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GRAMA (VILLAGE) PANCHAYAT
The Panchayat is the Executive Committee of Gram Sabha. It is called by different names in different areas, e.g. it is named Panchayat in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Naidu, Maharashtra and Rajasthan, the Gram Panchayat (GP) in Punjab, Bihar, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and the Gaon Panchayat in Assam, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, etc. Out of three institutions established under the Act, the GP constitutes the most effective tier of PRI. Every Gram Panchayat is a body corporate with perpetual succession, capacity to acquire, hold, transfer the property and authority to enter into contracts. It functions as a unit of local self-government with participation of people. All the villages have not Panchayats as some of them are very small. That is why some villages which are very small are clubbed to make a Panchayat. There are 2,18,116 panchayats against 5.8 lakh villages.
There has been wide variation in the size of population in a Panchayat. The size depends upon a number of factors, i.e. density of population, topographical conditions, historical existence and the law governing at that time. Members of the Panchayat are called Panches and are elected by Gram Sabha by secret ballot in all the States except Assam, Jammu & Kashmir. For conducting elections, the entire Gram Sabha area is divided into territorial wards, each ward electing one Panch. Let us explain with the example of Haryana where a Gram Panchayat is constituted for a minimum of 500 persons. It has an average population of about 1750 and covers an average number of 1.29 villages. At present there are 5951 Panchayats aga~nst 7073 villages. The number of Panches varies from 5-9 which was changed to 5-13.
The Panchayati Raj Act of Punjab, Haryana and H.P. include provisions for reservation, in the following manner:
(i) At least 1/3 seats of SC/ST,
(ii) At least 1/3 seats for women (including SC/ST women), and
(iii) 1 seat for B.Cs. where population of B.c. in Gram Sabha is more than 20%.
FUNCTIONS OF GPs
The GP is an executive organ of the village government. Its main functions are managing the local affairs and promoting village development with the help of available local resources and with the government assistance, both financial and technical. Immediately after the commencement of the new term, members elect Adhyaksha/ Upadhyaksha from among themselves. In some cases, they are unanimously elected. They can be removed by a vote of no confidence. The Adhyaksha convenes the meetings of the Panchayat and presides over the meetings. In his absence the Upadhyaksha presides over the meetings of the Panchayat.
The Pmlchayat meets at least once in a month to transact the business. There is also provision for special meetings on the written request of at least one-half of the total members of the Panchayat. The GP Secretary and government officials having jurisdiction over the area are entitled to attend the meetings but they have no right to vote. The prescribed quorum for the meeting is one-half of the total members. The decisions at the meetings are taken by a majority vote of the members present. Section 58 of the Act prescribes the functions to be performed by the GP.
There is a need to make decentralization given by 73rd Amendment of the constitution of India more perfect and practical. To quote India Rural Development Report, 1999 (NIRD, Hyderabad), "Does the new panchayati raj system carry a new promise? Keeping in yiew the vast failures experienced by the country in the present system, the need to strengthen a local self-government system cannot be overemphasized. A panchayat system of the yesteryears was a 'fund dispensing' system, critically dependent on the state governments. There is need to provide greater autonomy to this third tier, which would permit it to design and implement rural development programmes. It should be able to bear the responsibility in case of non-performance and even raise taxes to meet part of the development expenses. The present constitutional amendment has made the third tier of governance statutory but its span of activities is' yet not adequately defined. The need of the hour is to strengthen the localized. elected base vis-a-vis the appointed authorities."
Government intervention should not only improve the incomes of the poor but their bargaining power vis-a-vis the money lenders, landlords and bureaucracy. Such empowering measures need to be distinguished from the populist measures which merely act as doles and do not enable the poor to stand on their own legs or fight for their rights. Empowerment is good in itself, leads to higher incomes, checks corruption and arbitrary use of power. In the past this was sought to be achieved through land reforms; unfortunately it appears to be a closed chapter now.
