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Gram Sabha meetings may be video-recorded
By Prabhu Mallikarjunan – Bangalore, New Indian Express, 19th July 2013
To bring transparency and accountability in the functioning of Gram Panchayats, the state government has mooted compulsory video recording of Gram Sabha proceedings from this year.
Gram Sabhas are conducted to make people participate in the decision making process and approve development works at village level. Rural Development and Panchayat Raj Secretary V Rashmi told Express that there is a lot of cynicism and hearsay about the failure of the Panchayat Raj system.
“We want to remove that perception among people and ensure there is no shirking of responsibility by the Panchayat members.”
“With video recording, we will like to make the public participation effective and make the (Gram) Panchayats more accountable,” she added.
“The CDs of the proceedings will made available to public at `50 at respective Gram Panchayats and Zilla Panchayat Chief Executive Officers’ office,” Rashmi said.
Besides, the Panchayats had even instructed them hold their first meeting of the financial year before July 16, for approval of all plans, works, comprehensive annual action plan prepared for 2013-14 and upload the proceedings in Panchatantra, an e-governance website of the government.
An official said: “The new government is aggressive in implementing the plans for effective functioning of the Panchayat Raj (system). This was particularly lacking with the previous government.”
Recently, the Mani Shankar Aiyar Committee, constituted by the Union Ministry of Panchayat Raj to study the devolution of powers to civic bodies, submitted a report to the government.
The report stated that the attendance at the Gram Sabhas and Ward Sabha meetings was poor and the civic chiefs and their cohorts got away with token or bogus meetings.
On the new initiatives, Devendra Babu, Assistant Professor and Head, Centre for Decentralisation and Development Institute for Social and Economic Change, said: “The new initiative will make the elected representatives more responsible. It will also encourage women and neglected groups to voice their views.”
Karnataka Panchayat Raj (Amendment Bill) 2013, passed in the Legislative Assembly recently, made a provision for disqualification or removal of the members and presidents of the Gram Panchayat who fails to convene a meeting of ward and Grama Sabha.
MP woman Sarpanch begging, cleaning toilets to make ends meet
Manjari Mishra, TNN | Jul 17, 2013
JABALPUR: Rajni Bansal, sarpanch of the tribal-dominated Bachhama village, 80km off Damoh, has been doubling as a safai karamchari to clean toilets in a local girls school, and a midwife to make some extra money. If things turn particularly rough - which is often - the 38-year-old woman is also seen begging around the hamlet. To add to her woes, she has not received her honorarium for months. Her shanty - too small to accommodate a family of seven - may not last this monsoon. And on top of it all, the penniless and illiterate woman has been charged with graft and could be facing arrest anytime.
It all began the day she learnt to write her name. It was Anil, her eldest son, who got her to do it, she recalls. Writing 'Rajni' in Hindi was fun and took her nearly a week. The skill came handy when the panchayat secretary summoned her to his office to sign her name at a few places. And now she hears her signatures have been used to withdraw funds which she has never seen. Unable to comprehend the situation she is in now, the simple woman wonders, "If learning to write one letter could land one in such a mess, why do people take the trouble to go to big colleges?"
In this era of much hyped women empowerment, the mother of five has no clue about the authority she wields as sarpanch. She has never even occupied the chair she was elected to. "It is not polite to sit on a chair before all these men," she says by way of explanation. In any case, the only time she visited the panchayat office was when she was summoned to scribble 'Rajni'.
But now the report about impending action is beginning to worry her. Her eldest son Anil has already fled the village. Last fortnight she went all the way to Damoh to attend the jan sunvai at the collector's office. The officer, says Rajni, assured her of help, but so far no one has visited Bachhama or met her.
Sujat Khan, activist and member of Ekta Parishad Damoh says Rajni personifies the farce of panchayati raj in Madhya Pradesh. "The unlettered and gullible woman has been duped by successive panchayat secretaries to sign cheques and embezzle funds meant for various developmental projects", he says.
Damoh collector Swatantra Kumar Singh, while conceding that one of the secretaries in Bachhama panchayat has been dismissed for bungling says that he has sent a team to probe the matter. "It is a peculiar case and would need a little time sort out," he says.
