Panchayat minister LaxmikantParsekar's reluctance to vest more powers on gram sabhas has drawn mixed reactions, with panchayat leaders and others demanding that the government should implement what is guaranteed in the Constitution with checks and balances.
Speaking at a session on 50 years of panchayati raj at Goa university on Tuesday, Parsekar listed various problems afflicting gram sabhas, especially when rival groups hijack these meetings and often, one of the groups sidelines the elected body with its might.
But the council for social justice and peace (CSJP), termed them as misleading and disrespectful to the Constitution of India. "The debate is no longer about the issue of granting or not granting powers to the gram sabhas, but implementing in letter and spirit what is guaranteed to the people in Part IX of the Constitution of India," CSJP, a church organ stated.
CSJP executive secretary, Fr Savio Fernandes and CSJP's executive coordinator of department for governance, Soter D'Souza in a joint statement said that the mere excuse of hijacking of meetings should not be used to deny them constitutional powers.
Questioning the government's efforts to prevent opportunistic forces from hijacking this democratic platform, CSJP called for a well defined mechanism and proper monitoring to ensure accountability and transparency in self-governance.
"It is the blatant interference of the local politicians, political parties and vested interests in the panchayat affairs that is more than often responsible for the confusion at the meetings," they stated.
CSJP accused the state government of not holding training programmes to empower the gram sabha members for two decades and asked what action the government had initiated on innumerable complaints on Goa panchayat raj act and rules by the sarpanchas and panchas. The meetings are not held on schedule and the minutes are not submitted to the director of panchayats as per the rules.
The Goa government is in violation of the Constitution of India by not constituting the Third State Finance Commission (Article 243-I) and not preparing the District Development Plans (Article 243ZD).
A veteran panchayat leader, Premanand Mhambrey backed the minister on the issue, stating that it is a process of give and take. "Some groups try to hijack a gram sabha on flimsy issues, but powers can be granted if the gram sabha is really enlightened and aware of its responsibilities and how to discharge them," he said.
Mhambrey criticized unruly elements for disrupting participative discussion. "The rich experience of the elected bodies as well as some gram sabha members must be gracefully accepted," he said. Conducting a gram sabha is also a skill and the chairman should be able to control the proceedings.
Tomazinho Cardozo, another veteran panchayat leader, said the gram sabha should be given more powers, but with a mechanism to regulate their functioning. Critical of the panchayat's partisan attitude and rampant corruption, he said even a good proposal put up at gram sabhas can be shot down by vested interests.
"But powers should be given to grass root bodies with checks and balances," he said. [TOI]