The ultimate goal should be to achieve rural prosperity through the participatory development process. This will be possible only if the individual and the community become the focal point of development. No such development is possible without bestowing the real decision-making power on the community. Such empowerment has to be an essential ingredient in all our planning and implementation of programs. This will call for large scale promotion of strong and viable 'self-help' groups, community-based interest groups, user groups and genuinely strengthening the civil society movement. Merely devolving more functions to the PRIs without involving the community at the grass-roots level will not yield the desired results. The strengthening of the PRIs should be looked upon only as a means to achieve the ultimate end of empowerment of the community. Hence, a strong 'organic linkage' between the formal structures of the government and PRIs on the one hand and the informal structures of NGOs and CBOs on the other, has to be vigorously pursued and promoted.
Finally, in the days of structural adjustment and free market reforms, even though not much can be expected in the form of additional grants from the exchequer, there is no alternative to finding such resources. However, what can still be expected is reduction of excessive expenditures on the bureaucracy, both administrative and political, non-productive budget expenditures and concealed suvsidies, particularly to the non-poor segments of the population. This would rele~e a significant amount of resources for development in social sectors.
A Panchayat consists of several Panches and a Sarpanch and in some states an Upsarpanch. There has been great difference over the manner of election of Sarpanch. In some states Sarpanch is elected by all the members of Gram Sabha while in some states Sarpanch is elected by Panches. However, majority of the experts, committees, commissions, etc. recommended 'direct' election. Some states are encouraging election by 'consensus' to avoid the influence of political parties. The Sadiq Ali Committee has argued that once elected by the whole village and knowing fully well that he has to continue in office for the full term, a 'Sarpanch' would devote his heart and soul to the work of the institution he heads.
The Ashok Mehta Committee opined, "Participation of political parties in Panchayati Raj elections would ensure clearer orientation towards development programmes and facilitate healthier linkages with higher level political process. Direct elections coupled with programme-based contests, would offer great scope to weaker sections for availing of the opportunities offered by the political system."
CONSTITUTION OF STANDING COMMITTEES
From amongst the elected members, every GP constitutes the following committees by election:
1. Production Committee to look after functions related to agriculture, animal husbandry, rural industries and poverty alleviation programmes.
2. Social Justice Committee for promotion of socio¬economic, educational and cultural interests of SC/ST, as well as Women and Children.
3. Amenities Committee to look after education, public health, public works, etc. In order to strengthen these committees, a provision is made to co-opt members of Farmers' Clubs, Yuvak- Yuvati Mandals, Co-operative Societies, etc.
Reservation in Case of Sarpanch
The fresh legislations by the states include the reservation of seats for the office of Sarpanch for SC/ST and women. The Punjab Panchayati Raj Act, 1994 provides that not less than one-third of the total number of offices of Sarpanch of Gram Panchayats in the district shall be reserved for Scheduled Casts; and not less than one-third of the offices of Sarpanch shall be reserved for women including SC women. Some States, like Bihar, U.P., Karnataka, M.P., Gujarat and Rajasthan have provided for the reservation for the office of chairperson for BCs, while in Punjab there is no reservation in the offices of Sarpanches for Backward Classes. The offices reserved are to be allotted by rotation to different panchayats.
Chandra B.P. Singh in his Article, "Institutionalizing Panchayat System in India" in IJPA, Oct.-Dec. 1998, rightly examined the quality of leadership required in Sarpanch. After having been elected, a Panch as well as a Sarpanch is required to take an oath affirming faith in the Constitution of India, faithfully and conscientiously discharging duties and doing good to people without fear or favour, affection or ill¬will. This can be put to practice through appropriate leadership training and empowerment, especially in case of weaker sections.
Powers and Functions of Sarpanch
a) Under the Punjab Panchayati Raj Act, 1994, the Sarpanch is:
b) Responsible for convening the meetings of the Gram Sabha and preside over its meetings;
c) Responsible for convening the meetings of the Gram Panchayat and preside over its meetings;
d) Responsible for the maintenance of the records of the Gram Panchayat;
e) Have the general responsibility for the financial and executive administration of the Gram Panchayat;
f) To exercise administrative supervision and control over the work of the staff of the Gram Panchayat and the officers and employees whose services may be placed at the disposal of the Gram Panchayat by any other authority;
g) Responsible for the transaction of business connected with this Act or for the purpose of making any order authorized thereby, exercise such powers, perform such functions and discharge such duties as may be exercised, performed or discharged by the Gram Panchayat, and
h) To exercise such other powers, perform such other duties as the Gram Panchayat may, by general or special resolution, direct or as the State Government may prescribe.
