families. Most of the cases, they are easily manipulated and to sign bills, though works are not done.
3. There are people, politicians who have been demanding more powers to these panchayats. But from what we have seen in Bihar, I feel it is best not to give them more powers, especially financial powers. Instead of working to be an institution that can develop the village, build social ties, it has ended up in increasing enmity between people, the winners and the losers.
4. These Panchayat Raj institutions were setup in an effort to reduce the burden on state governments but what is the result?? They have ended up burdening the state governments. Many Gram Panchayats have not cleared their electricity bills, burdening the already overburdened, under loss ESCOMs (DISCOMs).
5. Political instabilities are a matter of concern. The term of a president of GP is 2.5 years and ZP is 20 months. But hardly have they got a chance to complete their term. Either they are removed by no confidence motions or under some understandings in the ruling party or the group, their term is divided so as to water down dissidence activities.
6. Most of these panchayat don’t meet regularly. Sometimes these meetings are cancelled at the last moment due to lack of quorum.
7. Gram Sabhas are not called regularly. Neither people are not taken into confidence before going ahead with any project concerning them nor are they consulted.
8. Schemes like MGNREGA have more drawbacks than advantages. In the name of employment, unnecessary infrastructure projects are taken, thus making the contractors richer. The projects are not built in a scientific manner. Thus undermining the very purpose they were built for, ends up burdening the government.
9. Also, MGNREGA has killed the backbone of Indian Economy in rural areas. There are hardly few who are interested to take up agriculture as they have seen the greener pasture on the other side of the river. There is labour shortage everywhere. There is no one to plough the fields, forcing farmers to grow for commercial crops which are an annual crop. Also, it is forcing people to migrate to cities in search of a living. Then where is Grama Swarajya that Mahatma Gandhi wished for?? After all, this scheme of rural employment has been named after him.
10. These panchayats, Gram Panchayat, Taluk Panchayats and Zilla Panchayats have become more of a Decorative institute. All the enthusiasm that is there when there are elections to these bodies evaporates once they get power.This habit is there everywhere, but is more in these institutions. There is no coordination between the three institutes of Panchayat Raj.
All these observations that I’ve made may not stand to be the same everywhere. I’ve just shared my opinions based on what I have seen and read.
I feel these Panchayat Raj institutions would be ideal if it was like this,
• Gram Panchayats and Taluk Panchayats must be abolished. A nodal officer, similar to that of a PDO ( Panchayat Development Officer) must be appointed at Hobli ( intermediate to Village and Block) level to monitor and implement the development projects and social schemes that are designed by the consortium of ZP, MLAs and MPs representing the district.
• Gram Panchayats should be replaced with Panchayat Development officers and knowledgeable locals should be given a chance to involve themselves with the PDOs by forming a Panchayat Samiti at village level to work and carry out development works. It should be an honorary service. It may seem to be practically impossible for some, but I don’t think so.
• Schemes like MGNREGA must be done away with and instead Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana must be strengthened. Similar Yojanas to strengthen rural sanitation and water supply projects must be adopted. MGNREGA just creates a VOTE BANK whereas schemes like PMGSY creates infrastructure. Fact!!!!
Please live your comments and point out where I’ve gone wrong.
Note: PDO means Panchayat Development Officer and was a post created by BJP Government of Karnataka when Kum. Shobha Karandlaje was the Rural Development and Panchayat Raj Minister. It was done with the due participation of experts from Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru. PDOs are like DCs of the villages, they replaced Gram Panchayat Secretaries. The PDOs are appointed based on an exam conducted by KPSC. This set in a new trend in Karnataka. Many graduates took up this exams and are now serving in rural areas.