We request readers and members to share their experiences, stories, news items about the Panchayati Raj across different states in the country.
Please also respond to the queries posted in the beginning of the discussion.
Auction of Panchayat Seats for Andhra Pradesh Gram Panchayat Elections
Excerpts from Article by Amarnath K Menon , India Today, New Delhi
In Andhra Pradesh after a gap of 7 years elections to gram panchayats are to be held in three phases before the end of July. The polls to elect 2,17,578 ward members to the 21,491 gram panchayats, are not on party symbols. But they provide an opportunity for every political party to demonstrate its strength at the village level which will ultimately determine its grassroots support.
Triangular and quadrangular contests to jockey for positions of power are gaining ground in gram panchayat polls for the MPP and zilla parishad elections that follow will be fought openly on party basis. In testing the waters, in many villages candidates from the same family will be in the race on different party tickets. And in some villages, resourceful contestants have gone in for unlawful auctions despite the State Election Commissioner P.Ramakanth Reddy warning that criminal cases will be filed against those involved.
Congress activist Challa Chinna Ramulu was the highest bidder on behalf of his wife for the sarpanch post at Kothapalem in Vinukonda mandal of Guntur district. In the auction, within hours of the election being notified on July 3, five women vied for the post - it is reserved for the general women category - by paying the initial deposit of Rs. five lakh each. Thereafter, Ramulu outbid others in the auction by offering Rs.29 lakh for the post for his wife. Villagers claim that they have decided to spend the auction money for the development of the village. Similarly, for the Gogulapadu panchayat, also in Guntur district, a woman reportedly quoted the highest bid and won the sarpanch post for Rs.44 lakhs. "We have asked district collectors and the district election authorities to check auctioning of posts of sarpanch and ward members of gram panchayats based on media reports and other information," said Ramakanth Reddy.
Auctioning of posts was a corrupt practice under Section 211(1) of the Andhra Pradesh Panchayat Raj Act, 1994 and this is also an electoral malpractice under Section171 B and 171 E of the Indian Penal Code. On conviction, the offender was liable to one year in jail and disqualification from contesting elections for six years. To top it, the State Election Commission has directed officials to inform all returning officers that no result is to be declared as an unanimous election to any office in the gram panchayat without getting the clearance from the District Collector and District Election Authority.
Full article available at: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/political-parties-panchayat-elections-in-andhra-pradesh/1/287073.html
Source: Press Trust of India | Kendrapara (Odisha) May 26, 2013
A woman sarpanch in Odisha's Kendrapara district has accused her spouse of reducing her to titular head of the gram panchayat. Minati Nayak, Sarpanch of Alailo Gram Panchayat under Mahakalpada block, has alleged before district administration that her husband Amiya Nayak has virtually hijacked her power as people's elected representative. An administrative inquiry has been ordered into the charges levelled by the woman Sarpanch. Penal action is accordingly being initiated against the husband, Kendrapara district Collector, Niranjan Nayak said.
"I am being mentally harassed by my spouse as I objected to his highhanded interference. I am not being allowed to officiate. My husband presides over panchayat meeting instead of me. Various developmental works in the gram panchayat have failed to make steady progress because of such proxy rule," Sarpanch Nayak alleged in a petition to the Collector.
Many women Panchayati Raj institution representatives are acting as titular heads and are being dictated by their male relatives behind the screen, she said.
Theoretically women are found to be at the helm of top panchayat posts, while their spouses or other male family members exercise the power in proxy on their behalf, said observers of Panchayati raj system in the district. There are instances of husbands presiding over the periodic panchayat sessions while their spouses - legitimate GP chiefs - are least aware of the complexities of rules and regulations, the sources said.
As you are aware that recently on the occasion of Panchayat Raj day i.e. 24th April 2013, Ministry of panchayati Raj has unveiled the “20th Anniversary report of the Expert Committee on leveraging panchayats for efficient delivery of public goods and services”. The Expert Committee is chaired by Former Union Minster of Panchayati Raj, Sh Mani Shankar Ayer. We are pleased to share the highlights of the report. The major observations and recommendations of the expert committee are:
1) The mandatory provisions of Part IX of the constitution i.e. panchayat elections under the aegis of State Election Commissions, constitution of State Finance Commissions and District Planning Committees has been undertaken across the states.
