Wednesday, November 14, 2012

COVER STORY | Gram Sabha: Too Little Too Much


Gram Sabha: Too Little Too Much

By Staff Reporter

Gram Sabha meeting is the last thing a Pradhan would convene if not for these being the principle planning and auditing forum in the Panchayati Raj System. The essence of a Gram Panchayat lies in a proactive and participatory Gram Sabha meeting. The 73rd Constitutional Amendment has empowered the Gram Sabha's with indisputable powers but its essence has not percolated down to the masses in rural areas. Streamlining the conduct of Gram Sabha meetings do not feature in any demands by the PRI's or the Administration of these Islands as it involves the voice of the common villager. The PRI's are more drawn towards self-interest or to the issues of a few lobbies who aide or abate their interests. The Administration on the other hand looks for ways and means to keep the PRI's in a mode where they do not overtake it or its bureaucracy.
Ideally a Gram Sabha meeting would be convened on a day when all its members would have an opportunity to attend it. It calls for one tenth of the total members for a quorum or else it is adjourned for another day. In majority of the Gram Panchayats of our islands asking for a quorum in a Gram Sabha Meeting is asking for too much. This state of affairs sadly reflects the lack of awareness or the interest of our grass root masses in community development matters. This has been brought about largely by the absence of senior level or even zonal heads of departments in such meetings. Convening these meetings on a week day or a holiday gives the officials a reason to refrain from attending them irrespective of the fact that it is done for greater public participation. These meetings though are of paramount importance but absences of officials who matter do not offer any solutions to the problems faced by the villagers. Junior level officials who do attend these meetings at times do not have the mandate to offer solutions except for the promise of taking it up with higher officials of their department. This promise too is difficult to keep as it would generally expose their shortcomings to the higher ups. The Administration on its part would routinely issue a customary diktat for its officials to attend the Gram Sabha meetings, at the same time not bothering to act upon the Gram Sabha proceeding served at its desk.
Apart from attitude of the officials it's the Panchayat Pradhans, Panchayat Samiti, Zilla Parishad or ward members and general public who are also to be blamed for this apathy. Majority of times, these meetings turn out to be a melee between the ruling PRI representatives and the rivals. Future leaders take siege of the forum and engage the Pradhans in needless arguments wasting precious time meant to transact important Panchayat business. The common villager becomes a mute spectator and sees an already hard pressed for time forum turn into a commotion. This improper conduct of the meeting gives ample opportunity for the PRI representatives and the Panchayat secretary to come out with a proceeding as per their whims and fancies. Works are proposed to benefit a few influential or like-minded citizens from the comforts of their offices rather than through open discussion. Similarly annual budgets and fund utilisation are passed and confirmed. Common villager is made to feel happy with the refreshments served other than adding a signature or a thumb impression on the meeting register.
Govt. of India empowers the Gram Sabha's as the principle planning body in implementation of all its centrally sponsored schemes meant for rural masses. It is mandated to approve the grass roots plan for all development issues in a bottom up approach. Built in mechanism in all government expenditure at the grass roots level calls for social audit by the Gram Sabha's. The common masses should come up and own this responsibility for conduct of a transparent and successful Gram Sabha meeting. There must never be a situation where public participation in these meeting becomes a constraint as is the case now. An inclusive agenda wise discussion is to be ascertained so as real community development issues are addressed on priority. Monopolising or dominating individuals in obstructing the conduct of a Gram Sabha meeting are to be countered by the public. Erring or absenting senior officials to be instructed by the administration to give weightage and attend these meetings for on the spot resolving of grievances and development issues or be severally reprimanded. Two Gram Sabha meetings as per the requisite timelines are to be convened annually as one of the mandatory pre-requisite for release of funds to the PRI's. Greater awareness and sensitization of the Gram Sabha members are to be undertaken about the importance of Gram Sabha meetings.

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