The State Cabinet decided to bring in a new legislation to strengthen Panchayat Raj Institutions as well as conduct elections well before the expiry of the tenure. The Cabinet also decided to upgrade tribal hamlets, Gondu Gudems and Chenchu Palles into gram panchayats besides carving out additional panchayats on the basis of population- cum-geographical criteria. This might increase the number of gram panchayats by another 5,000 in addition to the existing 8,684.
In united Andhra Pradesh, elections to panchayats were held in July 2013 in Telangana. The term of the sarpanches commenced on August 2, 2013, and will come to an end on August 1, 2018. According to the Panchayat Raj Act, elections can be conducted three months prior to the end of the tenure.
Over the years, successive governments ignored the concept of development through local bodies giving little adherence to the concept that development of State and country is possible only when the local bodies function well. That was the reason why SK Dey who pioneered and steered community development in independent India envisioned it as a movement rather as a simple institution.
Former Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao in 1992 brought in the 73rd Constitutional Amendment paving the way for devolution of 29 subjects of funds, functions and functionaries to the panchayats. Unfortunately, all these have been reduced to mere laws on paper. Several State governments have not transferred the subjects and, in many instances, most of the sarpanches were not been able to discharge their duties. There are only a handful of villages, which lived up to the spirit of the 73rd amendment.
With little accountability, sarpanches were expected to be responsible for the development of road network, drainage facility, drinking water supply, sanitation, garbage removal in village among others. The sarpanches have shifted these responsibilities to MLAs concerned and demanded them to perform instead. Thereby, the local bodies and panchayat raj institutions which were supposed to play a pivotal role in a decentralised democratic set up have become replicas of irresponsibility. Recommendations of Balwant Rai Mehta, Ashok Mehta, GVK Rao, LM Singhvi and other committees have not been implemented in letter and spirit.
The basic advantages that were to accrue to villages through panchayat raj set-ups like equitable distribution of local resources, ensuring the locals participation in the government works, attending to people’s needs, creating local employment opportunities, implementing poverty eradication programs have been given a go by.
The non-participatory role of sarpanches have led to the failure of an important programme of government. What Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao envisaged through Gram Jyothi was different. People in villages were to come together to make the village clean, green and hygienic. Officials, elected representatives and local people drafted plans for village development. But the biggest lacuna was the inability of the sarpanches to take the initiative forward and desired results could not be achieved.
The situation has become so worse that Sarpanches with such a great responsibility were not even living in their villages. The Mandal Praja Parishath presidents who are to tour mandal to monitor the development activity seldom visited even the mandal headquarters. The ZPTC members who were to act as a bridge between the Zilla Parishath and Mandal have also forsaken their responsibilities. And there is no check on these tendencies. In this background, the Chief Minister has initiatiated the move to bring in changes to the existing Panchayat Raj Act. Towards this, the Government is planning to consult experts and draft the Act.
The Act, must provide a remedial measure for people if their sarpanch is a non-performer and make “Perform or Perish” as the guiding principle for him / her. The entire responsibility and a major portion of it should rest with the sarpanch and the rest on the other elected ward members. The sarpanch who fails to perform should be declared ineligible. The sarpanch must have at least one meeting per week in the Dalit Bastis, Rajak Wada and other such areas to interact with people and solve their problems. Provisions making the sarpanch should have a permanent residence in the village should be incorporated in the Act. His responsibilities should include solid waste management, identifying places for cremation and burial, ensuring cleanliness in the educational instructions, developing nurseries, protecting the trees, cleaning water tanks and ensuring timely payment of taxes.
If the current initiative is implemented in the right spirit, Telangana State will become a role model for others. Hopefully, the proposed Act would make the contestants for sarpanch posts realise that they are competing for a post which has a responsibility clause: ‘Perform or Perish’.