After making them organise into associations and resorting to protests, the government overnight turned proactive. As the administration is tasked to ensure all transfers to Panchayats within a fortnight, the government is pumping more than Rs 1000 crore into the newly elected tier this year, a KASHMIR LIFE report.
Since 2011 summer when 79 percent of the adult voter population of the state elected a new tier of representatives, the government remained busy hawking the achievement. In the din, it failed to empower them to the extent that they came out in protests. But now things are changing, very fast.
Last week, chief minister Omar Abdullah presided over a high-level meeting to set a fortnight’s deadline for his administration to implement the orders related to the transfer of powers to the Panchayat Raj Institution (PRI). On September 22, 2011, the cabinet had ordered that 14 departments change specified powers to the PRIs (village councils). But it remained unimplemented for all these months.
Now, the additional deputy commissioner rank officers in the districts, earlier posted to monitor developmental activities, will monitor the transfer of powers and report to their high-ups in the civil secretariat. The powers to be transferred to the PRIs have already been identified by a high power committee and it involves transferring the finances, the functions and the functionaries (being referred as 3Fs in the state bureaucracy). Besides, all the 14 departments will put in place a monitoring mechanism to implement transfer of powers. Now the individuals associated with the PRIs will be trained quite fast and even NGOs will be involved.
PRIs are gradually emerging as a major set up within the system. J&K has 4128 PRIs across 2 districts and they are manned by 4130 Sarpanchs (village heads) and 29719 Panchs (village councilors). They will have one Panchayat secretary – either a village level worker (VLW) or a multi-purpose worker (MPW). Officials in the rural development ministry said since the PRIs are reviving after 34 years, the VLWs appointed last time have already retired. “Right now we have around 2800 VLWs and MPWs available and the process to appoint 1087 more has started,” an officer said. Besides, there will be another set of officers monitoring the functioning of the PRIs. Finance Ministry has already sanctioned 143 berths of programme officers to monitor and coordinate executing of various rural development schemes through PRIs.
There are around 1800 PRI which lack a physical address because the Panchayat Ghars which were set up earlier have collapsed. The government has already sanctioned Rs 20 lakh for constructing a new panchayat ghar and Rs 150 crore is with the respective bank accounts of the panchayats. Interesting part of it is that the respective panchayat is permitted to construct the building, manage the material and spend it directly. Till their buildings are ready, they are entitled to function from a rented building for which they can pay Rs 600 a month.
Besides, the government has already released Rs 25000 to every single panchayat for managing the basic office requirement like matting, and furniture. The untied grant of Rs 42 crore was released last month, Rural Development Minister Ali Mohammed Sagar revealed last week.
There are, however, two other issues confronting the government. One is the serious difference between the coalition partners – Congress and NC, over inducting 73rd and 74th constitutional amendment. “Our PRIs will have a better status as compared to their counterparts in other states across India,” Sagar said. “We have already incorporated certain changes that led to a separate election commission and a finance commission.”
Though Congress is keen to see twin constitutional amendments being incorporated in the state law, NC is unlikely to oblige it because that will make PRIs more powerful that the government can afford especially at the district level where all spending is managed through the respective DCs. The second is resistance from the lawmakers who believe they will be rendered “unimportant” as funds, functions and planning process at ground level will be taken over by a new lot of representatives, some of whom might be their successors in the long run. This was the main factor why the orders passed by cabinet last year were slow peddling in the implementation. But Sagar says this was purely administrative incapacity that had nothing to do with the political executive!
The government, however, is keen to compensate the PRIs for delay. For the current fiscal, the government in planning massive expenditure through PRIs. It is even considering paying them honorarium.
“There is already a budgetary provision of spending Rs 300 crore through PRI during the current fiscal,” Sagar said. “Then you have lot of centrally sponsored schemes which are mandated to be spent through them and that is huge amount.”
“Last year, we spent Rs 775 crore on MGNREGA alone and this year we have a set target of Rs 1500 crore,” Sagar said. “Of this amount, fifty per cent is to be spent through PRIs, thirty per cent through the block councils and the balance twenty per cent through the district development councils,” Sagar said they are planning to transfer Rs 40 lakh directly to every single panchayat in a few weeks.
Sagar revealed to Kashmir Life that the government has suggested the state planning department approve a monthly salary of Rs 3000 to the sarpanchs and Rs 2000 to the panchs. “We are waiting for the response,” Sagar said. “It would add another Rs 700 crore to the wage bill and the government is considering various options to manage these funds, which among other things includes sourcing it from the local taxes that the PRI are permitted to levy.” The only issue that eludes a response is that how the security will be managed in case the fugitives target them. So far there have been less than five attacks on them with little fatalities. After one recent attack, there have been some resignations as well.
“It will be war if anybody attacks 35000 people who are respected by the society and elected through a fair and transparent process, quipped an officer. “I do not think anybody will do that.” It might be impossible to offer security to every single elected member simply because of the huge number and their spread across the state but we are considering a good insurance policy, officials privy to the developments said.
However, the PRIs may not be able to function properly unless the next two tiers – the block development councils and the district development councils are constituted. This will be the main exercise that will offer the political clout of the institution, so far elected on so-called non-party basis. BDCs under the law are vital decision-making tier. Sagar asserted this would happen within a month, a statement opposition is not ready to believe. The issue will re-emerge within days as the vacant berths for the PRIs in the state legislative council are to be filled. Wait and watch the next route that gross-rooted democracy takes in J&K.