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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 19, New Delhi, April 24, 2021

The 73rd Constitutional Amendment in Jammu and Kashmir and Experiences of Functioning of ’Panchayats’ From Other States | Farooq Ahmad Bakloo

Friday 23 April 2021

by Farooq Ahmad Bakloo*

Abstract

During the abrogation of article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, it was stated that this change will empower the Panchayati Raj in the erstwhile state. However, the question is what about the states that have non-special status as in article 370 since independence. What is the position of the Panchayati Raj institutions in these states? The studies across the country revealed these Panchayati Raj institutions are sunk in a lot of problems even in those states where the 73rd Constitutional amendment is already implemented. Most of these states have reduced the role of Panchayati Raj institutions to the agencies of centrally sponsored schemes.

Keywords: Panchayati Raj Institutions, Article 370, Jammu And Kashmir

The central government on August 5, 2019, revoked the special status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir and divided it into two Union territories which resulted in the central laws being made applicable to the erstwhile state. Before this act, the union government put the mainstream politicians behind bars and also forced stringent restrictions, the internet, and phone services were stopped and it deployed huge paramilitary forces in the erstwhile state. All political activities remain suspended in the entire erstwhile state. After some time, the Union territory administration declared the date for the second-tier election. As a result, the block development council elections were held even though there were curbs in place and many noted political leaders were in the Jails. The BJP and the independent candidates contested these elections.

And after a year in 2020, the Union territory administration also announced the district planning council elections in this context; the Union cabinet amended the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act, 1989, through an executive fiat. And electing 14 members each to 20 DDCs the existing design of legislative democracy in Jammu and Kashmir has been redesigned. The DDC has an equal number of elected members; regardless of how big or small a district is in terms of geography or demography. So, the Srinagar district, which has a population of over 12 lakh, has 14 members, as does Kishtwar, which has a population of less than 2.5 lakh. Doda covers nearly 9,000 square kilometers, while Ganderbal covers just 250 square kilometers. This has violated the provision of the 73rd constitutional amendment that says constituencies for the district level shall be made according to the ratio of population (Haseeb, Drabu, 2020). DDC is all that exists in the name of representative politics (or the panchayats or municipalities). Other than a somewhat restricted developmental role for the DDC, there does not appear to be much space for democratic politics through these councils (Rekha, Chowdhary 2020). The BJP started using the mandate to claim that (a) it has got approval for the changes that it brought in August 2019 (b) that the people have voted for development and rejected separatism and (c) that it is the victory of democracy.

The wide section of local people of the valley also believed that the main motive behind the BDC and DDCs elections was crisis management and to show the citizens living in the rest of the country and the international community that the people of the erstwhile state especially in the valley are happy with the unilateral and undemocratic step of Union government (Field, survey). Besides that, the Union government also calls the selected European delegation to visit the valley to make their point.

While talking with the elected chairpersons of the block development council, it was reported that there was a tussle between the government officials and the elected members. One of the BDC chairpersons said that even though the BDCs are elected in the erstwhile state, they still have not sufficient power. The block officials significantly sidelined them in the working business (Interview with BDC member Shabar Ahmad Magary on 15. February 2021). The same stories are told by the DDCs candidates even these candidates also protested in Jammu for their harmonium issues.

Working Of Panchayats And Experiences From Other States

Several people believe that the 73rd Constitutional Amendment makes the Panchayati Raj energetic, however, many states in the Indian Union did not provide the powers specified in the 73rd Constitutional Amendment. Article 243G clearly says that the state legislature may by law endow the Panchayats with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as institutions of self-governance. In this article 243G, the word MAY implies the establishment of Panchayati Raj Institutions depends on the political will and the political alignment at the state level (Brahmanandam, 2018). Despite the Constitutional Directive, there have been instances in some states where Panchayati Raj elections were postponed for decades to cite the example of Jharkhand where the Panchayati Raj elections were held after a gap of about 32 years. Similarly, in undivided Andhra Pradesh, the Panchayati Raj elections were delayed for a considerable time, and in Pondicherry union territory Panchayats elections are yet to be conducted furthermore the Gram Sabhas in some states are not functioning well (Parliamentary Committee on Estimates Report (2016-17). The Panchayati Raj system has not been able to enhance participation and empowerment and often the Gram Sabha meetings were only on papers (N.C. Saxena, 2009).

