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.
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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