Monday, May 9, 2011

Mockery of Panchayat Raj System-III

Mockery of Panchayat Raj System-III


WHAT are the immediate and long term consequences of paralysing the panchayat raj system? The immediate consequences are seen everyday–whether it is breaching of bundhs, flooding of farms, emergence of Chikungunya, controversy about alignment of the bridge over Sal river, the pollution of Colva creek or the illegal alluvial sand mining at Capao, Sao Matias and near Amona-Khandola bridge.
The gram panchayats have no say in any of the developmental affairs. The report notes the extraordinary provision–Section 244A of the Goa Panchayat Raj Act, 1994 which empowers the government to undertake any developmental works in the village panchayat and zilla panchayat areas, specified in the schedules to the Panchayat Act without consultation with the village panchayat and zilla panchayat. The long term consequences are serious.
Participative Democracy
The paralysed panchayat raj system would be taken over by the agents of Goa’s notorious parallel economy. Their influence is already seen in coastal and midland talukas. In December and January the embankments and sluice gates of Khazan lands are intentionally damaged to flood the paddy fields for pisciculture. The tenant associations in many villages are richer and more powerful than the local gram panchayats. There are no audits and zero accountability. Simultaneous existence of 2 institutions in the same administrative space has been allowed by successive governments to support the parallel economy. The remedy was to put gram panchayats on sound footing. When the people in villages know that they can find solutions to the local problems at their own level and are assured of resources and expertise for development then the village democracy becomes truly participative and productive. The acceptance of the major recommendations of the two state finance commissions under V A Pai Panandikar (1999) and late Alban Couto (2007) could have been a right step in this direction. But the central governments report notes critically–the First State Finance Commission had observed that there was unwillingness of the state authorities to devolve functions and finances.
The state government has also failed in respecting the recommendations of the First State Finance Commission. The finances and functions which actually need to be passed on to local bodies continue to be allotted to government departments and corporations which undertake development in the villages and towns without consulting the local bodies. Local bodies in Goa are in reality reduced to mere promotional agents of schemes implemented by the government agencies. The recommendations of the First State Finance Commission relating to devolution of functions and finances were not accepted because of operational difficulties and lack of specific activity mapping.
Devolution of Powers
The Second State Finance Commission endeavoured to remove these lacunae by recommending specific activity mapping and consequential/accountable devolution of powers, functions and finances to local bodies in Goa. It took upon itself the task of activity mapping since this work was essential to proceed further towards the objectives of the State Finance Commission as mandated in article 243G and article 243W of the Constitution.
The Report of the Second Finance Commission was submitted to the government in December 2007. Before his untimely death, it was the wish of a senior, experienced and people friendly Goan civil servant Mr Alban Couto that government would honour his recommendations. But even today there is very little action on his report. The state government has been also misguiding the people by not coming out clearly about its commitments on mandatory reforms demanded by government of India for availing funds under JNNURM schemes.
Such indecisiveness and tentativeness has eroded the level of governance in Goa resulting in an expanding deficit of trust in the administration. Are the gram panchayats incompetent to do their spatial planning? But it is the elite urban leadership which is playing with their future. The report has exposed the weaknesses in the system–District Planning Committees as required under Section 239 have not been activated yet. So far, such plans are not being consolidated at the state level. The preparation of plans by the panchayats is not yet functional as neither the secretary nor the members know how and what to plan. The secretaries of the gram panchayats are unaware about the technical aspects of needs assessment, resource allocation and drafting the budget and are not technically qualified to carry out their duties with regard to planning and budgeting.
Ambitious Sarpanchas
For grass root planning to be achievable or become a reality, all the planners sitting in the town and country planning committees need to be sent to the gram sabha and the DPC. The DPCs are defunct; the zilla parishad officials are ignorant of its existence. Neither the chairman nor the secretaries of the District Planning Committee have any knowledge of the members elected on the panel or the role they are expected to perform on the committee. This has allowed other government agencies to interfere in the panchayat development.
For preparation of yearly plans, the zilla panchayats have to have a realistic long term village development plan including its financial aspect, from which the yearly plan would emerge. Two years back the chief minister had assured me that Konkani and Marathi translations of Panchayat Raj Act and Rules would be made available. But there seems to be a conspiracy to keep people ignorant about their own powers. The report shows concern about the rise of an ambitious new, rural political elite. It says, the panchayat system was envisioned to be an apolitical system. However, it is true that most of the panchayat members are backed by one political party or the other. The panchayat system is largely seen as a hierarchy for graduating upwards by budding politicians. The aspirations of the panchayat members are to one day become a MLA or a MP and finally a minister. They thus see the existing political leaders as their elder and will not oppose them.
The biggest hurdle for the devolution process is the leaders at the state level. The panchayat members do not question them or agitate against them for devolution of power. There is a conflict in position when one is a panchayat member and one becomes an MLA. This is because they do not want to go against their political mentors. The older elite are slowly receding to the background and new elites are taking their place. These new elites are conscious of their newly found social status and are eager to maintain it at any cost. The older elites after loosing their importance is now apathetic to the happenings around them, while the new elites are busy looking after their own interest. The mockery of panchayat raj system would finally result in its total take over by the opportunistic agents of Goa’s powerful parallel economy.


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