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`Provide development funds directly to villages'

By Our Special Correspondent

By Our Special

Correspondent

CHENNAI, MAY 30. A group of women panchayat chiefs has urged the Union Minister of Panchayat Raj, Mani Shankar Aiyar, to channel Rural Development department funds directly to village panchayats "without interference by State governments."

In a memorandum to Mr. Aiyar, the Tamil Nadu Women Panchayat Presidents Association president, Ponni Kailasam, said State governments did not give sufficient powers and financial help to the panchayat raj administration.

The Centre should immediately pass regulations for better functioning of the panchayat raj system, which, the memorandum said, was the dream of the late Rajiv Gandhi.

Funds allocations should be based on the 2001 population census, especially for water supply and drought management in the Cauvery Delta districts, which were suffering from scarcity.

The association reiterated its demand to the State government for allocations, which the panchayats were entitled to.

The memorandum noted that the government had to allocate 8 per cent of total revenue for village local governments. But it did not do so lately citing resource crunch.

The government was getting high revenue from liquor sales from the Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation.

"So we request the honourable (Union) Minister to instruct the State government to release sufficient funds to panchayats."

The memorandum also urged the State government to decentralise 29 key functions such as Education, Health, Public Distribution System, social welfare.

To evolve a participatory democratic process through panchayat raj, legal action should be taken on complaints of harassment, violence, false cases and use of caste names on elected panchayat leaders, especially from among women and SC/STs. This requires enabling provisions in the Panchayats Act.

Aladi Aruna letter to Kalam

The former Law Minister, Aladi Aruna, who quit the DMK early this year, appealed to the President, A P. J Abdul Kalam, to take away the portfolio of Panchayat Raj from Mr. Aiyar.

He said since Rajiv Gandhi's period, Mr. Aiyar sought conferment of more powers on the Centre to weaken the autonomy of the Sates, which had exclusive jurisdiction of the panchayat raj as per Article 246 (3) of the Constitution and as enumerated under List II of the VII Schedule.

In a letter to the President, Mr Aruna said that no doubt it was the Prime Minister's prerogative to appoint any qualified person to the Council of Ministers.

At the same time, the Prime Minister was not conferred with powers to create a portfolio for a subject enumerated in the State list of the VII Schedule of the Constitution. The Centre had no power to enact any law or issue any order on the subject of Panchayat Raj, he said.

Contending that the assignment of the portfolio by the Prime Minister to any Minister was unconstitutional, he said the proposal for sending funds directly to local governments amounted to overriding the State's rights.

"I earnestly appeal to your Excellence to examine the contents of my letter in the light of the provisions of our Constitution and prevent the Union government from encroaching into the exclusive jurisdiction of the State and protect the federal structure of the Constitution... Kindly protect the federal structure of the Constitution by taking away the portfolio panchayat raj," Mr. Aruna said.

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