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Bill on grama sabhas in next session

By N.J. Nair

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, APRIL 10. The legislation proposed by the Government for enforcing timely conduct of grama sabha meetings of Local Self-Government Institutions (LSGIs) has indicated taking stringent action against ward members who fail to discharge their duty in holding the meetings.

It may be recalled that the Government had decided to frame the legislation with a view to making grama sabha meetings more meaningful and effective. The Bill to this effect is likely to be piloted in the next session of the Assembly in June.

Meetings

As per the draft Bill, a ward member would lose his membership if he fails to summon the grama sabhas at least once in three months as per the schedule fixed by the Panchayati Raj Act.

Official sources told The Hindu that there are also suggestions to provide adequate funds to members to help them meet expenses incurred for conducting the meetings, maintain minutes and also take follow-up action on the decisions.

The conduct of grama sabhas has been erratic and more or less reduced to a ritual in panchayats, municipalities and Corporations. The State Election Commission had, for instance, ordered the dissolution of the Kollam Corporation council for its failure to hold grama sabha meetings. But the Corporation moved High Court and obtained a stay against the commission order. The Bill would arm the Government with sufficient powers to take action against the LSGIs who fail hold the meetings.

According to the Panchayati Raj Act, the grama sabhas should meet at least once in three months and have at least 10 per cent of the voters in the ward. The president should direct the ward member, the convener of the grama sabha, to convene the meeting to finalise Plan projects and identify beneficiaries. The grama sabhas should also review the implementation of projects. It can even review the performance of the member as well as that of the panchayat. But due to lack of awareness and political initiative of the elected representatives, the meetings have not been held on time and, when organised at all, have ended up as a farce.

More efficiency

The new Bill proposes to make the grama sabhas an efficient grievance redressal mechanism whose functions would not be just limited to clearing of projects and identification of beneficiaries for various projects. It would instead be developed as a forum for enforcing a check on corruption, discussing the citizen's charter and also making the voters aware of the services and benefits they can avail themselves of from the panchayat as well as other offices coming under its ambit.

Crucial role

Residents' associations would have a crucial role in the conduct of the sabhas. This would help strengthen ward committees in the corporation limits where the public response is far from satisfactory, sources said.

Political differences between the ruling and the opposition members have often been cited as one of the main reasons for the failure in holding the meetings. There have been instances in which the president has failed to call the meeting and also where the members have taken the initiative to make the president issue the necessary instructions. The Bill would also have provision to address such issues as well as political instability that impede the smooth functioning of LSGIs, sources said.

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