Editorial Notes

[Editorial Notes] Panchayats as instruments of social and economic progress

The Panchayati Raj Institutions play a major role in the socio and economic development of people at the grassroot level. The system should be further strengthened as a model of self governance for active participation by the rural community.
By IASToppers
April 30, 2020

Contents:

  • Introduction
  • Gram Panchayats
  • Local governance
  • Grants
  • Village development
  • Challenges
  • e-Gram Swaraj
  • Conclusion

Panchayats as instruments of social and economic progress

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Introduction:

The National Panchayati Raj Day is celebrated every year on April 24. The Panchayati Raj Institutions play a major role in the socio and economic development of people at the grassroot level. Mahatma Gandhi advocated for ‘Gram Swaraj’ and argued for the handing over certain powers to the villagers to display the spirit of participatory democracy.

Gram Panchayats:

  • The Constitutional (73rd amendment) Act 1992 came into force on 24 April 1993.
  • It was a pioneering step in decentralising political power in India and provided constitutional status to the Panchayati Raj institutions.
  • As a result, Gram Panchayats (GPs) get constituted after conducting elections more or less on a regular basis in the States.
  • The 2.5 lakh Gram Panchayats in the country have been entrusted to provide basic services in the villages and plan for local economic development.
  • The decision making process of the panchayats is such that the Gram Sabha (GS) discusses the development work plans of the GP called Gram Panchayat Development Plan (GPDP) and the elected representatives execute the plans.

Local governance:

  • Since all eligible voters of the village can participate in the Gram Sabha, it is a channel to include the less privileged section of society and ensure their participation in the village level governance wherein they can advocate their developmental aspirations.
  • This bottom-up approach is meant to reflect the felt need of various stakeholders. GS is vital as a decision-making body at the bottom.
  • This process reflects practice of direct democracy at the village level while the governance system at the state and union level is indirect or representative.
  • Already visible signs of change can be seen in most of the villages in terms of village roads, water supply, sanitation, storm water drainage, and street-lighting.
  • While connectivity of one village with another is beyond the jurisdiction of a GP, construction and maintenance of roads within the village is the responsibility of the GP.
  • The composition of elected representatives like Sarpanch and ward members of the GPs involves various social groups.
  • The government has provision for capacity building of the representatives to facilitate the effective functioning of the GPs.
  • Training usually takes place at the State Rural Development Institutes or district or block level local body offices on issues related to their roles and responsibilities, budget preparation, project execution, and accounting.

Grants:

  • Despite the constitutional empowerment, the local bodies faced problems of inadequate finance to carry out various activities assigned to them.
  • There was a general demand from several quarters to make PRIs financially stronger to meet their needs.
  • Transfers made through the State Finance Commissions were meagre in most States.
  • The Fourteenth Finance Commission (FFC) took note of it and substantially increased the grants to the local bodies for the period year 2015-16 to 2019-20.
  • The grants provided are intended to be used to support and strengthen the delivery of important basic public services.
  • The 15th Finance Commission has further increased the grants in its interim report for year 2020-21 for rural and urban bodies.

Village development:

  • There are many areas that need further attention for enhancing efficiency and effective delivery of services.
  • Overall, close to 80% of the FFC grants from year 2015-16 to 2018-19 had been utilized in the selected GPs.
  • Road construction and drinking water were top two priority activities.
  • Most of the GPs are found reluctant to raise their own source of revenue (OSR) in the selected sample.
  • However, some of the GPs are able to generate OSR in the form of tax or non-tax revenue by renting shops, house tax and clean water fee.
  • The unwillingness by local bodies to collect potential tax revenue in most of the GPs needs a change in the mind set and some amount of persuasion.

Challenges:

  1. Lack of Convergence:
  2. While convergence of various development programmes has been a priority for the government, it is mostly conspicuous by its absence in the programmes undertaken by the GPs.
  3. While roads in two different patches are being constructed utilising two different sources of funding (e.g. FFC and MPLAD), it is difficult to find one large activity with funding from multiple sources.
  4. Different guidelines by different departments were cited as a major constraint for lack of convergence of activities.
  5. Separate accountability to different departments is also a problem and provision of accountability to a consortium of funding agencies can overcome this.
  6. The line departments cannot by themselves carry out all village level development programmes in the absence of local level initiative and participation.
  7. The local people must have a sense of belonging in the schemes.
  8. Involvement of GPs in a coordinating role in various projects of line departments would be a way forward for convergence.
  • Lack of Infrastructure:
  • Some GPs do not have their own building and they share space with schools, anganwadi centre and other places.
  • There are also GPs which have their own building but without basic facilities like toilets, drinking water, and electricity connection.
  • Several GPs are having internet connections through broadband and some under e-mitra scheme, but they are not functioning in many cases.
  • For data entry purposes, panchayat officials need to visit Block Development offices.
  • Solid waste management and waste disposal, as well as overall cleanliness, still need considerable improvements.
  • It is heartening that there is greater thrust on providing an effective and sustainable solid and liquid waste management system in the recently launched Swacch Bharat (Grameen) Phase-II.

e-Gram Swaraj:

  • e-Gram Swaraj is an integrated portal for planning, monitoring, accounting and auditing functions of the Panchayat.
  • It includes a user friendly mobile app that readily provides all information on income and expenditure of GPs.
  • It is suggested that the Ministry of Panchayati Raj could design a system of comparative ranking of different GPs in a State as this could help in building a competitive ecosystem at the grassroot level.
  • GPs are third tier in the democratic participation process by the citizens.
  • The system should be strengthened for active participation by the rural community in the Gram Sabha so that people can directly take part in the decision making process and governance of the village.

Conclusion:

GPs are increasingly going beyond their traditional civic functions and taking up more and more developmental responsibilities. Their increased role and stature is a clear reminder of grass root democracy in India. As we celebrate the National Gram Panchayat Day, one must remember that the success of democracy at the top requires that it is built from the bottom.

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