Strengthening capacity of PRIs

Dr. Banarsi Lal
Dr. Vikas Tandon
Panchayats are physically most proximate institutions of government for people living in rural areas. According to the Indian Constitution Panchayats are the institutions of local self-Government in rural India. Panchayati Raj was first started at Nagaur (Rajasthan) and Andhra Pradesh in 1959. In India three-tier Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI) system is mandatory for all states with the exception of the some states whose population is less than 2 million. These tiers consist of: Gram Panchayats at village or cluster of villages’ level, Block Panchayat at sub-district or block level and the District Panchayat at the district level. For smaller states such as Sikkim, only two tiers system, namely Village Panchayat and District Panchayats have been constituted. The Constitution also mandates that democratically elected Panchayats should prepare plans for economic and social development of rural areas.
They should also implement the schemes for local economic development and social justice as entrusted by the Central and State Governments. The Eleventh Schedule in the Constitution of India provided an indicative list of 29 subjects as possible work areas for Panchayati Raj Institutions. There is dire need to look into the number of functionaries in panchayats whose capacities should be enhanced. There is also need to analyse the current strategies and emerging issues for capability building of the staff in Panchayats. There is need to contemplate over the capacity building requirements of Elected Representatives (ERs) and staff of Panchayats so that they can undertake their mandated roles and responsibilities effectively. Their social and educational backgrounds should also be analysed properly.
In the structure of Panchayati Raj village Panchayat is the lowest unit. Panchayat members and officials live with the people in their respective villages or in the nearby villages. Being physically close to the local people, Panchayat members are expected to respond to various demands from the locals, as well as from other organizations. They follow well-defined norms and procedures to manage the affairs of institutions of Panchayati Raj. Thus, Panchayat functionaries should be well aware about the intricacies of management and finances of Panchayats, including the procedures to conduct Panchayat meetings, Gram Sabha meetings, meetings of standing committees etc. There is need to know the roles, responsibilities and rights of institutions of Panchayats. There is also essential to understand the fundamentals of Panchayati Raj, democracy, the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, the State Panchayati Raj Act, social justice, participatory planning, gender equality, e-governance etc. The Panchayati Raj situations vary from state to state depending on devolution of functions, funds and functionaries. The capacity needs for Elected Representatives and other stakeholders also vary in different states. There are various common issues such as communal harmony, human rights, climate changes, environmental issues and disasters. The roles of Panchayats in implementation of Centrally Sponsored Schemes are also increasing. Other departments/ministries like Education, Health, Agriculture, Water, Sanitation, Women and Child Development, Tribal Development etc. also implement programmes at Panchayat level. The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana-Grameen (PMAY-G), Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) and Swachh Bharat Mission are among the important Centrally sponsored schemes which involve Panchayats. Panchayats mainly spend the funds on water supply, sanitation, playgrounds, crematorium etc.
Panchayats have large number of staff members with different knowledge, backgrounds and interests. According to the enactment of 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act in 1993, about 2, 48,620 Village Panchayats, 6425 Block Panchayats and 601 District Panchayats are presently functional in India. The three-tier structures of Panchayats in all states across the nation elect a total of about 3 million representatives for 5-year electoral terms. Out of these, more than 1.2 million representatives are women. The elected representatives from Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Backward Castes are also close to a million. Most of these women and marginalized men, getting elected to Panchayats are having their first ever experiences of rural development. They are assigned various duties in social and institutional environments. These elected representatives are also responsible in the implementation of the Central and State schemes in the Panchayats. They require specific skills and technical knowledge to perform these roles.
Thus, they require specific trainings and capacity building programmes. The trainings and capacity building among the Panchayat Functionaries are quite challenging because of their diversity in knowledge, education and varying contextual situations. Beside the core functionaries, departmental functionaries, especially from departments devolved to Panchayats, need to understand the Panchayati Raj system thoroughly, as well as their roles in it. They need to be oriented, sensitized and trained.
In 2014 the Ministry of Panchayati Raj, Government of India prepared a National Capability Building Framework to provide guidelines to states for training contents, types of trainers and modes of training. It proposed the engagement of various training institutions of central and State Governments, accredited NGOs, academic institutions and mass media in undertaking various types of capacity needs of the Panchayati Raj system. Almost all states have their own SIRDs, which are financially well supported by the Ministry of Rural Development, Ministry of Panchayati Raj and respective State Governments. The National Institute of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj (NIRD&PR) in Hyderabad act as a national nodal institute for all SIRDs. Many Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) also perform institution based and extensive trainings for Panchayati Raj. Though institution-based training is critical, it also has limitations in reaching and catering to a very large number of stakeholders. A cascade mode of training enables decentralization of training to many locations, such as district, block and even village or cluster of villages’ level. Trainees also feel more comfortable with this approach, being close to their homes and environment for face to face interactions with the trainers who often speak in local dialect. For cascade modes of training, Master Trainers are prepared amongst the most knowledgeable and interested persons from different locations in intensive MTOT (Master Training of Trainers) programmes conducted by the State Institutes of Rural Development (SIRDs) and Extension Training Centres (ETCs). The Master Trainers in turn train large numbers of Trainers in institution-based intensive Training of Trainers (TOTs), which are conducted in various regions or districts. Exposure visits have been found to be one of the most effective ways of capacity building. The ERs and officials of panchayats visit at different places and learn from seeing and discussing. These exposure visits also promoted friendship between the officials and the Elected Representatives (ERs) which develops good working culture in Panchayat. Many SIRDs use distance learning methods which is based on satellite communications thro-ugh central studio relay centres and decentralized Satellite Interactive Terminals.
Many Academic Institutions, SIRDs and NGOs also run courses on Panchayati Raj programmes for benefits of students, officials of Panchayats and the elected representatives. Radio, Television, local dailies etc. are used for dissemination of popular knowledge about the Panchayati Raj Institutions. An easily understandable literature is also prepared in local languages and is distributed to disseminate the knowledge about of functioning of the Panchayati Raj Institutions.
Panchayati Raj system has seen many ups and downs. But people have recognized and accepted its importance for rural development. It has therefore become a trend to include the roles of Panchayats in the guidelines of almost all development schemes, which are being implemented in the rural areas. Capability building is not a standalone solution. Parallel initiatives are necessary in strengthening the Panchayati Raj Institutions. Panchayats should be appropriately empowered to play their constitutional roles. For that, appropriate powers and authorities must be devolved to them. Unless that happens, capacity building will remain one side affair.