The unwavering will of the Telangana government is seen in the formulation of the new Panchayati Raj Act. The Act aims at converting every village into a progressive, prosperous and ideal place. By clearly enunciating the roles and responsibilities of elected representatives and officials, it shows the comprehensive understanding of the government. The Act aims to ensure people’s participation to bring in the desired qualitative change in village administration.
The State government curtailed its own powers in the Act, with the sole objective of village advancement and development. For instance, the power it had earlier in staying the suspension orders of a Sarpanch is now done away with and the Collector is made all-powerful.
Allocation of funds by the State government, which was at the will and pleasure of it, is now mandatory. Carrying forward of unreleased funds in a particular year to the next year is also mandatory. Almost all powers have been decentralised and delegated to local bodies. Having given clear roles to the people’s representatives and after making release of funds mandatory, the government would now be firm with the local government representatives and officials with regard to the discharge of their duties.
Though we are entering into the 73rd year of independence, the fate of villages is still not well. None literally owns them. Villages are mostly full of debris, dilapidated houses, unhygienic conditions with cattle ranches, snakes, weeds, dung, mosquitoes, dirty water pits, neglected borewells, mad dogs, pigs, monkeys, bent electricity poles and so on. This is not limited to one State but prevails in the entire country. This calls for a change, a drastic change.
The change needed to be ignited and Telangana has done it. Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao has taken up the gigantic task of village resurrection and renaissance, and the new Panchayati Raj Act is the enabling framework for it. The basic premise of the PR Act is to bring qualitative change in villages and village development would now largely depend on the successful implementation this Act.
Sarpanch, Upa-Sarpanch and ward members were elected recenlty in every village panchayat. New panchayat secretaries too were recruited. The PR Act enunciates a provision wherein reservation has been made applicable for ten years enabling the sitting Sarpanch to get reelected. This provides an opportunity for those working hard and selflessly to go in for durable development.
The erstwhile concept of the Sarpanch alone being all-powerful in a village is wrong. Village panchayat is a combination of Sarpanch, Upa-Sarpanch and ward members. In addition to them, in every panchayat there will be three co-opted members comprising a retired employee with inspiration for village development or a senior citizen, one from among the village-level associations president and a prospective donor for village development. Except for voting right, these co-opted members will enjoy the same powers as the elected members.
There will also be four standing committees on sanitation management, village lights management, plantation and village market committees, comprising village elders, to make suggestions to the panchayat. Each committee will have either 15, 20 or 30 members and in all 60 to 120 depending upon the size of the village. They will be empowered to review all subjects entrusted to them. The recommendations of these committees will be mandatory.
Gangidevipally village is the inspiration for forming these committees. The gram sabha has the power to review all works pertaining to the village and the panchayat is accountable to the gram sabha. Any objection from the gram sabha is valid and binding on the panchayat. Hence, the Sarpanch has to work in close coordination with Upa-Sarpanch, ward members, co-opted members and standing committee members.
The cheque power is jointly given to Sarpanch and Upa-Sarpanch. The bills, only for the works taken up with the approval of gram panchayat, will be cleared. There is no scope for personal whims and fancies. Neither Sarpanch, Upa-Sarpanch nor a ward member can claim payment for the works executed by them from the village panchayat funds.
In fact, ward members too are demanding that they be made partners in the development of village. Moreover, unlike in the past, now there is no scope for issuing cheques as and when Sarpanch desires. In accordance with the provisions of the Act, the 60-day action plan announced by the government will be implemented shortly. This will also regulate payments and release of cheques.
The government directly provides several services and facilities required in the villages so that there is no burden on panchayats. As part of Mission Bhagiratha, through rural water supply, safe drinking water is provided to every house. Round-the-clock quality power is supplied and investment support through Rythu Bandhu is provided by the agriculture department. The State government directly pays Aasara pensions. These and many more works are done directly without the involvement of panchayats and village funds.
Village panchayats, therefore, have to focus on sanitation, garbage clearance, among other responsibilities. Carrying garbage to dumping yards and converting it into compost fertilizer is the responsibility of panchayats. Under the new Act, a fine of Rs 500 is imposed for dropping waste on the road. By making use of the provisions of the Act, panchayats should strive to make their villages spick and span. Plantation and their protection is another important responsibility. Village lights management and tax collection too fall under their domain.
With these, there will be a qualitative change in village administration. Villages have to be improved. This is the idea behind the new Panchayat Raj Act. The government is firm that Telangana villages should become model villages. It is the responsibility of every individual to see to it that the Act is implemented in letter and spirit. This is the best opportunity to develop our villages. The people and their representatives must work hand in hand towards making model villages under this Act.
(The author is Chief Public Relations Officer to the Chief Minister of Telangana)