Under the fresh legislations, based on the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992, a uniform tenure of 5 years of Panchayati Raj institutions for the entire country has been fixed, unless dissolved earlier. Term of the office of Sarpanch and a Panch co-terminates with the term of Gram Panchayat.
Leadership, however, alone cannot sustain the quality or effectiveness of an institution, the leader will have to build a system by effecting systematic and behavioural changes through positive interventions. However, many chairpersons of panchayats, who succeed in managing their affairs, fail to negotiate with outside forces, particularly the centers of resources as it. usually requires some manipulation, deviation from standard procedures and lot of networking. Very strongly, rural leaders involved in panchayat activities take more personal interest in sharing resources with other officials not for development affairs but for widening their influence network. This explains why some mukhiyas are more powerful but have contributed nothing to their panchayat. The two spheres of institutional life, thus, place different and sometimes contradictory demands on leadership. Instances can be found where panchayat leaders have achieved spectacular results in adverse circumstances. If leaders with a sense of 'mission', team-building, participative decision-making orientation, and strong networking capabilities are put in charge, it is likely that institution¬building values will set in the panchayat system.
Secretary: Key Official of Panchayat
Every Gram Panchayat shall have a whole time Secretary who is the officer of the Government and draws his salary and allowances from the Zilla Panchayat Fund. He is, generally, responsible for the proper performance of the functions cast upon the Gram. Panchayat.
The Secretary shall perform all the duties imposed, exercise the powers conferred under the Act, Rules and Bye¬laws. It is the duty of the Secretary to prepare the budget and place before the Gram Panchayat. The Secretary has to ensure that the accounts of the receipts and expenditure of the Gram Panchayat are maintained properly. Powers and Duties of the Secretary are given below:
a) Maintenance of accounts, records and property of Gram Sabha and Gram Panchayat and to assist the Sarpanch in performance of his duties and functions.
b) Carrying out the ~esolutions of the Panchayats under the Sarpanch's supervision.
c) Performance of such other duties and functions as directed by the Panchayat or the BOO/PO under the Act. The BOO/PO calls meetings of Sachivs working in Panchayats within the Block for dealing with common problems w.ith regards to their work. As the Panchayat's activities and Block activities have been growing in number and scope, the load of Sachiv's work has been increasing. This has at times resulted in delays and lapses in the work assigned to him. According to experts, there is a need for rationalization of his duties.
Secretary must Learn the Art of Communication
Communication .can promote motivation through informed participation. According to Le Thaer, the Administration of any organization can be accomplished only through communication. Administration is totally dependent upon communication for its execution, and the success with which an administrator can communicate determines, in large part, the success with which he may administer his organization.
The accounts of the Gram Panchayat are audited by the Assistant Controller, Local Audit Circle of the district. The Secretary shall furnish all accounts, vouchers, statements and returns to the auditors.
1. Most of the Secretaries hold additional charge of more than one Gram Panchayat.
2. Often Clerks are posted as Secretary of Gram Panchayat. The Gram Panchayat secretaries were found to be less knowledgeable.
3. Funds are not released on time.
4. Administrative procedure is lengthy and cumbersome.
5. Co-operation from elected representatives was minimum.
6. Elected members are not aware of the financial implications and responsibilities, they are mostly illiterate. Hence, the secretary should be a qualified person and sincere enough to help the elected members.
FUNCTION: OBLIGATORY FUNCTIONS
The concept of obligatory functions has been introduced through the Karnataka Panchayat Raj (Third Amendment) Act, 1997 which inserted a new sub-section (i-A) of Section 58. These functions are obligatory in the sense that the Gram Panchayat has to compulsorily make reasonable provision to the extent, the fund at its disposal, provides fOF carrying out these activities. The obligatory functions may be broadly classified into three categories, namely:
(1) Statutory Duties
The Act has conferred statutory powers on the Gram Panchayat to levy taxes, rates and fees.