2) The devolution of Functions, Finances and Functionaries (3Fs) has been far from the letter and spirit of the constitution amendments.
3) The preparation of decentralised district plans as per Article 243G read with Article 243ZD of the constitution have not been progressed except few states. It is observed that the Manual of Integrated District Planning prepared by Planning Commission also didn’t have much impact on the planning process.
4) The completion of 11th five year plan and the launch of 12th plan have not seen the blossoming of district planning without which panchayati raj institutions will remain an empty shell. It is only triggered initially with the support of BRGF but loses its pace subsequently.
5) Referring to various studies and reports committee observed that the inequality has been increased in the country over the period. The rich become richer and poor become poorer. Thus committee questions the rationality of the commitment of the government for ‘inclusive growth’. Committee observed that alleviation of poverty and growing inequalities remain unaffected because establishment of panchayat raj is not followed by structured, scientific, consistent and sustained process of devolution.
6) 12th Plan does not delve in any significant measure on how key requirements of inclusion are to be achieved. Twelfth plan also fails to prioritise the role of panchayats and their representatives in achieving inclusive growth. Committee pointed out that 25 core indicators listed by the twelfth plan to reflect the vision of rapid, sustainable and more inclusive growth, panchayati raj institutions find no place at all.
7) Despite the increase in outlays in social sector over the period, India’s progress on the HDI is not very encouraging. This is mainly because ‘institutional reforms’ lagged behind the ‘economic reforms’ began in 1992.
8) The committee also tried to establish the correlation between Human Development Index (HDI) and Devolution index & India protection index. The analyses revealed that though correlation is positive but weak. It is inferred that given the weak devolution, panchayats are unable to influence the human development outcomes.
9) Committee concluded that devolution is an essential condition for human development. But it must be supported by factors such as accountable service delivery mechanism, clear delineation of roles and responsibilities of officials and functionaries, stringent monitoring mechanisms, increasing public awareness and capacity building of public functionaries at all levels.
10) The committee strongly opposed the observations made about the PRIs in the Annual Economic Survey 2012-13. The committee recommends that in all the future Annual Economic Surveys, there must be a separate chapter devoted to Panchayat Raj.
11) Referring to the number of panchayati raj institutions and elected representatives including women, SCs, STs and OBCs. Committee observed that this is a great achievement in political empowerment, but it has made little impression on political circles, media perceptions, society as a whole and above all on the rural economy.
12) Committee observed that it is not an absence of political will that is making panchayat raj stumble so much as the unevenness of panchayat raj outcomes that is stalling the evolution of required political will.
13) Deficiencies in the capacity building also contribute to the poor performance. Much of the training imparted to panchayat functionaries bears little resemblance to the tasks they allowed to undertake in the absence of effective devolution.
14) There is a little integration between departments and panchayats. Most of panchayat representatives get little opportunity for hand-on learning. Atmosphere in most line departments discourages evolution of working relationship with ERs, except at ‘sarpanch’ (panchayat president) level. The consequence of this is distortion of panchayat raj in many parts of country into ‘sarpanch raj’.
15) In the absence of real devolution there is no responsibility of elected representatives towards Gram Sabhas leading to poor attendance in the gram sabha and ward sabha meetings.
16) To improve and strengthen the participation of gram sabha, committee recommends the centre must draft a ‘model gram sabha law’ and urge states to bring appropriate legislations on the basis of this law.
17) Committee also recommends that the reservation in PRIs for all categories (women, SC, ST, OBC) should be frozen for a minimum of at least two terms and preferably for three terms.
18) Committee recommends that the 14th Finance Commission should change the pattern of untied grants from ‘basic and performance’ grants to grants for incentivising states to devolve and grants for PRIs to be rendered transparent and accountable.
