Torpedoed functioning of District Development Councils

Mahesh Chander Sudan
We, the people of Jammu and Kashmir, have been exposed to an experimental functioning of District Development Councils in the year 2020 as an instrument of local self-government to enrich grass root level democracy bargained with people of JK for Reorganized territory of erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. This concept was introduced to allow for creation of new form of governance in JK by amending Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act, 1989 and 1996 Rules on 16 Dec 2020. This Act passed by Jammu and Kashmir Legislature was enacted to provide for the constitutions of Halqa Panchayat, Block Development Councils and the District Planning and Development Boards and matters concerned therewith and it underwent amendment by J&K Panchayati Raj Rules 1996. The Act has once again been amended by Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India on 16 Dec 2020 vide JKUT Reorganization (Adaptation of State laws) Fourth Order 2020 to provide for District Development Councils to which members would be elected. Subsequent to these Orders, first ever election was held on 28 Nov 2020 in newly created Union Territory to elect 280 DDC members across 20 districts of the UT. District Councils comprising of One Chairman, Vice Chairman and few members were formed as per rules provided under amended Panchayati Raj Act 2020. The Act provided DDCs to supervise, implement, sponsor and prepare for development works related to five main fields such as welfare, health, education, finance, public works and development intended to ensure the community development of the representing district.
On having completed one year tenure of district Councils, it is felt that Act has not been fully activated. The administration failed to constitute Finance Commission for the three tiers of the Panchayati Raj institutions and this derailed the process of implementation of the Act. There is inordinate delay in constituting planning committee that mainly activates the implementation of the act. Moreover, it is required to have standing committees to handle finance, development, public works, health and education and welfare as provided in the amended Act.
Composition of each standing committee is to be decided by the District Development Council as per the provisions. This indicates that the issue of forming these standing committees as per provisions is not being given serious approach at all levels apparently in connivance with the concerned government agencies. The elected members of the district councils are visibly suffering inadequacy of the information and procedural hiccups involved in smooth functioning of these councils. The hierarchical disconnect between the District Development Authorities and the District Development Councils needs to be monitored more closely to achieve seamless activation of the entire process for achieving desired community development of the district. There is massive flow of grants to DDCs, BDCs and Panchayats with the implementation of 73rd Amendment of the Constitution of India and it squarely demands that a Finance commission must be formed at the earliest for intended results and help checking optimum utilization of funds meant for three tiers of the Panchayati Raj Institutions without any diversion of the funds. It appears that the system has not moved a step ahead than electing members of the DDCs merely to complete procedural obligation leaving community development to suffer rather than gaining it for welfare of the poor people of the Union Territory. It thus conveys that the concept of DDCs in place of earlier District Planning and Development Boards has been served half-baked without aligning all requisite components of the process to drive desired results.
Historically speaking the Panchayati Raj has its origin in a system that was inaugurated by the then Prime Minister Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru on 02 Oct 1959 at Nagour in Rajasthan and the first election was held under the Rajasthan Panchayat Smities and Zila Parishad Act 1959 in Sep-Oct 1959. However, it was on 24 Apr 1993, the Constitutional Act of 1992, popularly known as 73rd amendment, came into force to grant constitutional status to Panchayati Raj Institutions. It is appreciated that Union Government introduced District Development Councils to enrich grass root level democracy in JKUT and provide three tier governance under Panchayati Raj Act as amended in 2020 but the system needs to be strengthen further for achieving community development in real sense. There is a visible gap in implementation of the system due to inadequate information at the ground level. DDC members are yet to hone their skills and mould administration to perform for tangible results in five earmarked areas of community development like education, health, welfare, public works and finance in their respective district. It is also expected that accountability and auditability of the system monitored through inbuilt process like any other public utility service would be ensured as it involves public fund raised through tax payers’ money. This would result in judicious and effective creation of public services in desired areas of community development on ground. It would also discourage critics of the system who are quite vocal in conveying that DDC members are busy in recovering the money spent on elections and hapless people are left to fend for themselves due to on ground gap in precept and practice.
As the concept has been put to practice for first time in JKUT, it is incumbent on the part of District administration to ensure mitigation of teething issues like formation of Finance Commission and other mandatory standing committees as provided in the said Act to activate optimum utilization of grants received vide 73rd Amendment of the Indian Constitution for District, Block and Panchyats otherwise it would prove an exaggerated administrative hurdle for community development that would ultimately discourage public participation in new form of governance. Jai Hind, Jai Bharat.
The author is Wg Cdr (Retd)