(2) Civic Amenities
Construction of latrines, maintenance of roads and drains, providing street lights, maintenance of water supply, regulation of dumping manure and garbage are civic functions of the Gram Panchayat.
(3) Promotional Activities
Assisting the departments and other agencies in educational and health programmes, promoting activities like supporting primary education, adult education, mass immunisation are the promotional activities. These activities will reduce problem of illiteracy, high rate of mortality, infectious diseases and other
CONSTITUTION OF GPs
Of the three institutions established under Act, the GP constitutes the most effective tier of PRI. In Dakshin Kannada district of Karnataka, elections as per new Act, 1993, were held on 29/12/93 for 354 GPs, although there are 615 inhabited villages in the district. The GPs were constituted with the population ranging from 25?? to 7000 each. Details of villages having maximum/minimum population in the D.K. District show that the population range is very high.
Based on the viability of the units, as per population criteria in the range of 500-2000 people, majority (60%) of the traditional village boundaries have been administratively recognised as the third tier of PRIs, leading to minimum disturbance in terms of its socio-political structure. Depending on the population size of the Gp, the number of elected members also varies. The majority of Panchayats (306 out of 354) had more than 10 members.
Ban on Political Parties
The elections of GP members are held on a non-party basis, such that there is one member elected for 400 rural population. Representation to various categories or sections of society, particularly among the weaker sections, i.e. SC, ST, OBC and women has been ensured. This indeed is the greatest achievement of the new Act. (Refer Table 4.2)
Panchayats have been the backbone of the Indian villages since the beginning of the recorded history. Gandhiji's dream of every village being a republic has been translated into reality with the introduction of three-tier Panchayati Raj system to enlist people's participation in rural reconstruction. 24 April 1993 is a landmark day in the history of Panchayati Raj in India as on this day the Constitution (73rd Amendment) Act, 1992 came into force to provide constitutional status to the Panchayati Raj Institutions.
The Gram Sabha is defined in Section 2(16) of the Panchayati Raj Act, 1992 as a body consisting of persons registered in the electoral roll relating to a village comprised within the area of Gram Panchayat.
In Panchayat Raj System the Gram Sabha occupies a very important place. The democratic decentralisation envisages decentralised planning. Many of the state functions have been transferred to the Panchayat Raj bodies for better and effective implementation. This involves micro-level planning at district, taluk and village level.
The Gram Sabha has a key role in bringing about transparency in the functioning of the Gram Panchayats, in ensuring equitable distribution of benefits, in creatio,n of community assets where these are needed and in bringing about social cohesion. It has been envisaged that Gram Sabhas shall plan and prioritise development works to be taken up in the village; approve annual plan for the Gram Panchayat; seek active participation of women, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes; ensure transparency in the working of Gram Panchayat; exercise the right to check the accounts of the Gram Panchayat, select benefic~aries under various schemes of the Central Government undertaken for rural development, and move towards full control over management of natural resources.
According to the report of the Working Group on Decentralization 2002, (Department of Rural Development and Panchayat Raj, Government of Karnataka),-Every PR law gives a prominent legal position to the institution of the Gram Sabha, but in practice, this is only a formal obeissance. Often, one is told, the utopian concept of people getting together to solve their problems does not work in the cold reality of local politics and power structures. We believe that if the concept does not work, it signifies an essential failure of democracy and renders weak the entire edifice of decentralized democratic governance through Panchayat Raj Institutions that is built on this principle. To neglect the Gram Sabha is a sub-optimal development strategy. A well functioning institution of Gram Sabha could work wonders as an instrument of people's empowerment, in more ways that we may well imagine. The working group is convinced that all efforts towards effective democratic decentralization would be almost futile without making the Gram Sabha truly representative of the people, their aspirations and their management skills.
Empowering Gram Sabhas will surely dilute the discretionary powers of the Gram Panchayat members and reassert the character of villages as social units; regardless of whom the individuals vote for.
