Towards local self-governance
THE STATE OF PANCHAYATS A Participatory Perspective: Manoj Rai, Malini Nambiar, Sohini Paul, Sangeeta Singh and Satinder Sahni; Published by Sanskriti, C-9020, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi-110070. Rs. 695.
PANCHAYATS COUNCILS of five members have been the self- governing village bodies from the Rig Vedic period. Their authority derived from custom, convention and divine right of kings. In course of time, casteism and feudalism came to hold sway. Gandhiji and Ambedkar differed seriously on village Swaraj and, as a compromise, Panchayati Raj became part of the non-justiciable provisions of the Constitution. A statutory base and some uniformity were brought about by the 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution.
The book under review examines the working of Panchayat Raj after the constitutional amendment. Three million elected representatives, comprising 2.4 lakh Gram Panchayats, 500 District Panchayats and 6000 intermediate-level tiers, should deserve the status of federating units of the nation. The book gives state-wise classified information on the structure, membership, financial powers, and representation for women and SC/STs number of meetings.
A minister attending Gram Sabha meetings and a Dalit woman braving all the ill-disposed male members are highlighted as exceptional stories in box items. But, otherwise, we find, that there is no change at all from the deep-rooted prejudice against woman. Even the woman member's own household members do not support her against other men and their obstructive tactics.
The book suggests that no-confidence motions should be limited to one per year and a provision should be made to ensure that the newly elected should belong to the same sex and class of the ousted one. This will prevent racist revenges.
Kerala tops others in the constitution of district planning committees, imparting training to elected representatives and in specific earmarking of funds for local bodies. But, even there, available data do not indicate positive functional attitude of state governments towards panchayats. Delay in disbursement and restrictive conditions governing expenditure have resulted in under-utilisation of even funds made available. So Kerala's Gram Sabhas are no better than those elsewhere with meagre resources. Apart from gender and caste-based prejudices bureaucratic apathy also adds to constraints.
The Eleventh Finance Commission has provided Rs. 1600 crores for panchayats and Rs. 400 crores for municipalities. But governments are yet to attend to three major concerns listed by the commission. Primary education, healthcare, safe drinking water and street lighting should be entrusted to local bodies. Exclusive staff for maintenance of accounts should be appointed. In 1882 Lord Ripon moved the famous resolution on local self-government and hoped they would contribute to administrative efficiency and political education. What we have now is local government. What matters is that it should be local ``self-government''. Till then, Ripon's will be a distant dream.
A. S. PADMANABHAN
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