Are police really required for gram sabhas and can the police department afford to deputy half a dozen personnel for each of the gram sabhas, which are held mostly on a Sunday morning and continue till the afternoon?
Opinion on this is, however, divided. While Director of Panchayats G P Pilernekar and sarpanchas are of the view that police protection is required to control some groups, which create unrest and hijack the whole gram sabha over petty issues, villagers or members of gram sabhas, however, opine that cops are not required since there is no need to fight with the people whom they have elected as their representatives in the village.
“When we point out mistakes of the sarpanchas and their allegedly committed illegalities, they are unable to take it. Many a times, the panchayat secretaries and the panchayat members, including sarpanchas connive and that results in a chaos. We notice that the legal process is skipped by these grassroots-level body representatives to help their kin and supporters or for monetary gain,” said a Raia villager J B D Souza. Like D’Souza, the response was almost the same from many other villagers, who were against the presence of cops during gram sabhas. They said that sarpanchas must be flexible so as to maintain good relations with the people.
Sarpanch of the Rachol panchayat Joseph Vaz said that police are required during gram sabhas because many villagers unnecessarily create problems. A sarpanch from a coastal village said on the condition of anonymity that many a times, villagers form groups and try to target the sarpanch or panchayat members over petty issues. “We condemn it. This issue was raised before the BDO and the Director of Panchayats,” he said adding that when a sarpanch refuses to bow down to the pressure tactics, the groups create confusion at the gram sabha and hence there is a need for the police to be present at the scene like in the case of assembly sessions. Every panchayat holds a total of eight gram sabhas in a year.
According to a lady sarpanch, there are certain NGOs which ‘do business’ by approaching builders and threatening them by pointing out their mistakes. “When the deals fail, these same people come to the panchayat asking the sarpanch and the panchas to stop the builder’s work. This is bad. Police presence is required in such situations at gram sabhas. In fact, police presence at gram sabhas must be made mandatory by amending the Goa Panchayat RajAct,” she said. “In my opinion, there is an absolute need for police to be present at gram sabhas if we see the kind of gram sabhas that are held in Goa. I have received reports stating that instead of holding discussions for the welfare of the village, people try to settle scores with few of the elected representatives. I am, however, not giving a clean chit to the sarpanchas and panchas. All I want to say is that there has to be a good participation from both the sides for the good of the village,” said the Director of Panchayats.
When the Panchayat Minister Rajendra Arlekar was contacted during his Salcete visit recently, he said that he will study this issue and decide accordingly.
This reporter has observed that police presence is noticed at most of the gram sabhas held in Salcete taluka. While a few cops station themselves a few metres away from the gram sabha site, others are seen right outside the gram sabha venue. This, however, prompts some sarpanchas to use the cops to their ‘advantage.’ Sources even said that the police are ‘paid’ by some sarpanchas.
Superintendent of Police (SP) Shekhar Prabhudesai, however, refused to accept that police are ‘paid’ by sarpanchas. “I don’t know. I have to confirm if the sarpanchas pay officially for it,” he said.
“Police are deputed at each of the panchayats based on information of law and order problems. When we get reports that certain issues are to be discussed during a particular gram sabha, we depute police officials,” Prabhudesai said when asked if it is necessary to depute half a dozen cops for a gram sabha.