STATUTORY S-:-ATUS OF THE GRAM SABHA
The Constitution 73rd Amendment has made specific provision for the establishment of Gram Sabha under Article 243G. It defines Gram Sabha as "a body consisting of persons registered in the electoral rolls relating to a village comprised within the areas of Panchayat at the village level". Accordingly, a Gram Sabha is established for a village or a group of villages and serves as an Assembly of villagers. Every registered voter in a village becomes a member of the Gram Sabha. Article 243A states that the Gram Sabha may exercise such powers and perform such functions at the village level as the LE;gislature of State may provide.
The size of the Gram Sabha differs from State to State. It generally covers minimum of 1000 and a maximum of 15,000 population in case it is co-terminus with Gram Panchayats. If Gram Sabha is constituted for every revenue village, it covers a population ranging between 500 and 4,500. It is mandatory for Gram Panchayat to conduct Gram Sabha once in six months and thereby twice in a year to review all developmental activities of the village. Every Gram Sabha meeting is presided over by the 'Pradhan' of respective Gram Panchayat. In the absence of Panchayat Pradhan, the Gram Sabha can be presided over by up-Pradhan or any member of the Panchayat.
Past experience of functioning of Gram Sabha in certain States in which it existed was, by and large, discouraging. Meetings were not held regularly or suggestions made by the Sabha members were ignored by the Gram Panchayat on one pretext or the other. Though there was legal provision in many states for penalising the Gram Panchayat chairperson for not convening meetings of the Sabha as prescribed, this did not prove effective. It therefore needs to be supplemented with other appropriate measures to ensure regular and suitable functioning of the Sabha now envisaged as an important part of the Panchayat system. The Gram Sabha has a variety of functions as per the' Act. They are:
1. To prepare and promote development schemes of the village;
2. To organize sanitation and drainage schemes of the village;
3. To mobilize voluntary labour and contribute in kind and cash for the community welfare programme; and
4. To assist the Panchayat in the implementation of developmental schemes pertaining to the village
MEETINGS OF GRAM SABHA
Different States have different methods of calling Gram Sabha meetings. A Gram Sabha is required to 'meet as many times in a year as provided in the Panchayati Raj Act of the respective States. Most of the States have provided for minimum two Meetings of Gram Sabha in a year, while some States have made provisions for 3-4 Meetings.
Presence of prescribed number of Members in the Gram Sabha forms the quorum. As many as ten States have fixed one-tenth of total members of the Gram Sabha as a quorum of Gram Sabha Meetings. Some States have fixed the quorum as one-fifths of total members of Gram Sabha. However, usually no quorum is necessary for a meeting adjourned for want of quorum.
The Secretary of the Gram Panchayat acts as Secretary of the Gram Sabha. He prepares the resolutions of the Gram Sabha and places these before the Gram Panchayat meeting for follow-up action..
It has been found that the Gram Sabhas are not generally held regularly because of many reasons such as lack of awareness among the people about the role and importance of the Gram Sabha, holding the Meeting with no prior notice or very short notices, lack of initiative by Pradhan/Sarpanch and Ward Members in organizing these Meetings, inter-personal! group rivalry in the village, location of Meeting and suitable timings. As a result, whenever the Meetings are held, they are adjourned due to lack of prescribed quorum. Attendance of women in these Meetings is usually nominal.
The Confernce of the State Ministers of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj held in Delhi on 13th May, 1998 resolved that the Gram Sabha should be convened on a single pre-determined day every quarter. In pursuance of this resolution, the Union Government advised the State Governments/Union Territory Administrations to ensure that Gram Sabhas should meet at least once in each quarter, preferably on 26th January-Republic Day, 1st May-Labour Day, 15th August-Independence Day and 2nd October-Gandhi Jayanti. However, no minimum quorum for Gram Sabha was fixed by the Union Government. The State Governments/Union Territory Administrations were advised to make legal provisions for the presence of women, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the quorum of Gram Sabha meetings.
