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Down to Earth - - PANCHAYATI RAJ -

one of the min­istry’s flag­ship schemes— Back­ward Re­gions Grants Funds (brgf )— to the state, and dras­ti­cally re­duced the funds of the other, called the Ra­jiv Gandhi Pan­chayat Sashak­tikaran Ab­hiyan (rgpsa),to 60 crore from 1,006 crore al­lo­cated last year.

Both the schemes were de­signed to strengthen lo­cal gov­er­nance when the min­istry was con­ceived in 2004.While brgf is be­ing im­ple­mented in 272 back­ward dis­tricts of the coun­try to fund devel­op­ment pro­grammes through in­volve­ment of pan­chay­ati raj in­sti­tu­tions, rgpsa aims to im­prove and strengthen their ca­pac­ity.

Min­istry sources and an­a­lysts say the schemes would fail and the min­istry would be­come ir­rel­e­vant with­out ad­e­quate funds.

Since pan­chay­ati raj is a state sub­ject, it de­pends on the state how much power it wants to share with the lo­cal gov­ern­ment. So the min­istry ad­vo­cates, per­suades and in­cen­tivises states for de­vo­lu­tion of power to the third tier of gov­er­nance.“It is true that a lot of our work needs ex­per­tise and not money,” says S M Vi­jayanad, sec­re­tary, mopr. “With­out proper funds, it would be dif­fi­cult to con­vince states for strength­en­ing lo­cal gov­er­nance or in­cen­tivise them for good prac­tices,”Vi­jayanad ad­mits.

The dras­tic re­duc­tion in funds for rgpsa has par­tic­u­larly made the sit­u­a­tion prob­lem­atic, a se­nior mopr of­fi­cial told Down To Earth. A bud­get of 60 crore is mea­gre to strengthen 250,000 vil­lage pan­chay­ats across the coun­try, he adds.

The Cen­tre says its de­ci­sion, based on the rec­om­men­da­tions of the 14th Fi­nance Com­mis­sion, will flush states with huge funds for em­pow­er­ing pan­chay­ati raj in­sti­tu­tions.The Com­mis­sion had sug­gested in­creas­ing states’ share in the net pro­ceeds of the Union tax to 42 per cent from the cur­rent 32 per cent, and make the funds avail­able to lo­cal bod­ies, both ru­ral and ur­ban.

The in­cre­ment of 10 per cent will trans­late into 2.87 lakh crore over the next five years, of which 2 lakh crore will be di­rectly trans­ferred to vil­lage pan­chay­ats; the re­main­ing 87,000 crore will go to ur­ban lo­cal bod­ies. The Fi­nance Com­mis­sions had never rec­om­mended such

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14th a large amount of money to lo­cal bod­ies and had al­ways sug­gested dis­burs­ing funds as ad-hoc grants (see ‘De­vo­lu­tion of fund’).

The de­vo­lu­tion of such huge funds has in­creased the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the min­istry. “We will now have to closely mon­i­tor the use of fund es­pe­cially in states like Bi­har and Ut­tar Pradesh where the pan­chay­ati sys­tem is weak. We need to in­ter­act with states to cre­ate pan­chayat level plan­ning and would also push for ded­i­cated pan­chayat cadre that will be our vi­sion,”Vijayanand adds.

The de­vo­lu­tion of funds,how­ever,raises a per­ti­nent ques­tion: are states will­ing to use the funds for em­pow­er­ing lo­cal gov­er­nance?

Are states pre­pared?

Mani Shankar Aiyer, the coun­try’s first pan­chay­ati raj min­is­ter, ap­pre­ci­ates de­vo­lu­tion of funds for pan­chay­ats but says the gov­ern­ment has mis­in­ter­preted the 14th Fi­nance Com­mis­sion’s rec­om­men­da­tions and as­sumed that ev­ery­thing will fall in line once the fund is di­rectly de­volved to states. The Com­mis­sion has only dealt with the fi­nan­cial as­pects and has not taken gov­er­nance into ac­count while rec­om­mend­ing the de­vo­lu­tion of funds. “The de­ci­sion may be in con­form­ity with the Con­sti­tu­tion as pan­chay­ati raj is a state sub­ject. But I am not hope­ful as states are not en­thu­si­as­tic about shar­ing power with pan­chay­ats.The gov­ern­ment is los­ing out on a ma­jor op­por­tu­nity to take pan­chay­ati raj for­ward,”he adds.

There are oth­ers who hail the de­ci­sion. “I don’t know whether states are ready for such de­vo­lu­tion of funds or not. But pan­chay­ati raj is a state sub­ject and the battle should be shifted to their door steps,” says T R Raghu­nan­dan,for­mer joint sec­re­tary of the Union Min­istry of Ru­ral Devel­op­ment. Raghu­nan­dan is now work­ing to­wards strength­en­ing lo­cal gov­er­nance in Kar­nataka. “In the past 10 years, the cen­tralised ap­proach to strengthen pan­chay­ati raj in­sti­tu­tions have hardly helped. Non-prof­its that work to­wards sen­si­tis­ing the Cen­tre should work with the state gov­ern­ments for bet­ter de­vo­lu­tion of power,” Raghu­nan­dan sug­gests.

V S Vyas,for­mer deputy chair­per­son of Ra­jasthan Plan­ning Board, agrees with Raghu­nan­dan and points out an­other prob­lem with the cen­tralised ap­proach.The Cen­tre usu­ally fol­lows “one size fits all” pol­icy while pre­par­ing schemes for pan­chayat bod­ies, with­out tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion lo­cal needs. “The Cen­tre’s de­ci­sion to de­volve the power maybe risky but is the need of the hour.We have to make the states ready to em­power their lo­cal gov­er­nance bod­ies,”says Vyas.

Raghu­nan­dan says the de­ci­sion of de­vo­lu­tion should be treated as a move to re­alise de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion, which will help in the long run.“Af­ter all, de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion is a pol­icy not scheme. So treat this idea as pol­icy and shift ac­tion to states.One can­not sit at the Cen­tre and im­ple­ment schemes. The min­istry should trans­form it­self into en­light­ened pol­icy mak­ers and be­come ar­biter at the state level,” sug­gests Ra­gu­nan­dan.

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