Monday, May 9, 2011

Mockery of Panchayat Raj System-II

Mockery of Panchayat Raj System-II


THE 27-pages report of the Ministry of panchayat raj, Government of India on the state of panchayat raj in Goa, for 2007-08 needs to come as an eye-opener to everyone concerned about democratic decentralisation of powers to the grass roots level.
This report has not been translated in the local languages and the panchayat and zilla panchayat members are ignorant about its’ critical comments, conclusions and recommendations. The ad hoc committee of the Goa legislative assembly needs to take cognisance of this report and make its’ pertinent comments. All other states have strengthened their district planning committees (DPCs) and have devolved spatial planning powers to village panchayats and urban local bodies. But only the state of Goa has chosen the outdated route of opting for a regional plan by rejecting the model Town and Country Planning Act to disarm the local bodies completely.
Thanks to support and co-operation from city centric NGOs, the Goa government is enthusiastic about Regional Plan A.D. 2021 because once it is officially notified then the government would be automatically neutralising the local bodies for the next 11 years and no demand for devolution and role for micro-level spatial and developmental planning would be entertained.
After the regional plan notification there would not be any space, scope and substance left to ask for devolution of powers to gram panchayats and municipal councils.
Surrender of Powers
Accepting the Regional Plan A.D. 2021 is an abject, total and unconditional surrender of powers which are due to the people under the 73 rd and 74th constitutional amendments. The central government report has not referred to the fallacy of the regional plan but it has correctly captured the strange political reality in the small and politically volatile state of Goa where everyone who matters craves for a slice of the cake of power and influence.
Noting that the Goa government is not sincere in decentralisation of powers to the gram panchayats, the report makes the following observations,“The functioning of panchayats in Goa gives a picture that the actual pace of devolution of power is slow.
Most of the powers have been devolved on paper and actual power devolution to the panchayats is less. The various functionaries are still accountable to their line departments and not to the panchayat. Gram sabhas are not being taken seriously, earlier they were recommendary in nature but now they are statutory bodies and need to be respected. People need to be mobilised to attend the gram sabha. The panchayat members find no satisfaction in their work because there are no real powers. The transfer of powers to the zilla and village panchayat is not yet complete. The extent of power and funds transferred from the state to the gram panchayat as well as the zilla panchayats is very small. The annual budget is very meagre and there is hardly any significant control over departments. There is a feeling that those activities that involve finances have been kept with the department and the consultative powers have been devolved to the panchayat. There is also a suspicion that government is creating an impression that zilla panchayats are not required in Goa. The lack of sound financial resources, adequate staff, instability of the post of sarpanch, interference at all levels is some of the reasons hampering the success of the panchayat. Memorandums and petitions have been made to the Chief Minister for speeding up the devolution process and bringing line departments under the control of panchayats. However, the situations remain the same as before.”
Sabotaging the System
The report further makes a telling comment on deliberate internal sabotage of the whole system. It is like slow poisoning of grass roots level democracy. It says without mincing any words- “There is an effort by the government to retain as much power in their own hands as possible and going to the extent of even providing false information to the panchayats. The structure of the panchayati raj and the social-political realities at the village level is helping them in achieve this. It is hard to believe that the government officials will be too willing and be enthusiastic to devolve power. This assumption is a costly fault on the part of the central government which is enthusiastic about devolving power to the panchayats. The whole setup of arrangement for panchayati raj is ensured to see that devolution fails, although the efforts are well meaning.” These are the facts which our ministers and MLAs are afraid to talk about in public and make honest and sincere admission that they really don’t need the panchayat raj system in the small state of Goa. What are the hurdles in devolution of the powers?
After careful analysis the report concludes, “The devolution of power to panchayats in Goa faces hurdles at two levels; the structural level and the socio-political conditions at the grassroot level.
At the structural level there is friction between the elected representatives of the state legislature and the panchayat members, between the government officials and the panchayat members and finally between the two tiers of the panchayat itself. The reason being Goa is a small state and the scope of development activities that can be carried out by different stakeholders is less. The space for influence is small and each stakeholder is competing for resources and influence.
Unlike in larger states where the development pie is large and there is enough space for each actor to assert their influence and power, in Goa, there seems to be a tussle between different actors for power and resources. It is no doubt that the state leaders are not enthusiastic about giving up power which they have so far enjoyed. They are apprehensive that should they devolve powers, no one would come to them, as most of the powers they hold presently, would be given to the panchayats, thus reducing their relevance.
The sarpanch would be more powerful as he will be seen by the people as doing things. There is an undercurrent of silent contestations between the elected representatives of the legislature and the panchayat bodies for control of the domain of power and influence and safeguarding their interest.
The panchayat members are seen as encroaching upon the powers and the areas of influence so far held by the legislative members. This invisible conflict is resulting in slowing down the pace of devolution of power. There is also a tussle for power and influence among the government officials and the panchayat members.” The report has also exposed the government inaction on the detail recommendations of two statutory state finance commissions-1999 and 2007. The later report had focused on activity mapping. These aspects would be discussed in the next article.

 (to be concluded).

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