Panchayats starved

Panchayati Raj is neither a new concept nor exclusively an initiative of NC-Congress Coalition Government. The concept of Panchayats as the grassroots level organizations to tackle local problems without forcing the stakeholders to cool their heels endlessly at the door of law for getting justice had been floated in the State under the rule of Maharaja Hari Singh. But at that time the scope envisioned for the Panchayats was limited and so were the resources. Nevertheless, the primary objective at that time was not either strengthening democracy or reinforcing economy. It was only a helping hand to the litigating poor people of the rural areas who would not get justice that soon through a court of law. The Panchayat institution then was also built along democratic lines meaning that the Sarpanch and the Panchs were elected by the people. Their essential business was to resolve disputes among the people of halqa Panchayats and spare them the hazard of running after the courts of law.
However, our freedom fighters led by Gandhiji had wider and more inclusive vision of the functions that a Panchayat could perform. It was in line with that vision that the Union Government established the Ministry of Panchayati Raj. Thus proper shape was given to the entire concept under the scheme now known as Rajiv Gandhi Panchayat Sushaktikaran Abhiyan or RGPSA.  The basic aim of RGPSA is to strengthen the Panchayati Raj system and address critical gaps that constrain its success. Under this scheme, funds are provided to enhance capacities and effectiveness of Panchayats, strengthen the institutional structure for knowledge creation and capacity building of Panchayats and strengthen these institutions to function effectively as the basic forum of people’s participation, transparency and accountability within the Panchayat system.
Our State was also brought under the purview of RGPSA. But the irony is that despite the Union Ministry of Panchayati Raj having sanctioned and released funds to the J&K Government under various aspects of the scheme, the State Government has not been able to utilize even a fraction of the sanctioned money. We have year-wise detail of amount sanctioned under a particular head, amount released and amount utilized. Without going into lengthy figure work in this context, we find that the State Government has been able to utilize mere 89 lakh rupees out of Rs 2519 lakh sanctioned by Centre. Allocations were made by the Central Government in accordance with various heads that contribute to the aims and objectives of the Panchayati Raj. These, for example, are administration and technical assistance, capacity building and training, institutional structure, e-enablement of Panchayats and IES and Panchayat management programmes. In most of these areas, funds sanctioned and released by the Central Government have remained unutilized. The Union Ministry of Panchayati Raj is mystified by totally negative and non-responsive attitude of the State Government. The irony is that first the NC-Congress coalition gave unusual media hype to the proposed programme of raising village Panchayats under the loud claim of empowering basic democracies at grassroots level. Soon after Panchayati elections were held in the State in 2011, loud claims of empowering the Panchayats politically as well as financially were made by the coalition Government. But the reality on the ground is that the coalition Government has left no stone unturned to cripple and make the Panchayats dysfunctional by starving them. The Panchs and Sarpanchs repeatedly asked the Government to implement the scheme in full meaning to empower them politically as well as financially but their remonstration fell on deaf ears.
The intriguing question is why did the coalition Government of NC and Congress covertly go against the scheme which they lauded so profusely in the beginning? Were they giving an impression that they were serious to empower the people and through that lever challenge the separatists and secessionists? If they really meant to pursue that line of thinking, they should not have only expended the funds under various heads provided by the centre but should have asked for more funds to make their political position fully entrenched. They did not do that and conversely allowed the scheme to be scuttled and made complete failure. We can recall that the terrorists issued repeated warnings to people not to contest Panchayati elections as they were opposed to it. There are cases of militants gunning down some of the elected or prospective candidates as Panchs. The terrorists wanted to spread fear among the Panchs and they did succeed to some extent. Empowering Panchs could have in one way or the other reduced politicians’ influence and popularity with the Panchs and with people at large. Therefore they thought it in its interests not to give teeth to the elected members of Panchayat and let it go about with a begging bowl. If this is the case, then it is to cut at the very roots of democracy as the political arrangement in this country. People resent this attitude and NC-Congress coalition will have to bear the brunt of misleading the people.


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