National Panchayat day- 24th April 2013
The National Conference on panchayats on the occasion of “Panchayat Raj day” is organised by Ministry of Panchayati Raj on 24th April 2013 at Vigyan Bhawan, New Delhi. The importance of this day has been increased because this is the 20th Anniversary Year of Panchayati Raj after the 73rd Constitutional amendment in 1993. The function is honored by the presence of Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, Union Minister of Rural Development & Sanitation, Mr. Jai Ram Ramesh, Union Minister of Panchayat and Tribal Affairs, Mr. V. Kishore Chandra Deo and former Union Minister of Panchayat, Mr Mani Shankar Aiyar. Besides, Ministers of Panchayats from different states, officials of Ministry of panchayat and hundreds of elected representatives were there to mark the occasion.
The major attraction of the programme includes conferring of Annual PEAIS and Rashtriya Gaurav Gram Sabha Awards. On this occasion the expert committee report on “Leveraging Panchayat Raj Institutions for the more efficient delivery of public goods and services” is also released. The said committee is constituted under the Chairmanship of Mr. Mani Shankar Aiyar.
This is unfortunate that we are celebrating 20th Anniversary of panchayati raj in the country but we are still grappling with fundamental and structural issues with the panchayati raj. Every year we listen big statements from policy makers, they express their concerns on the condition of panchayats but simultaneously didn’t forget to count on the achievements, more on the money piped into the panchayati raj system through various schemes and programmes. The Mani Shankar Aiyar Committee report also highlights that the panchayats are not duly empowered and appropriate devolution has not happened. And it leads to a situation of confusion and disappointment among the members of the grassroot democratic institutions. The report also highlights the non-convergence of PRIs with the Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS) rather parallel structures have been created which are not accountable to PRIs. Prime Minister in his speech also accepted that “we have a lot left to do to empower the PRIs”. He said that though political empowerment of panchayats have been taken place and participation of marginalised and women is increased in the panchayats but in the absence of poor devolution and decentralisation, panchayats are not able to deliver their constitutional mandate effectively.
In my opinion the efforts to strengthen panchayats in the past have undertaken in a very haphazard manner. In the first 12 years of the existence of panchayats separate ministry at the union level is not constituted. When the Ministry is constituted in 2004, a series of dialogue’s popularly known as “Seven Round Tables” were organised in the leadership of then Union Minister, Mani Shankar Aiyar and 150 resolutions were passed with the consent of the states. But, most of the states have failed to implement these resolutions in letter and spirit. In the meantime few states did some experiments to strengthen panchayats but unable to address the fundamental issues in non-functioning of panchayats. In 2011, Ministry of Panchayati raj also came up with Roadmap to PRIs but except 2-3 states none of the states have prepared similar roadmaps for PRIs. And even states who have prepared roadmaps are failed to implement the same. As a result today after 20 years, we are in a position that despite few good practices in bits and pieces, none of the state in India can claim that they have a holistic and true model of local self- government.
This is high time to fix the fundamental problem with the non- functioning of the system of panchayati raj. I think our expectations are very high but our efforts are not appropriate to meet these expectations from panchayats. Why any state shows courage to park capacity building fund with panchayats to get best from the market? Why states are not ready to show their courage in disclosing availability of funds to the panchayats in a particular financial year? Why states are not giving untied resources to panchayats to do need based planning? The onus for the failures is also on the elected representatives of PRIs. They also need to understand the larger mandate of panchayats. They should ready to share their power. They must educate gram sabha on its importance, roles and entitlements. They must get out of the contractor driven approach. And last but not least MP and MLA’s need to stop interfering with the panchayat raj system. They have enough roles to play at state and union level. And bureaucrats and officials needs to understand that they are public servants and should behave in that way. There is enough work for everyone who is a part of this system. The only thing is that everyone must respect and do its own work. Only this mindset could change the fate of panchayati raj in the country.
On 19th April, 2013 I participated in a National Round Table on “Two Decades of Panchayati Raj – The Search for Support”. This closed door meeting was organised by Intercooperation on the occasion of completion of 20 years of Panchayats in this country. The event was held in the Institute of Social Science Building and the first session was that of “Lunch”. Perhaps because to talk about enormous issues of Panchayats in our country, one has to be pretty much energetic as the discussion and issues are never ending.
