By Dr. Gyan Pathak
Despite the Constitution (Seventy-Third Amendment Act. 1992, which came into force w.e.f April 24, 1993, inserted Part IX in the Constitution of India and accorded Panchayats a Constitutional status as institutions of local self-governance for rural India, the Centre and States continue to interfere in the way of realizing this dream envisioned in the Constitution of India through non-devolution of powers, providing insufficient funds, playing politics through centrally or state sponsored schemes, and the worst allocating huge amounts in the budgets but remains unutilized.
The latest report by the department related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Demand for Grants reveals that this dream will not be fulfilled if the approach of the Government remains as it has been witnessed in the last 30 years. Even the Union Ministry of Panchayati Raj has accepted in their reply that fund, function and functionary are crucial for efficient functioning of the Panchayati Raj System, however, proper devolution of constitutionally mandated functions to the three levels of Panchayats alongwith their mapping with the activities to be performed by the Panchayats and provision for adequate manpower in Panchayats still remain important factors which inhibit the Panchayati Raj Institutions from becoming what they had been intended to be – that is from becoming self-sufficient, decentralized and the centre of local self-governance.
Though the Centre told the Committee that the Ministry of Panchayati Raj was not facing any constraints to achieve the objective of decentralized and participatory local self-government through Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs), the poor performance PRIs can be seen everywhere in rural India for which no one needs further proof. PRIs are not given sufficient funds and therefore have not become self-sufficient, powers have not been devolved therefore decentralisation could not be done, and Centre and States plays politics through their schemes even in the sectors in which powers have been transferred and therefore they could not become the centre of self-governance in the last 30 years of the Constitutional amendment.
The Ministry of Panchayati Raj has shifted the entire blame to states while the Centre has been playing politics through centrally sponsored schemes of various departments. It has said, “Since ‘Local Government’ is a subject in the State List of the Constitution and all actions for proper functioning of Panchayati Raj Institutions including framing of laws rests with the State Government, the Ministry strives to reach its goals with regard to improvements in the functioning of Panchayats through policy interventions, advocacy, capacity building, persuasion, and financial support.
The ministry accepts interventions but it does not accept that the basic concept of the PRIs are violated by them because they have been visualised by the Constitution of India to functions not as dependent of states of the Centre, but independently as the states and Centre function, for the sectors that are devolved to them. However, they are still awaiting complete devolution of power and sufficient funds.
Article 243 G of the Constitution allows discretion to the States in the matter of devolution of powers (funds, functions and functionaries) to Panchayats. However, States in the county vary in the extent to which they have devolved powers to the Panchayats to plan, implement and monitor schemes for economic development and social justice including those matters listed in the Eleventh Schedule of the Constitution. It is due to this fact that Panchayats remain on the mercy of the state and Centre who are active participant in making the Constitutional amendment a failure through brazenly violating the Constitutions provisions.
All 17 SDGs are to be implemented at grassroots level by 2030 but hands of the Panchayats are tied by the Centre and the States against the Constitutional amendment in this regard. No wonder India is off the track in achieving the goals. All the 2,55,600 Gram Panchayats, 6,697 Block Panchayats, and 665 District Panchayats, 30.45 lakh elected members of PRIs, and 13.78 lakh elected women among them are subjected to the highhandedness of the officials of the states and the Centre.
It should be noted that India took over 10 years to create even the Union Ministry of Panchayati Raj. It could be created only on May 24, 2004, but it also suffered due to the Centres policy of direct playing politics in Panchayats through schemes of other central ministries undermining even the Union Ministry of Panchayati Raj in protecting the Constitutional rights of the Panchayats. It is not good governance but intrusive bad governance, with powers and funds centralised in few hands.
One can see the politics of the Centre even in higher budgetary fund allocation. Since the Union Budget 2023-24 was the last full budget of the Modi government before 2024 Lok Sabha election, the Centre wanted to show the rural folk how they are being cared for. An allocation of Rs 1016.42 crore has been made for the year 2023-24, which is 17 per cent higher than 2022-23, and 12 per cent higher than the revised estimate. However, the past record of the government was noted by the Committee to be very bad, and hence recommended to the ministry to take all necessary steps for proper and timely utilisation of funds ensuring completion of the various schemes and projects in a time bound manner.
The Union Ministry of Panchayati Raj has said that despite higher allocation sought at Revised Estimate stage, Union Ministry of Finance imposed drastic cut and allocated the reduced funds to the Ministry at RE stage during the last three years. In 2019-20 the BE of Rs 871.37 crore was revised downward to Rs 500 crore, and 373.11 crore were surrendered unutilised. In 2020-21, BE of Rs 900.96 crore were reduced to 690 crore in RE and 214.69 crore were returned… and so on.
The low level of politics is seen even in the projects of the Centre in Mission mode, such as e-Panchayat, in which Centre has been trying to politically undermine the state governments. On the one hand it says that e-Panchayat applications are under implementation now and State/UTs are continuously being supported, but on the other the Centre has released no funds to the Stated directly for e-Panchayat. Can we say that the Centre has supported the States/UTs and not playing politics directly up to the Panchayat level undermining states?
It should also be noted that Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS) having state share in the range of 10 to 40 per cent. However, the states have been complaining that they are not getting their due share of funds from the centre in time which push them in great financial crisis. Even the Centre is alleged not to provide even its share under the centrally sponsored schemes that they have been implementing. All such low level politics has almost crippled the PRIs.
The Union Ministry of Panchayati Raj has replied to the Committee that funds for the schemes being implemented under their ministry were not released chiefly because of the states. In large number of states there are persisted deficit in release of the state share, and delay in utilisation of central funds and submission of untilisation certificates. Further some states have not complied to the Ministry of Finance instructions regulating release of funds under CSS. “These all have led to reduced releases of central share to the States,” the Ministry has said.
In the meantime, the PRIs are suffering. Even now, there are 51,512 panchayats without their own roofs. About 70 per cent of the population live in rural areas who are suffering from such a neglect and subjugation of the Panchayati Raj that violates the Constitution of India. (IPA Service)