Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2008 > April 19, 2008 > Panchayati Raj after 15 Years : Challenges Ahead

Mainstream, Vol. XLVI, No 18

Panchayati Raj after 15 Years : Challenges Ahead

Tuesday 22 April 2008, by B S Baviskar

Fifteen years have passed since the landmark 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act was approved in 1992 by the Indian Parliament. Devolution of 29 functions, reservation of 33 per cent seats for women, similar reservation for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in proportion to their population, statutory requirement to hold periodic elections under the supervision of State Election Commissions, transfer of funds to panchayat bodies according to the recommendations of the State Finance Commissions were some of the highlights of the constitutional mandate rightly hailed as a silent revolution. Political leaders called it as ‘the greatest experiment in democracy ever’.

Since then three elections have been held and 2.4 lakh elected panchayat bodies have been in place. Nearly 27 lakh members have been elected throughout the country, 37 per cent of them being women, while 19 per cent and 12 per cent represent Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes respectively. All these figures are truly impressive unmatched by any other country in the world. As Indians we are justified in feeling proud about these achievements. At the same time we should also have an objective view of the ground reality, take note of our inadequacies and failures, and be ready to face the challenges ahead.

The crux of the problem concerning the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) is really the transfer of functions, funds and functionaries without which the panchayats cannot function effectively as the third tier of democratic government. As per the information available in November 2006, only eight States and one Union Territory have transferred all the 29 functions or subjects to the PRIs. Most of these transfers remain on paper without the support of adequate funding and functionaries. Kerala is the only State which has devolved 40 per cent of its Plan outlay to panchayats. The record of setting up the much talked about District Planning Committees is equally disappointing. Only 13 States and four Union Territories have formed such committees and many of them remain on paper without functioning as an effective tool of local planning.

There has been a significant progress on the front of women’s empowerment, but there are many hurdles in the way of elected women including the age-old male domination leading to cases of proxy roles played by the male members of the family. The Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe candidates are duly elected but face stiff opposition and discrimination from the dominant castes to allow them to fully exercise their rights. The gram sabhas which were to function as a forum of genuine democratic participation, in most cases, do not function in the right spirit. They are often looked upon as a ritual to fulfil the formal requirement. The MLAs and MPs, along with the local bureaucracy, treat the PRIs as a threat to their authority and privilege and do everything in their power to scuttle them.

There is a hope for the PRIs to progress further if they meet these challenges with confidence and determination. They will have to work for genuine participation, fight against the opponents of the PRIs, and imbibe the spirit of democratic decentralisation.

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