ROLE OF WOMEN IN GRAM SABHA
Standing Committee in Urban and Rural Development No. 37, 2002 took up the issue of participation of women in the proceedings of Gram Sabha. The Committee asked the Ministry to assess the functioning of Gram Sabhas led by women Sarpanches. Further, it was asked whether any difference/ deficiency has been detected in the functioning of Gram Sabhas with women Sarpanches, the Government replied as below :
"There appears to be no substantive difference in the functioning of Gram Sabhas led by women Sarpanches in comparison to that of male Sarpanches. While a few cases have come to notice where women Sarpanches from weaker sections may not match with those headed by men, such cases are, however, disappearing consequent on women Sarpanches getting trained in matters relating to their functions. On the other hand, it has been experienced that in some cases in Bihar, attendance of women was more in the Gram Sabhas led by women Sarpanches." .
Further the Ministry also pointed out certain steps to activate the women Sarpanch led Gram Sabhas: ". . . To build their self-confidence, members of Panchayats, especially women Members are required to be sensitized about their role and responsibilities in developmental programmes and to encourage their participation in the decision-making process. They may be oriented with necessary skills related to conduct of meetings, budget preparation, financial management of Panchayat funds and its applications, purchase rules and inventory management, maintenance of accounts, social justice and gender issues, communication skills, leadership style and responsive administration, etc."
ROLE OF EXECUTIVE OFFICER IN THE GRAM SABHAS
As per the information received from the Ministry, the role of the Executive Officer in Gram Sabhas has been enumerated as below:
"The role of Executive Officer, i.e. Panchayat Secretary in the Gram Sabha is to record the proceedings, to place before the Gram Sabha, income and expenditure statement and status of works undertaken by the Gram Panchayat. He also helps the Presiding Officer with regard to the provisions of Acts, Rules and instructions issued by the Government. Besides, he also gives such information as required by the Gram Sabha. In some States, Executive Officers like Deputy District Development Officer, Taluka Development Officer and village level officers attend the Gram Sabha meetings to guide the Gram Sabhas regarding different schemes/ development work and also the infrastructure facilities, which are to be taken up in the village."
The Constitution 73rd Amendment gave statutory status to the living and organic community in the village. Since the Gram Sabha constitutes the entire electorate to whom all elected representatives are accountable, it is expected that the active functioning of Gram Sabha can enhance the quality of governance, community participation and control as well as impart a measure of transparency and accountability. The Gram Sabha is the repository of power over decision-making for rural development, over the management of natural resources and even over the local adjudication of justice, specially in Schedule V Areas.
One of the tools of good governance is Social Audit, which starts from the principle that in a democracy the decision-makers should account for the use of their powers and that their power should be used as far as possible with the consent and understanding of all concerned. Accordingly, all the State Panchayati Raj Acts have given powers to the Gram Sabhas to perform a 'watchdog' function, to supervise and monitor the function of Gram Panchayats and government functionaries and to examine annual statement of accounts and audit report. These powers indirectly empower Gram Sabhas to carry out Social Audit in addition to performing other functions. Besides, there are mandatory provisions for statutory special audit of rural development works by the Gram Sabha in each Panchayat. For instance, the 'completion certificate' (cc) for all village level development activities should be awarded by the Gram Sabha after conducting Social Audit based on which the next instalment of funds will be released to the Panchayats. It is mandatory 'for all rural development works, which are implemented at the village level out of the funds received from the Ministry of Rural Development.
IMPERATIVES OF SOCIAL AUDIT
There are certain imperatives which are necessary for making Social Audit an effective instrument for achieving overall objectives of the system. The Gram Sabha can become an effective instrument of Social Audit provided it has the right to:
a) seek clarifications from the President and elected Members of the Gram Panchayat about any activity, scheme, income and expenditure of the Gram Panchayat;
b) consider and scrutinize the existing schemes and all kinds of activities of Gram Panchayat; and
c) access the registers and documents relating to all development works undertaken by Gram Panchayat or by any other government department. These requirements can be met provided the Gram Panchayat and other implementing agencies have maintained certain element of transparency. bills, vouchers, accounts, etc. as open documents for scrutiny by any citizen and providing photocopies of them on payment of photocopy charges;
d) stipulating that all applications for various licenses, permits, certificates given by local self¬ government institutions are given a serial number and this serial order is never violated. Registers indicating date of application and date of clearance in each case should be available for reference by any applicant. If possible, copies should be displayed on the notice board; and
e) making public assessment of tax, grant of exemption, etc. to ensure that there are no complaints of undue preferential treatment to some people.
