Panchayat system in Tamil Nadu
THAMIZHNAATIL PUTHIA PANCHAAYATHU ARASAANGAM: Dr. K. Palanithurai; South Vision, 6, Thayar Sahib Second Lane, Chennai-600002. Rs. 200.
BEFORE INDEPENDENCE, Mahatma Gandhi's programme of rural rejuvenation based on Panchayat Raj nee grass-root democracy of Gram Swaraj alone held the national ground as the ideal for a free India. For, the realities of the freedom struggle admitted of no other alternatives. With freedom round the corner in 1945, necessity arose for a re-examination of the future economic shape of the country. It is in this context that Gandhiji wrote to Jawaharlal Nehru on October 5, 1945, stressing that "If India is to achieve real freedom, then sooner or later we shall have to go and live in villages as millions of people can never live in cities and palaces with comfort and peace." But he hastened to add: "I am not talking about the villages of today. My ideal village still exists only in my imagination." He could still imagine a number of things that will have to be organised on a large scale. Nehru, in his reply, did not think it desirable for the Congress to consider such fundamental questions involving varying philosophies of life. He nearly snubbed Gandhiji when he pointed out that "ultimately, this and other questions will have to be decided by representatives of free India."
WhenShriman Narain brought to the notice of Gandhiji in December 1947 that the Constitution, then being framed by the Constituent Assembly, made no mention of the village panchayat being the foundation of progressive decentralisation, Gandhiji wrote in Harijan (21-12-1947) that "it is certainly an omission calling for immediate attention if our Constitution is to reflect the people's voice. The greater the power of the panchayats, the better for the people. Moreover, panchayats, to be effective and efficient, the level of people's education has to be considerably raised. I do not conceive the increase in the power of the people in military, but in moral terms."
But, with Nehru's concept of socialistic pattern of society, stressing on planning from above and heavy industries, and the Chairman of the constitution-drafting committee, Dr. Ambedkar's contempt for the "mire of Indian villages being the breeding ground for casteism and untouchability," the Indian Constitution that took shape a year after Gandhiji's assassination conveniently relegated the concept of panchayat to an inoperative status of one among the many Directive Principles.
Creditfor revival of interest in the panchayat system and giving it a legal shape goes to Rajiv Gandhi when he was the Prime Minister during 1984-89. But a Bill then introduced in Parliament for ushering in a three-tier Panchayat system was defeated in the Rajya Sabha. When the Congress (I) came back to power in June 1991 with P. V. Narasimha Rao as the Prime Minister, a modified version of the Panchayat Raj Bill and a resolution for the amendment of the Constitution therefor were introduced in Parliament in September 1991 and the Act came into force on 24th April 1993.
Under the Act, all States are to establish a three-tier of Panchayats at village, block and district levels, and regular elections taking place every five years. It involves inter alia proportionate reservation of seats for scheduled castes/tribes, reservation of not less than one-third seats for women, meeting of Gram Sabhas four times a year and devolution of 29 subjects listed in the 11th schedule of the Constitution. These subjects include agriculture, minor irrigation, small-scale industries, rural housing, adult education, roads and other means of communication, cultural activities, health and sanitation, social welfare and public distribution system.
In this book of 620 pages, the author, who for over a decade has been deeply involved in rural rejuvenation activities, presents a clear picture in lucid Tamil of the varied aspects and implications of the panchayat system, draws pointed attention to specific drawbacks in the mechanical implementation of the movement and suggests practical remedies to improve its working and to instil a sense of involvement in the real purpose of the panchayat scheme cutting across party politics, with special reference to its implementation in Tamil Nadu.
The appendices include a highly readable translation of the 73rd Constitutional Amendment relating to panchayat, the elaborate Tamil Nadu Government's Act for implementing the three-tier local self-government scheme thereunder, as well as subsequent orders passed and very useful guidelines for the common man (and woman) to make use of the facilities extended under the Act.
A complete compendium and guide not only for those connected with panchayat administration but also for all persons who desire to reap full benefit of the varied subjects under the scheme.
LA. SU. RENGARAJAN
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