Goa has wholeheartedly plunged into Zilla Panchayat election mode with most of the political parties deciding to enter the democratic process officially this time. Whether it is Bharatiya Janata Party or its main rival the Congress Party, the truncated Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, Aam Aadmi Party, Indian National Congress, and Goa Forward Party, all are there to woo the electorate.
After all, as many as 50 seats are to be won or lost in the two Zilla Panchayats covering the entire state. No wonder, the poll scene is brimming with enthusiasm because winning the ZP election could be the stepping stone for entry into the assembly poll eventually, luck permitting.
They have to manage with a paltry annual grant of Rs 20 released through the Directorate of Panchayats and this money is supposed to be utilized for developmental purpose and thereby plug the loopholes of public service left over by the village panchayats. And, even this depends upon the health of the state treasury, which is lately in a very bad condition.
It was at the instance of then Prime Minister Rajive Gandhi, that the Parliament adopted the 73 rd and 74 th constitutional amendment acts to confer constitutional status on Panchayati Raj and urban bodies like Municipalities. His idea was that the village bodies should be directly funded by the Centre so as to make them more accountable to the people.
However, Rajiv himself confessed that hardly 15 paise out of every one rupee actually reached the beneficiaries under system existing then. The constitutional amendment acts, which have been incorporated in Article 243, prescribe appointment of state finance commissions every five years with the state government having been mandated to take the lead in this respect. The reports of such commissions subsequently are supposed to go to the state assembly for its approval and implementation.
Most of the state governments have been fumbling over the provision meant for the appointment of state finance commissions and allocation of state resources to finance the three tiers of Panchayati Raj either because of practical differences or political expediency. That was why former Union Rural Development
Minister Mani Shankar Iyer went on a nationwide tour to sign MoUs with the local governments to implement the provisions covering the financial aspect and transfer of authority as listed under Schedules XI of the Constitution. Pratapsingh Rane was the Chief Minister then.
The idea was that the village bodies should seriously address themselves to the all-round development of the rural areas which were until then starved of socio-economic progress.
The philosophy behind the entire exercise was the devolution of power and authority from top to bottom so as to give true meaning and content to the principles of democracy and federalism. Apparently, there are hitches in enforcing this idea in smaller states like Goa where the government does almost everything except collecting house tax and garbage. A look at Schedule XI would show how many activities the village panchayats are supposed to perform.
Twenty-nine items have been listed under this Schedule. They include agriculture, including agricultural extension; land improvement, implementation of land reforms, land consolidation and soil conservation; minor irrigation, water management, and watershed development; fisheries; minor forest produce, social and farm forestry; animal husbandry, dairying, and poultry; rural housing; drinking water; roads, culverts, bridges, ferries, waterways and other means of communication; education including primary and secondary schools; technical training and vocational education; libraries; markets; maintenance of community assets, etc.
What is important in Goa is the direct connection of the MLAs with the villagers and consequently the panchayats. Thus, almost every developmental work including roads, street illumination, water supply, parks, gardens, playgrounds, and even swimming pools are constructed in villages, courtesy efforts of the MLAs, particularly those belonging to the ruling group. Each legislator is entitled to have a quota of works and the funds to implement the same. Increased socio-economic activity leads to the generation of employment in rural areas, which is a welcome development. This helps the prevention of migration of the workforce from villages to urban areas.
That way, almost the entire rural Goa is semi-urban. The recent confusion and decision of the government to withdraw its order to declare 56 villages as urban under the Land Revenue Code, 1968 could help explain the scenario at least partly. Actually, these villages were to be declared as census towns as notified under the Census 2011. However, village panchayats thought otherwise.
The wild belief was that these urban areas would be eventually declared as towns and then they qualify themselves to have municipal councils, in which case the entire scenario would change. But, the issue has since been clarified by the government. What is surprising is that the opposition parties have failed to forge a coalition to take on BJP at the hustings. For example, the Congress Party probably thought that it could dictate terms to other parties by coercing them to support its candidates instead of fielding their own nominees.
This outdated concept of one-party consensus was rejected by other parties and they have come out with their own candidates. After all, they too have to test their strength at the ballot box. Nowadays, sympathy waves are largely missing in Indian politics. Thus, it is natural that all parties assert themselves at the right time. In any case, Zilla Panchayats, too, have their role to play in our democratic setup, provided, of course, they are adequately empowered to discharge their responsibilities as per the law.
What is happening is that every group of panchayats elects a ZP member. Consequently, each such member is in a better position to ventilate effectively the hopes and aspirations of the rural areas before the government so as to seek justice to them. In fact, the ZPs should be in a position to articulate the formulation of plans and policies of each panchayat. After all, the planning process must evolve from bottom to top. This is true democracy.