Various representatives were part of this event including Panchayat representatives, Joint Secretary of MoPR, eminent faces like T.R Raghunandan, Prof. Debi Prasad Mishra, Dr. George Mathew and many other concerned for Panchayats. The discussion started with sharing of experiences of Panchayat representatives, who shared their success stories –initiatives on e- governance, Gram Sabha mobilisation as an important forum to resolve various significant issues of the people, ensured financial transparency and accountability etc. However the struggle of Panchayats in achieving these was no less. The representatives shared that it was the non- governmental support which helped them achieve all this. When asked about the trainings they had received from the government, many disappointedly stated that they were mostly on Acts/Rules/Schemes, many of which were of no use to them. The key challenges shared by the representatives were –
They shared that they had been able to receive all this knowledge from the local NGO’s. It was also shared that the focus of trainings by the SIRD’s is on the delegated functions of Panchayats (implementation of flagship programmes, monitoring of schemes and services, reporting to the higher levels of Govt.), but not on the potential and statutory functions (which include service delivery, planning, improving quality of services, advocacy on the issues etc). It was note-worthy that the contribution of various good organisations like SDC, PRIA etc. was acknowledged in holistic strengthening of Panchayats by almost all the speakers and participants. Infact it was requested from the PRIA representatives in the meeting that the way in which Panchayat strengthening happened in early 2000's needs to happen again. This triggered me to think that if organisations had been doing so great, then why has the scope gone less?
On this event, Intercooperation also brought out a draft conceptual document on “Non-Governmental Support System for Local Governments”. This document highlights that various organisations have the capacity to support the Panchayats but they are not used as a resource at the local levels. It aims at convergence of various institutions like farmer’s club, CBOs, NGOs, academic institutions etc to play a supportive role for Panchayats. Most of which PRIA has been doing in strengthening the Panchayats. SGRPR experiences in Rajasthan bring similar convergence pattern and has been a successful model to strengthen the Panchayats and improve service delivery.
It has been realised by all even the Retd. Government officials that present bureaucracy needs to shift focus to the local governments and seek support from the CSO’s. How can then the present CSO's play a more remarkable role in making "Panchayats Shinning!!"
In 1992, the Members of Parliament passed 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act to facilitate the birth of constitutional Panchayati Raj in India. Within a year or so, MLAs in different states passed new State Panchayati Raj Acts, which conformed to the 73rd Amendment Act. So, in a way, MPs and MLAs are supposed to be angel guardians of modern Panchayati Raj in the country.
But the same angel guardians seem to now against the Panchayats. This is due to proposed decentralization of executive actions and delivery of services at local level. Unfortunately our political system has historically promoted a culture of dole distribution at the cost institutional delivery mechanism, which Panchayats are supposed to facilitate. So, any effort to decentralize the delivery of services by devolving appropriate powers and authorities to Panchayats has been directly or indirectly opposed by majority of MPs and MLAs. That is why even after 20 years of their birth; Panchayats don’t have genuine powers and authorities to perform their mandated functions. The temptation to exercise control over executive actions either through MP-LADS/MLA-LADS or by using political clouts has negatively affected functioning of Panchayats. Political ambitions of MLAs/MPs and District Panchayat Presidents (who quite often have larger electoral base) are some of new ways of rivalry among elected representatives of Parliament, Assembly and Panchayat.
Making Panchayats Work as Local Democracy
India celebrated 20 years of National Panchayati Raj Day on April 24, 2013. A ceremony of sorts was held in Vigyan Bhawan where Hon’ble Prime Minister distributed some awards and made some innocuous remarks like “bureaucracy is holding panchayats down”. He has been making similar remarks on this Day for the past several years. Ironically, he is the CEO of all bureaucracy in the country. A conclusion can be drawn that he is not interested in changing this status quo.
On this occasion, the Report of the Expert Committee on strengthening Panchayats, headed by Mani Shankar Aiyar was also released. This Report laments the lack of effective devolution to panchayats, and suggests some practical ways to improve their contributions in delivery of basic services. What the report contains by way of analysis and solutions are already known to the Prime Minister and the cabinet of India. Then it is unlikely that any of its recommendations would be followed up by this government.