Gram Sabha is the most appropriate unit for Social Audit in the new democratic set-up. Members of the Gram Sabha, all sections of the representative bodies-Village Panchayat, Intermediate Panchayat and District Panchayat through their representatives could raise issues of social concern and public interest and demand explanation. Social audit is expected to result in:
(a) assisting disadvantaged groups;
(b) providing training to the community;
(c) encouraging internal democracy;
(d) developing human resources;
(e) encouraging community participation and realizing ownership; and
(f) promoting collective decision-making.
To sum up, Social Audit is a regular and effective institution to promote the culture of transparency and accountability through the medium of Gram Sabha. More initiatives are required towards greater empowerment of the Gram Sabha with a view to making them efficient and effective instruments for participatory democracy. For this,agency like 'Ombudsman' should be established for specifically looking into complaints of mal-administration and corruption. Further, the functionaries who are found violating the established norms in the implementation of development programmes should be punished. The violation can be detected by adopting effective Social Audit. It should be ensured that the poor people, who stand up to speak against their oppression, should be given due protection so that they do not become victims of oppressive forces.
FUNCTIONING OF GRAM SABHAS
This has to be accomplished in most of the States. The role of the Gram Sabha is, perhaps, the most important in ensuring the success of Panchayati Raj Institutions at the village level. The role of local people in conducting social audit and fixing responsibility on Panchayat functionaries will also be effectively ensured with the Gram Sabhas becoming active. It is, therefore, essential that the village community perceives meetings of the Gram Sabha as useful and the most important factor for this is the 'empowerment' of the Gram Sabha.
The cutting edge of Panchayat Raj System is the Gram Sabha located in every revenue village. Organization of Gram Sabhas in villages helps the Panchayat in selecting the beneficiaries. The reports of the Committee of Panchayat and Tribal Development Ministers of the Schedule V States and the Committee of Chief Ministers under the Chairmanship of the Prime Minister submitted in 1997 have made following 7 points package to strengthen the role of Gram Sabha:
1) Selection of development Gram Sabha.
2) Requirement of Technical sanction for works upto Rs. 10,000 should be waived.
3) Adequate manpower support to the Gram Panchayats would need to be provided.
4) Delegate total control over such manpower to Gram Panchayats.
5) Zilla Parishad Chairpersons be made the Chairpersons of DRDAs.
6) Provide reasonable opportunity of being heard to the PRIs before suspension/ dismiss,.
7) Gram Panchayat President to be made accountable only to Gram Sabha.
Another important factor for the success of the Panchayati Raj system is the need for 'transparency' in the functioning of these bodies. Panchayats being closer to the people, their right to information and accessibility to the panchayats must be 'ansured. This issue was discussed in the Chief Ministers' Conference' held on 2nd August, 1997 and the Committee of Chief Ministers as well. The Ministry had written to the States. The Hon'ble Prime Minister too, in his letter to the Chief Ministers, had urged that all relevant information on development schemes taken up by the Panchayat along with the budget allocated for them should be displayed prominently in the Panchayat Office. Relevant records should be made available for inspection by members of the public. Photocopies of documents such as muster rolls, vouchers, estimates, etc. can be made available to the public on payment of a nominal fee. 'Technical manuals' may be prepared for execution of various works at the Panchayat level so that transparency is ensured.
CAUSES OF FAILURE OF GRAM SABHAS
The causes of failure of Gram Sabha as an institution are numerous. It extends from the apathy of people to the procedural constraints and social reasons while conducting the Gram Sabha meeting. The state governments often do not give clear specification to the districts or its lower levels about the conduct of Gram Sabha meeting. Issues like time fixation, announcement of meeting place are left vague at Panchayat level. The state of Karnataka and Kerala, however, have taken a proactive role in strengthening this institution through statutory means, in order to realize the goals of rural development through democratic decentralization.
