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Powerbroker Congress continues to crush panchayati raj


...The system has been captured by the powerbrokers. It is being operated in the interests of the powerbrokers. It is being protected by the powerbrokers... The only way of breaking their stranglehold is for democracy to fill the vacuum which powerbrokers have occupied...To the people of India, let us ensure maximum democracy and maximum devolution. Let there be an end to the powerbrokers. Let us give power to the people.

This was a speech former prime minister late Rajiv Gandhi made while introducing the Constitution Amendment Bill on Panchayati Raj in Lok Sabha on May 15, 1989. The bill went through the Parliamentary procedures, debates and consultations, to come into force since April 20, 1993, with 73rd amendment to the Constitution of India.

...Thus, you would be glad to know that democracy and devolution of powers to panchayats have now become part of the most sacred document of this nation : The Constitution of India...This act will ensure that real power will go back to you only and you will be expected to play a much greater role in the development of your area and people..., said former prime minister P V Narasimha Rao in a letter sent to all the sarpanchas and panchas on May 5, 1993.

But the Goa government, belonging to the same Congress party, seems to be in a "killing mood", while implementing the historic panchayati raj act in this smallest state. The panchayat elections have been declared here, to be held on January 12, first time after the new act came into force.

Goa is perhaps the only smaller state in the country which did not have the tier system like Village Panchayats (VPs) and Zilla Panchayats (ZPs). But the irony is that even after holding elections on January 12, the two-tier system the tourist state has adopted of VPs and ZPs will not come into existence. Moreover, the state government has issued an ordinance now, inserting new sections to the Goa Panchayati Raj Act, stripping of some powers given to the self-governments by the Constitution.

The All Goa Panchayat Parishad (AGPP) is obviously enraged over it, describing it 'against the basic spirit of decentralisation of powers envisaged in the Constitution'. Besides public protests, it has also challenged the ordinance in the high court, while the government has announced only VP polls, and not to constitute ZPs - a new phenomena in the state. The state assembly meeting here on December 16 is expected to ratify the ordinance.

Probably with a fear that the Legislative Assembly and the state government will have no powers left to rule over the people in a tiny state of Goa, smaller than a district of the big states, the local government promulgated an ordinance notifying the constitutional amendment after one year - April 20, 1994 - the deadline set by the Parliament.

While passing the actual draft of the new state act for Panchayati Raj the following month, the 40-member Assembly unanimously discarded the system of direct elections of sarpanch, keeping their options open for politicking and meddling into the village politics. The governor assented it in July. But the Congress government waited till August 20, Rajiv Gandhi's birth anniversary, to partially notify it. The remaining sections of the act were notified on October 26.

Meanwhile, Directorate of Panchayats was constituted as per the constitutional requirement, but was not given any statutory powers till September. The state also did not constitute the State Election Commission (SEC), another constitutional requirement, due to which around 56 panchayats out of 183 were functioning without a sarpanch or a deputy sarpanch, the posts which had fallen vacant for over a year. Similarly, around 19 vacancies for panchas were also not filled since '93.

The SEC was constituted in January '95, on the eve of municipal polls, with the panchayat secretary Geeta Sagar as its chairperson and not the absolute independent authority as per the constitutional requirement. Following her transfer back to Delhi, the "independent" post was filled with Law Secretary B S Subanna since October last year.

"This is a mockery of Rajiv Gandhi's dream", says Premanand Mahambre, the AGPP secretary and an active Congressman. Though the act clearly states that the SEC has to prepare the electoral rolls and delimitation and reservation of wards, the government has managed to do it through the Director of Panchayats (DP).

Mahambre's own panchayat has been reserved for a lady sarpanch now while ward numbers have also been changed and reserved for women, allegedly to settle scores with 'their' political opponents. "It's ultravirus of constitution", alleges Mahambre, the sarpanch for last 15 years.

The state Finance Commission (FC) has also been converted into a "political joke" by the Congress rulers, while the opposition is also found hardly making any noise over it, for the best reasons known to them. In order to meet another constitutional requirement, the FC was constituted in April '94, with Ms Sagar as its chairperson and Speaker Tomazinho Cardozo (the then sarpanch) and RDA director H Y Karapurkar as its members.

The most important body, which is supposed to monitor financial matters like grant-in-aid, division of levying taxes and duties by the state government and the self-government bodies and having reviewing powers, never functioned in reality. Today it is a defunct and non-existent body with Ms Sagar getting transferred to Delhi, Cardozo becoming the speaker and Karapurkar appointed as the chairman of the Goa Public Service Commission.

The elected municipal councils in the state are also functioning in the state with direct control of the state government on its financial matters, in contravention of the constitutional amendment which had brought the new nagarpalika act into force much before municipal polls were held.

Meanwhile, competing with the Konkan Railway Corporation, the state panchayat minister Subhash Shirodkar went on announcing new dates of panchayat polls, while even the one-year extension granted to the elected councils expired in October. Perhaps this is the reason why villagers are still sceptical about January 12, the new date of polls announced with the cabinet approval.

Responding to the repeated demands of the AGPP, the minister had also assured on the floor of the House that the government would hold simultaneous elections of the VPs and the ZPs. In fact, taking excuse of creating altogether new infrastructure for the ZPs consisting of constitution of constituencies and new buildings for the ZPs to function, the government had delayed panchayat polls till date.

"We don't want to delay the process any more. We will definitely hold ZP elections, but later. It's not proper to wait till the infrastructure is created", says chief minister Pratapsing Rane, justifying his action of going ahead only with VP polls in January. But the Congress party is still silent on when it would hold ZP polls.

Neither the government nor the sarpanchas are actually in favour of two district-level ZPs for a small state like Goa. On the contrary, even the AGPP agrees that elected taluka panchayats, the optional third tier, would have been more appropriate here for smooth and efficient functioning of the Panchayati Raj system. But the three Goan MPs were not alert as of the north-eastern states to get the constitutional compulsion exempted in case of Goa.

As the state Assembly would remain merely a planning body after ZPs are constituted, Mahambre fears that the government may convert it into a body like erstwhile taluka-level Block Advisory Committees, where sarpanchas would elect the ZP adhyakash. "This government is capable of not constituting the ZPs at all", states the staunch Congressman.

As though to strengthen this fear, the Congress government has issued an ordinance on November 11, inserting several sections in the original act. It basically redefines the power structure of the panchayati raj and transfers the powers from elected bodies to the government officials, right from the DP to the level of the secretary in the panchayat office.

Most of the powers of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the ZP have been now bestowed upon the director and deputy director of panchayats, the Block Development Officer (BDO) at taluka level and the panchayat secretary at village level. Even supervisory powers of the ZP have been now given to the director, while the ZP has been converted into a name-sake body.

The ordinance also gives powers to the BDO, the post nullified in the original act, to take action against the sarpanchas, without the ZPs interfering into it. As though this is not enough, the government has been given powers to take decision regarding several developmental works, which the constitution bifurcates and brings under panchayat control, without even consulting the VPs or ZPs.

"The ZPs and VPs are so much interwoven and interdependent that it can't function without each other. But the Congress government has made mockery of the whole concept of panchayati raj system to meet its selfish end", alleges Mahambre.

"It's totally false. In fact panchayats will not have more powers than what it had. If they feel that we have violated provisions of the constitution, let them challenge it in the court"', says the chief minister. The ball is now actually in the court of law. is now on Telegram & also Youtube. Kindly subscribe for free & remain updated.

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