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Gram Uday Se Bharat Uday: Will We Finally See the Rise of Panchayats?

It's been 23 years since the 73rd Constitutional Amendment mandated a democratically elected panchayat system in the country. The uday (rise) of panchayats is still awaited!

On April 24, Prime Minister Modi addressed a rally of panchayat representatives in Jamshedpur to commemorate Panchayat Diwas. On this occasion, several national recognition awards were given out by him to those panchayats and states which had performed well.

For the effective implementation of PESA (Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act 1997, the awards went to Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. Why did the tribal dominated states of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Odisha not make it? Why should an Act meant for the protection of rights of tribal populations be ineffective in these states, giving reasons for Maoist movements by tribal youth?

For the effective devolution of power and resources to Gram Panchayats, the awards went to Kerala and Karnataka. 23 years after the 73rd Constitutional Amendment, which mandated a democratically elected panchayat system in the country, why have only the same two states continued to do well in effective devolution? Why are the BJP-ruled states of Gujarat, Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh not exhorted to undertake this over the past years? It is precisely because of lack of effective devolution of powers and resources to panchayats in Jharkhand that most elected panchayat representatives of the state did not attend the function in Jamshedpur.

PM Modi made an impassioned appeal to panchayat leaders to focus their attention on the social development of villages and not just physical infrastructure. His appeal to elected women representatives to take a lead in improving health, water, sanitation and children’s nutrition in their panchayats was the first such call in many years. He mentioned that formal education is not a pre-requisite for exercising such leadership, an argument made by many social activists against the imposition of minimum educational qualifications in recent months for contesting panchayat elections in states like Haryana and Rajasthan.

This year, Panchayat Diwas was celebrated as the culmination of a nation-wide campaign by the central government Gram Uday se Bharat Uday, starting from Dr Ambedkar’s birthday on April 14. Dr Ambedkar, however, opposed the provision of constitutional status to local governments during the debates in the constituent assembly. It was because of his views that panchayats (and municipalities) did not become the democratically elected first tier of governance in India from 1950 itself. By the time such a constitutional status was bestowed on panchayats in 1992-93, governance in the country had become highly centralised and controlled by the bureaucracy.

The uday (rise) of panchayats is still awaited!

This blog post was written by Rajesh Tandon, President, PRIA

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