According to the Panchayati Devolution report (2014-15), the states like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, and Haryana are at the top in Gram Panchayat level rankings. Similarly, in block Panchayat level rankings, Kerala, Tamil Nadu Maharashtra, and Karnataka are good performers. While in-district Panchayat level Kerala, Tamil Nadu Maharashtra, and Gujarat are worthy performers. From the report, there are only six states, Kerala, Tamil- Nadu, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat, and Haryana of the Indian union that are showing admirable performance in the Gram Panchayat level, block Panchayat level, and the district Panchayat level. What about the other states of the country? These states have not realized the significance of the devolution of finance, functionaries, and functions and show the reluctance in their behavior in making these local institutions effective and robust. Prof. Alok 2011 says most of the states have delegated only traditional civic functions rather than developmental responsibilities further he says that developmental functions supposed to be performed by the Panchayati Raj institutions are still a long dream. Most State Governments have been hesitant to give essential things, insufficient measures to enable the Democratic Local Government to achieve its Potential’ (James Manor, 2011). The vital question that has dogged the establishment of genuinely independent Local Governance through effective devolution to the Panchayati Raj institutions is the unwillingness of the State Governments (Rahul Banerjee, 2013). Institutionally, the Panchayati Raj institutions remain weak and cannot plan or implement programmes effectively."

Though years have gone by since the Constitutional mandate was brought into effect, there has been limited progress except in very few states." (Economic Survey, 2012-13). Our administrative culture keeps the imperial distrust of Local Government and the institutions of Panchayati Raj in the country remain only the agencies of central sponsored schemes, which result in most of the Panchayats institutions of India, did not work on the 29 subjects that are assigned to them by the Constitution under 73rd Constitutional Amendment in 1991 (George Mathew 2013). In some states, decentralization of power has resulted in the devolution of corruption because of the lack of an active and adequate management system and weak social audit. The Local Government system is facing tremendous obstacles and mighty enemies. The magnitudes of these pessimistic forces are different in different states, and even they are apparent in the highly growing state like in Kerala (George, Mathew, 2017). Apart from this, these Panchayat institutions cannot generate their revenue upshot, or that they directly depend on the government for financial matters. Hence, this economic dependence of Panchayats on the government curtails them in working as units of self-government. The 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act (1992) is one of the great historic steps in the history of Panchayati Raj in India. However, much more needs to be done for realizing the ideal dream of Mahatma Gandhi (Rambir & Goshmi 2010). The Panchayats show little interest in the social sector programmes such as education and health. However, their essential interest remains on the infrastructure-oriented activities like the construction of roads, bridges (K.B.Saxena, 2011). The functioning of the Panchayat Raj Institutions during the last thirteen years has faced hostility from several forces, mainly the unholy alliances between politicians, bureaucrats, and contractors (George Mathew, 2009).

Overall, these Panchayati Raj Institutions are working mainly as the implementing agencies of Centre-sponsored schemes instead of units of self-Governance. The respective Panchayati Raj institutions implement the poverty alleviation programmes for the transformation of the rural society. Field studies acknowledge that during this implementation, the local representatives show nepotism in distributing and citing the work for the development in the village. No doubt the marginalized sections have got seats in the Local Governance, but they are not as effective because of the caste prejudices (Mahi, Pal, 2015). According to Prof. Ranbir Singh, we have Panchayats at various levels in different states, but there is no Raj as these Panchayati Raj Institutions are the agencies of the central and State Government for implementing their rural and social welfare programmes (Ranbir & Pal Preet 2011) These institutions are also facing infrastructure problems as was highlighted by the Parliamentary Committee on Estimates Report (2016-17) the committee found there are 50,000 Gram Panchayats without buildings in Uttar-Pradesh, Bihar, and Andhra Pradesh. Besides this, the committee found there is a dearth of human resources in all levels of Panchayats in the majority number of states in the country.

Conclusion

In a nutshell, the development of the local Panchayati Raj institutions is ultimately in the hands of state political leaders. If these state leaders are serious, then there is a hope that Panchayati might show positive results at the grassroots level. In Jammu and Kashmir, the erstwhile state has been degraded and disempowered against the aspirations of the local people, and yet it is premature to say about the future of Panchayati Raj in J&K it will depend on how the central government show gravitation in this matter but the experience of other states shows that these institutions are working mainly as the organs of centrally sponsored schemes rather than the units of self-government despite the 73rd Constitutional Amendment in place.

* (Author: Farooq Ahmad Bakloo is a Research Scholar in Political Science Department at S.S.J. Campus Almora Kumaun University, Nainital, Uttarakhand and has also worked in the Parliament of India New Delhi)

References:

  • Both BJP, Gupkar Alliance make their point in DDC polls. What’s lost is a framework of disempowerment https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/ddc-elections-jammu-kashmir-gupkar-bjp-7117370/ retrieved 10 March 2021.
  • Turnout, Dominance, Region, Religion: The Big Takeaways of the J&K DDC Polls Rekha Chowdhary Published in The Wire, December 29, 2020, https://thewire.in/politics/jammu-kashmir-districtdevelopment-council-elections
  • T. Brahmanandam (2018) Review of the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Issues and Challenges, Indian Journal of Public Administration 64 (1) 103-121.
  • Manor, James. (2011). Local Governance in (Eds) of the Oxford Companion to Politics in India by Niraja and Bhanu Metha, Oxford University Press.
  • Banerjee, Rahul. (2013). What Ails Panchayati Raj? Economic and Political Weekly (Vol. XLVII).
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