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‘Goa Panchayati Raj Act needs comprehensive overhauling'

Special Correspondent

Panchayats have been hijacked by sarpanchas and members: Martins


‘Panchayats have been rendered cesspools of corruption'

Amendment to directly elect sarpanch favoured


PANAJI: Goa does not need piecemeal amendments to its Panchayati Raj Act, but a comprehensive overhauling of it is needed to ensure empowerment of rural people, allowing their participation in local self-governance through gram sabhas.

This was the consensus reached after an animated debate on “Does the Goa Panchayati Raj Act require amendments” at a two-day seminar on “Human Development and Media” at the International Centre Goa.

The discussion chaired by Cleofato Almeida Coutinho, member, Goa Law Commission, saw participants expressing displeasure at the state of affairs of majority of panchayats in the coastal State where panchayats have been “rendered cesspools of corruption, merrily indulging in issuing of construction licence and not in the least interested in development of villages and people”.

Meenackshi Martins, member, Goa People's Forum, came down heavily on manipulations taking place in the name of gram sabhas in various panchayats and pointed out the anomalies and aberrations in their functioning which made one wonder if really they were working for the welfare of the people. She alleged that some panchayats were virtually “hijacked” by sarpanchas and panchayat members for their ulterior motives in league with politicians and vested interests.

She favoured an amendment to directly elect the sarpanch.

Dinesh Vaghela, activist of India Against Corruption, sought amendments of fundamental nature to the Act to empower people of villages by bestowing decision-making powers to gram sabhas where the issues of welfare were involved. At present, he said, they were vulnerable to pressures as their areas of influence were not clearly defined and the Government left with power to checkmate their recommendations.

Draft

He sought to know why the Goa Government had not followed up the model amendment draft given to it through the Goa Law Commission by activist Arvind Kejriwal a few months ago.

The draft, among others, has suggested more decision-making powers to gram sabhas to make the panchayats truly models of “direct democracy”.

In the course of the debate, it was pointed out that contrary to the provision in the Goa Act that the sarpanch should preside over gram sabha, it should be an independent person chosen by the sabha to chair it as per the Panchayati Raj Constitutional amendment.

While responding to the debate, V. K. Zha, secretary, Panchayati Raj, admitted to flaws in the functioning of the panchayats and agreed to put up a proposal for providing Ombudsman to regulate them.

When Sabina Martins of Goa Bachav Abhiyan pointed out that there was no efforts by the panchayat administration to get panchayats to plan their development, a suggestion to amend the Act to follow the Kerala model with 50 per cent of the State budget allocation to panchayats free of schemes was made by some participants to compel panchayats to have their own planning for development.

Mr. Zha regretted that the biggest problem of the State being that its development departments were increasingly becoming regulatory departments.

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