After the UPA government came to power in 2004, a national Ministry of Panchayati Raj was set up with Mani Shankar Aiyar as the Minister. This practice was changed in 2009 when UPA II came to power. The Ministry of Panchayati Raj lost its independent status; it was first merged with Ministry of Rural Development, and now with Ministry of Tribal Affairs. As a consequence, the panchayats became administrative agencies under DRDA and other rural development programmes; they lost their character as institutions of local self-governance.
The Prime Minister creates ministries and Ministers; so, he obviously did not want to allow an independent Ministry of Panchayati Raj.
As administrative agencies of rural development, panchayat leaders became sub-contractors, and learnt to behave like that. They started making money as contractors of panchayats, both fair and foul. As contractors, they became accountable to petty officials of those departments and schemes. As political leaders, they ignored their democratic accountability to citizens.
It is no surprise, therefore, that the latest Comptroller and Auditor-Generals (CAG) Report on implementation of rural employment guarantee scheme (MNREGA) reveals that nearly a third of the funds have been siphoned off through corruption.
It is ironical, indeed, that the progress on implementation of Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Area Act (PESA) and Forest Rights Act (FRA) meant to empower Gram Sabha in tribal villages have not been seriously implemented, despite the fact that currently Minister for Tribal Affairs is also responsible for panchayats. The Supreme Court’s judgment in Vedanta mining company case in Odisha last week is a clear indictment of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs and Panchayati Raj; the judgment re-affirms the authority of Gram Sabha in those villages to decide whether to allow mining in their ancestral holy lands or not.
Two decades have passed since the Constitution of India gave mandates to panchayats as the first tier of governance. Over this period, the hardware of local democracy has been largely set up; elections to three tiers of panchayats are being held, and panchayat bhawans (offices) have been constructed in most states. Yet, the software of local democracy has not been infused even after two decades. The human and institutional capacities of panchayati raj institutions are still inadequate, and the culture of participatory democracy is yet to take roots. There is no political movement yet for strengthening panchayats as building blocks of democracy in India.
This calls for a coalescing of various actors which constitute the wider fraternity of panchayati raj in the country; political leaders, civil society activists, media persons, sympathetic officials and others have to find a way to create the much needed political momentum for re-energising panchayati raj; if the present state of affairs is allowed to continue for some more time, citizens will lose hope and interest in local democracy in this country.
PRIA, New Delhi
April 24, 1993 was a landmark day in the history of Panchayati Raj in India as on this day, the institution of Panchayati Raj was accorded constitutional status through the Constitution (73rd Amendment) Act, thereby seeking to transform Mahatma Gandhi's dream of “Gram Swaraj” into reality. The 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act of 1993 envisaged Gram Sabhas as the bedrock of the Panchayati Raj System through which participation of the people in self-governance and planning for development and social justice has been targeted.
“Panchayati Raj Day” was organised by the Ministry of Panchayati Raj on 24th April 2013 at Vigyan Bhawan, New Delhi. The importance of this day has been increased because this is the 20th Anniversary Year of Panchayati Raj. This is unfortunate that we are celebrating 20th Anniversary of Panchayati raj in the country but we are still grappling with fundamental and structural issues of Panchayati raj –
It is also note-worthy to mention here that many civil society organisations have played a very significant role in strengthening the Panchayats. During one of the National Round table meet held in Institute of Social Science on 19th April, 2013, the efforts of civil society organisations to strengthen the Panchayati Raj in our country were acknowledged by almost all the stakeholders, including representatives of Panchayats themselves. The representatives shared that the focus of trainings by the SIRD’s is on the delegated functions of Panchayats (implementation of flagship programmes, monitoring of schemes and services, reporting to the higher levels of Govt.), but not on the potential and statutory functions (which include service delivery, planning, improving quality of services, advocacy on the issues etc).
In light of the current scenario and existing challenges, we would like to open these three questions –
-Nishu Kaul and Anshuman Karol