01 May 2022  |   06:45am IST


Before the panchayat polls are held, the grassroots bodies must be assured of no political interference in their functioning

Alexandre Moniz Barbosa

Panchayat elections are due in June, the date is not yet known though tentatively the polls could be held on June 4. The delimitation of the panchayat wards, though ready, is yet to be notified and the reservation of wards is also yet to be notified. With these procedures still to be completed, the date of the polls hangs in balance. But, elections are due next month as the term of 186 village bodies expires in the middle of June, so in just over a month’s time, rural and urban Goa will be voting for new village bodies. It’s therefore not too early to talk about these elections. 

When Goa did vote for the panchayats five years ago, there had been hope that these grassroots local self government bodies would bring about a change in the lives of the people. But half a decade later, there is no such transformation visible. The villages have seen little improvement other than the expected infrastructure of roads built or hot-mixed. The reality of the panchayat bodies is that other than issuing certificates and approvals for constructions, their role is limited and plays too insignificant a role in improving the lives of the villagers. They are bodies that have been elected because the law so mandates, and turn highly political as they align with the local MLA or against the representative, which in the latter case has them on the defensive throughout the term. 

While panchayats require to be devolved more powers, there are certain issues affecting them that need to be addressed. For instance, though we are not clear yet about the election date, we do know that the polls will not be held on political lines. This is primarily so that the panchayat bodies are not political in nature, isolating them from politics, and so that candidates from the grassroots can emerge rather than have them foisted upon the electorate by parties. Yet, in reality, does this occur? Don’t parties, after the votes are counted, claim victory?

Though panchayat elections are not held on party lines, it is an open secret that the local MLAs who play a major role in the polls, who do not conceal their attempts to gain control of the panchayats. The first move is to set up candidates who are their supporters and will do their bidding. If they don’t succeed in that, then control is wrested by getting those elected to change allegiance and support the local MLA. With such machinations, the development of the grassroots bodies will never occur. What this results in is instability of the body with constant changes in the sarpanch and deputy.

There are two manners in which the panchayats work out the sarpanch nominee – the rotation system and the musical chairs. The rotation system is where the sarpanch post is held by every panch during the term for a certain period, before resigning and another one being elected. It does not bring continuity to the village body and there are also periods during which the panchayat body is led by an acting sarpanch until a new one is voted. Though panchas are not known to criticise this, they do not complain about it. The musical chairs system is where the elected sarpanch is voted out and a new one elected, depending entirely on the political affiliation. Such no-confidence motions have become common as a sarpanch can be voted out by a simple majority. Earlier a sarpanch could be voted out only by a two-third majority of the members. It has been alleged that this two thirds majority to vote out a sarpanch was amended to a simple majority purely for political reasons leading to sarpanchas being changed ever so often. Can this be stopped?

Going further, one of the main weapons from the Goa Panchayati Raj Act that the people have is the gram sabha, where the collective body of the village meets and discusses the issues affecting the village. As per the rules, the gram sabha has to be held on any Sunday of the months of January, April, July and October. Not many panchayats do hold these gram sabhas and they do get away with it, as the law is silent on what action should be taken if the gram sabha is not held. The only action on the part of the Block Development Officer is to bring it to the notice of the Director of Panchayat that the gram sabha has not been held. It may not go further than that and therefore there are panchayats that get away without holding regular gram sabhas, and avoid discussing issues of importance with the people. On the other hand, there are villages where the gram sabhas are very vibrant and perhaps this can be emulated by those panchayats that do not hold gram sabhas regularly.

Clearly, the State has the Goa Panchayati Raj Act only on paper, but there is a lot to be done if the grassroots bodies are to be empowered. It can happen only if there is political will among those who have got elected to the Assembly, and there are a fair number of MLAs who had been panchas and sarpanchas in the past. The stumbling block is that they are not willing to give more powers to the panchayats. That reasoning has to change and Goa has an entire month before the elections to begin the process to empower the panchayats. It is not sufficient to hold elections to merely meet the provisions of the law, the bodies once elected must also have sufficient powers to work. The corrective measures have to be introduced is the dream of a grassroots level governing body is to be realised.

This election, the effort must be to make the panchayats free of all political interference so that the grassroots bodies have only the concerns of the village in mind and work to bring a positive change in their jurisdictions. They know what is best for the village, so let them work for it. This has to be the stressed right now, so that those who emerge as candidates are the best.


Iddhar Udhar