Author: Shri Ch. Birender Singh
Union Minister of Panchayati Raj
The 73rd Amendment to the Constitution, made effective from April 1993, has institutionalized the Panchayats as the units of local self–governments and the date marks a defining milestone in the history of decentralization of political power to the people. Panchayats are critical for preparation of context specific plans to address poverty, local infrastructure and socio-economic needs. Strengthening of the Panchayats through manpower, office, space, ICT etc. is therefore, critical.
The efforts of the Ministry has been to strengthen the capacity of the Panchayats in delivering the services which they are intended to provide to the people and to support States to devolve powers to the panchayats and to promote transparency and accountability. The Ministry undertook these functions during 2014-15 through its flagship programme of Rajiv Gandhi Panchayat Sashaktikaran Abhiyan (RGPSA). During the year, the Ministry could sanction more than 75,000 personnel at the Gram Panchayat level, 2037 new Panchayat Bhawans and 19,741 computers for Gram Panchayats. Training for nearly 17 lakh Panchayat Elected Representatives was also approved. Strengthening of Panchayats through RGPSA also supported good governance and improved service delivery at the grassroots level for the poor strata of the society. As representation of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and women is mandated in Panchayats, the strengthening of Panchayats implies strengthening of pro-poor institutions, which has a long term impact on pro-poor programmes and activities.
During the year, Ministry was also implementing the Backward Regions Grant Fund Programme (BRGF), which provided funds to 272 backward districts in the country for addressing regional developmental imbalances and filling up the resource gaps of other schemes on the basis of local need based plans prepared by the local bodies and for capacity building of Panchayats and Municipalities. An amount of Rs. 2,779.41 crores for 185 districts as Development Grant component and Rs. 57.59 crores for 11 States as Capacity Building Grant component was released during 2014-15. Most of the proposals were processed in e-office resulting in quick disposal. From 2015-16, BRGF, along with the State component of RGPSA has been transferred to States.
Ministry’s e-Panchayat project aims to automate the functioning of Panchayats and addresses all aspects of Panchayats’ functioning including planning, monitoring, implementation, budgeting, accounting, social audit and delivery of citizen services like issue of certificates, licenses etc. Initiatives taken during the year under e-Panchayat project included incorporation of GIS concepts in the IT training to Elected Representatives and Panchayat Functionaries to introduce the local bodies to the usage of space technology, a pilot exercise of mapping Panchayat assets in 10 Gram Panchayats and a mobile application for this purpose, preparation of a template for development of e-governance perspective plan for PRIs which was shared with the State/UTs etc. The Ministry is promoting electronic delivery of services through Panchayats and has facilitated experience sharing of best practices of Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, etc. with other States and UTs. Ministry is also working towards promulgating IT literacy up to the grassroots level.
Ministry has been preparing simple reading material for Panchayat representatives and functionaries under the ‘Active Panchayat’ series, and during the year, five books were prepared and made available to States. These related to Sanitation in Gram Panchayats, Drinking Water in Gram Panchayats, Governance in Gram Panchayats, Child Development in Gram Panchayats and Animal Husbandry in Gram Panchayats. States are translating these books and adapting them in their context. Under the ‘Active Gram Sabha’ series a reader on sanitation for Gram Sabhas was also made available to States. These books will help States in making Panchayats more capable of assisting the poor.
Audio-Video and animation training films were prepared for educating the Panchayat representatives and functionaries about their duties and responsibilities. Database of contact details (mobile numbers and e-mail addresses) of elected representatives and functionaries was collected and compiled and given to Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. This database is being used for conveying short messages.
The Fourteenth Finance Commission (FFC) has recommended devolution of grants to the tune of Rs. 2,00,292.20 crores to Gram Panchayats for the award period 2015-20. This amount is more than three times the grant of the 13th FC. The grants are intended to be used to improve the status of basic services including water supply, sanitation including seepage management, sewerage and solid waste management, storm water drainage, maintenance of community assets, maintenance of roads, footpaths and street-lighting, and burial and cremation grounds. The effective utilisation of this grant is a big challenge and the Ministry during the last few months has been rigorously interacting with the State Governments on ways of equipping the Panchayats for carrying out this humongous task. The Ministry had a day-long meeting with the State Secretaries of Panchayati Raj on 8th May 2015 to familiarise them with the recommendations of the FFC and the actions to be initiated by the States for the speedy and effective use of the FFC funds. Ministry organised a workshop on Own Source Revenue (OSR) at Hyderabad from 11-13, June 2015. 24 States prepared action plans and 10 best practices were identified which would be documented and disseminated. Ministry also organised a five days major Writeshop from 8-13 June 2015 with all States which culminated in preparation of State specific draft guidelines for preparation of GP level plans by the State teams. Ministry is also in the process of constituting national level resource persons who will be given charge of States who will assist the Panchayats in the preparation of GP development plans.
Ministry’s efforts in the coming months would include assisting the State Governments/Gram panchayats in the preparation of GP development plans for effectively utilising the FFC funds, capacity building of panchayat functionaries to enable them to perform their functions efficiently, providing e-governance at the GP level which will make the Panchayats symbols of modernity and efficiency and induce mass ICT culture, ways to effectively implement PESA ( Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act, 1996), and changes in the Constitutional framework to give more representation to women in PRIs.