Many of the concerned officers expressed their reluctance to attend Gram Sabha meeting in the village, despite the fact that their attendance was insisted upon by the government. Though a long list of activities was assigned for discussion in Gram Sabha meeting, many people are not at all aware of activities, such as health and adult education programmes in the village. The reasons for gradual decline in Gram Sabha attendance are:
(1) Lack of People's Participation
The structural arrangement for people's participation in the decentralized planning process through Gram Sabha at grass-root level is a non-starter in most of the areas due to official indifference and vested interests. The Adhyakshas therefore have to be trained in leadership qualities and communication skills from the district to the village level to successfully organize Gram Sabha and achieve' the desired goals of Panchayat Raj.
(2) Appalling Poverty
Due to poor living conditions and perennial scarcity of essential amenities like water, roads, schools and even burial grounds, a villager has no time or energy left to attend to larger community issues.
(3) Attitude of Bureaucrats
The lower level bureaucracy underrates the intelligence and capability of the people to offer suggestions for improvement of local administration, developmental programmes and betterment of services. They do not extend the normal courtesies of giving patient hearing to the people when they approach them with their grievances. This frustrates the people and they lose interest in the government programmes. Therefore, unless attitudinal change of the officials and elected representatives takes place, mere decentralization of administration and devolution of authority to PRIs will not elicit the faith of people in the system.
(4) Inadequacy of People's Associations and Organisation
As individuals, people grumble and groan against mal¬administration, yet they do not organize themselves into well-knit groups to fight for their common interests. Hence, citizens' awareness associations need to be formed to safeguard the public interest. the rural poor, the women and the marginalized get an opportunity to effectively participate in making fecisions that affect their own well-being as this is an open forum. Thus, giving prime place to the Gram Sabha in the system of local governance, the Union Ministry of Rural Development has made it mandatory that in some centrally sponsored schemes, the Gram Sabha should have final authority.
(5) Absence of Political Will
The empowerment of Gram Sabha means dilution of powers and perks of the officials as well as non-officials alike. Hence, only an external force could act upon the vested interest to give up self-interest in the interest of public or nation as a whole.
Regularity of Meetings
The State Governments have been requested to ensure that the Gram Sabha Meetings are convened once in each quarter preferably on 26th January-Republic Day; 1st May¬Labour Day; 15th August-Independence Day and 2nd October-Gandhi Jayanti. The Government of India decided to observe the year 1999-2000 as the "Year of Gram Sabha" since it is potentially the most significant institution for participatory and decentralized democracy.
Evolving Support Systems
On 17th March, 1999, all Chief Ministers/ Administrators have been requested to initiate measures to energise the Gram Sabha in tune with seven point minimal package during the 'Year of Gram Sabha'. It was resolved that the following four-point strategy for strengthening of Gram Sabhas will be implemented by the States:
1) Awareness through print and electronic media, street plays and training to the elected Panchayat representatives.
2) Participation of the community in the preparation of need-based action plans, their execution and monitoring.
3) Transparency information on availability of by displaying all relevant a bill board regarding estimates, funds and expenditure on the
There is no doubt that the Gram Sabha has the potential capacity and capability to activate participatory process, it can serve useful purpose in promoting transparency and accountability at local level and if given an opportunity, it can prove to be a gateway for resonating direct democracy at the grass-roots level. It thus, goes without saying that a vibrant Gram Sabha can help in achieving the goals of sustainable rural development through decentralized governance. (Refer Chart 3.1)
In addition, it can lubricate the potential of the people for rural development. In order to accelerate the emergence of Gram Sabhas, the powers and functions of Gram Sabha should be spelt out in detail, articulating their role as planners, decision-makers and auditors.
Since the Government now stands as a major contributor to PRI funds, it seems appropriate to adopt both the language and methodology of monitoring and evaluation systems in the modern development context, rather than the outdated notions of inspection and supervision. In course of time, PRIs will, doubtless, attract other donor funds, which will be subjected to the same norms of accountability.
Dr. Shanmukha. A
Assistant Professor ,
P.G. Department of Research & Studies in Political Science
Kuvempu University, Jnanasahyadri, Shankaraghatta -577 451, INDIA,