Herald: Loosening the hold on panchayats will see them grow
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Loosening the hold on panchayats will see them grow

30 Oct 2018 06:47am IST
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30 Oct 2018 06:47am IST

At a gram sabha on Sunday, the villagers of Bethora Nirankal Konshem Codar sent forth a call to the MLAs of the constituencies to attend these meeting in the villages of their constituencies, if not regularly, at least occasionally, so as to understand the problems of the villages and speed up development. The Bethora villagers, including the sarpanch, claimed that government officials take up works that have been recommended by a panchayat, only if the local MLA or minister lends his support for the recommendation. The villagers’ grouse is that since the MLAs do not attend the gram sabhas, they are not aware of the needs of and the problems faced by their constituents and hence do not take up the proposed works with the respective departments, leading to delays. 

Answerable to the people, though not entirely responsible for the delay, are the sarpanch and panchas who face the people at the gram sabhas and have questions thrown at them. It was pointed out that for any development proposal forwarded to the government, the bureaucrats seek a recommendation letter from MLAs. It is the villagers’ contention that the MLA, unaware of the urgency and importance of the proposal, delays the recommendation, and the proposal remains pending. Villagers across the State complain of lack of development, who then is responsible for this?

While, this may have been a suggestion of the gram sabha of Bethora, almost every village in Goa would possibly have faced a situation, wherein some development project has been delayed, awaiting the clearance of the MLA. What is strange is that the MLA’s recommendation is not a part of the procedure for clearing development projects that have been proposed by a panchayat. The only reason that this is being followed in the State is because in Goa the panchayat bodies are becoming extremely political bodies, with the MLA maintaining a vice-like grip on the elected panchas. Files remain with bureaucrats and ministers until the MLA gives his opinion on the project. Delaying projects is one manner that the MLA has of keeping panchayats in his constituency in line. 

If the panchayat movement in Goa is to be developed, then this political hold on the grassroots democratic bodies has to be relaxed. In most panchayats, it is the local MLA who decides the wards’ candidates, puts up his panel and then supports the panchayat body that has those he has favoured elected. This puts a question mark on the independence of the body, as sarpanchas literally hold office at the pleasure of the MLA. This is not good for a healthy democracy and the local governing bodies should be allowed to work independently and in the interest of the village, without any interference from the MLA. 

Panchayati raj activists have been demanding for more powers and independence to the bodies, and the interference of the MLAs does not allow this to happen. They have opposed such interference from the MLAs and the government, terming it ‘parallel governance’. It is because the local governing bodies have not been given their independence and not been allowed to grow that they remain dependent on the local MLAs, even to clear development projects. This parallel governance, whether by the MLAs or the government, has to stop, so that the panchayats are allowed to grow. Unless the fetters on the bodies are loosened, they will not be able to gallop on the development front.

Not until the villages’ bodies are allowed to take charge of their own fortunes, will the grassroots bodies begin to experience what real democracy is all about. For that to happen, the hold on these bodies has to be loosened.

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