Rahul Gandhi, the new boss of Panchayatiraj should go beyond selling it as a mere idea. Particularly, when the country has celebrated Panchayatiraj for 20 years, of which 13 years were under the Congress-led regimes at the Centre. Panchayats have moved from being a cultural reality to a Constitutional one and now should have been in a consolidation phase to deepen participatory governance. But it has not happened…
Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi’s speech in a business association general meeting had an out-of-place contour: local empowerment leading to inclusive growth and that, in turn, helping business to grow. Being a potential Prime Ministerial candidate and speaking to the CEOs, he advocated power to the pradhans (panchayat heads) to exploit the potential of a country buzzing with the energy of a billion-plus people beehive is the metaphor he used to describe it.
Coincidentally, he spoke about local governance just a fortnight before the 20th anniversary of the Panchayatiraj. On April 23, 1993, the 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Constitution became operational, thus, creating the Panchayatiraj system for both rural and urban self-governance. It brought to mind his father the late Rajiv Gandhi’s obsessive pitch for local governance. Rajiv Gandhi first introduced the Constitutional Amendments to make Panchayats a legitimate and directly elected third tier of Government in the country.
Rahul’s idea of an inclusive and participatory governance process is not new. But when viewed in the context of him being pitched against the growth-obsessive Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi (BJP’s unofficial Prime Ministerial candidate) and making way to national politics, Rahul’s pitch for local democracy is a subversive advocacy for his political constituency. He eyes the rural voters who are often blinded by the “shining India”, crafted decibel by decibel in television studios. Fearing loss of that “shine”, business leaders are going out of their way to endorse anybody who promises a bit addition to the growth and consequently their business. The middle class a sizable vote bank dependent on growth never misses creating a buzz around a political leader who chatters on about deepening the growth model however exclusive it may be. Thus, Rahul’s pitch for local governance is refreshing. But the new boss of Panchayatiraj should go beyond selling it as a mere idea. Particularly, when the country has celebrated Panchayatiraj for 20 years, of which 13 years were under the Congress-led regimes at the Centre. Panchayats have moved from being a cultural reality to a Constitutional one and now should have been in a consolidation phase to deepen participatory governance. But it has not happened.
There are 0.24 million Panchayats in the country with 2.8 million elected representatives. It makes them the beehive of direct democracy. In a village you may not find a tube well but it will have a panchayat member. Arguably, this is the only Government among the three local, State and Central where elected members implement development programmes. A Prime Minister does not have the power to sign cheques for programmes but the sarpanch has. Just to get a sense of their power and authority, consider this: Panchayats implement close to Rs 70,000 crore of Central Government development programmes. On the accountability front, a Panchayat member is technically more accountable than other elected members. In a few States voters can recall them; in most of the States Government can throw them out. Not to forget that voters throw out more Panchayat members than MLAs or MPs and more often.
It is also not that Panchayats have not made a dent on the highly centralised and exclusive form of governance India wanted to dilute 20 years ago. The first sign that direct democracy is taking roots is the unusually high voter turnout in Panchayat elections. Modi, who has been championing consensus-based election to Panchayats in Gujarat against election through voting, has been facing opposition. Many business deals are stuck because of opposition from Panchayats. And for local leaders it is no more easy to get elected by bypassing local issues like land acquisition and diversion of water for industrial use. Just five years ago it was hard to imagine that the 13th Central Finance Commission would award Panchayats a share in the divisible tax pools like it does to State and Central Governments.
It is time to come out of the celebratory mood; Panchayats desperately need a new focus and re-energising. They are not inclusive because political and bureaucratic leaderships have treated them with half cheer. While giving them responsibilities signifies great progress, we have not empowered them with the matching autonomy to function. They implement a large number of development programmes but all of them have been designed either in Delhi or in State capitals. While legislators like Rahul and Modi clamour for less Government and more governance, they have not shown any interest in transferring their extreme loads of power to local Governments. At the State level, Members of Legislative Assemblies have been campaigning against power to Panchayats, citing their own declining political clout. It will be desirable if both of them go back to their colleagues in power to pursue devolution of power instead of speaking to business heads.
Excellence in Public Administration
Gujarat’s Kaushalya Vardhan Kendra Bags PM’s Award
Gujarat’s flagship programme Kaushalya Vardhan Kendra (Skill Development) Project has recently been conferred the Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence in Public Administration for the year 2011-12. The award was received by Ms. Sonal Mishra, Director Employment and Training from Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh on the occasion of Civil Service Day held in New Delhi.
The breakthrough scheme was conceived to rehabilitate school drop outs, skill and empower the rural youth, adolescent girls and housewives. The project has increased women turnout considerably for skill-related courses by providing training facilities at the door step deciding the concept of training in flexible and participatory way. Since its launch in August 2010, a total of 8,07,699 rural youth were trained out of which 4,82,334 are women trainees (58 per cent).
Kaushalya Vardhan Kendras (KVKs) have gone a long way in bridging rural urban divide. The venture also brought change in the quality of life of people as they had access to modern training and skill education facilities in rural areas. Ms. Sonal Mishra after receiving the award on behalf of Gujarat Government said that the idea of KVK was conceived during the ‘Chintan Shibir’ in 2009. The courses are designed on the basis of participatory approach of Kaushalya Sabha in the village cluster having a population of 7000 in general and 4900 in a tribal area for a cluster of around 7 to 10 villages. Then emphasis was given to villages where there were no vocational training facilities. In 2010-11, 150 Kaushalya Vardhan Kendra (KVKs) were started in the first phase and in the second phase (2011-2012) another 150 KVKs were added in the State. The new 30 KVKs in tribal talukas and 5 new Kendras for the disabled in the schools for the physically handicapped started in year 2012-13. The courses were designed keeping in mind a key factor of employment, entrepreneurship and self employment opportunities available in the local area and in cluster of villages.