|Workshop on “Strengthening Panchayats for Livelihoods”|
The Schedule XI of the Constitution lists 29 subjects on which powers are to be devolved to the Panchayats. But as matters stand now, no States have devolved powers in the true sense. Similarly the structure of the Panchayats (multi-village, large population, representative-based) and the control of the bureaucracy are all issues that have held back the ascendance of the Panchayats. Party-based-politics in Panchayats too have compromised the spirit of grass root democracy. In some States MPs and MLAs are ex-officio members of the PRIs at different levels which hinder the space of the grass-root leadership to flourish. Overall the Panchayats are perceived as the last mile implementing arms of the Government rather than as assertive Village Republics.
Even in the face of such an inadequate performance on the devolution front, there are positive trends emerging which are gradually bringing the focus back on the Panchayts and builds hope for more such changes. Mandatory involvement of Panchayats in implementing large scale programmes such as MGNREGS and BRGF by the Centre, has provided a crucial boost to the space for Panchayats in programme implementation. Executed effectively, these programs can have significant positive impact on the livelihoods of the village people. Similarly it is possible to see a central role for Panchayats in all the centrally sponsored schemes. However, the concern is, do Panchayats have the capacity to absorb the allotted funds and convert them into a set of well-thought out activities?
Panchayats are crucial for meaningful implementation of livelihood programmes as the livelihood assets of most of the poor people such as land, water, commons, small enterprises, etc., and local markets fall under the purview of Panchayats. If the PRIs are able to actualize their role as envisaged in the Constitution it will have a game-changing effect on the quality and sustainability of livelihoods. Therefore it is important to ensure that the Panchayats have the necessary capabilities to plan and implement livelihood programmes. Capability enhancement of the Panchayats can be explored at multiple levels.
At the level of flagship programmes
MGNREGA is an important flagship programme of the Government. It aims to generate wage employment and create livelihood assets in private and public lands. Even though it is a Central Act, its implementation in the field is in the hands of Panchayats. It is assumed that Panchayats have the trained human resources, adequate capacities and systems, and are capable of handling the large sums of funds that are channeled to them, and plan and implement the programme effectively. However, we do witness that in most of the places, more so in the poverty pockets, Panchayats are not able to effectively utilize the funds in a systematic and transparent manner. They lack human resources, systems and processes, and technical competency for carrying out bottom up planning, and implementation of the plans. This is an important lacuna.
A matter of crucial importance is about ensuring that the silent and marginalised sections in the village participate in the Gram Sabha meetings and other decision making processes in the Panchayat. In fact this is also the reason for the Panchayats really not able to carry out bottom up planning and also ensure that the real needs of the people are reflected in the plans. A strong Gram Sabha becomes crucial when we envisage a vibrant grass root democracy which in turn is the basic building block of a democratic nation.
As per the 73-rd amendment, there are many areas that affect the livelihoods of the people directly, over which the Panchayats have the technical oversight. But various government departments operate in their own silos. There are many initiatives of various central ministries such as NRLM and Integrated Watershed Management Programme (IWMP) of MoRD, Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) of MoA and many others which are also well-funded and implemented through the line departments but impact many areas which are supposedly Panchayat subjects. If Panchayats were strong, they would have had an important say in the rolling out of these programmes and build synergy among these multiple allocations. But again, such convergence is not happening today leading to a lot of efficiency loss in implementation.
One more important matter that demands attention is the one related to rights over forests. Even though there are instances of individual plots of lands being handed over to families, but villages or communities exercising rights over forests is still highly restricted, even though the Forest Rights Act 2006 confers such rights on the Gram Sabha. Overall, PRIs do not exercise any role presently in the management of forests which cover half as much area as agriculture and have critical impact on rural farming/livelihood systems and ecology. Historically, farms and forests were closely interconnected, especially in the rain-fed, undulating, hilly and mountainous parts, which accounts for over two-thirds of the Indian landmass. This link, broken with the creation of government forests during the colonial period, remains to be appreciated, much less restored.
The objectives of the Workshop will be:
The workshop is expected to be of one-day duration and bring together CSOs, representatives of Panchayats, Government departments of Panchayati Raj, Rural Development and Agriculture and other stakeholders who are interested in the subject. We hope to work out some concrete steps of action regarding building space for the PRIs, and enhance their capabilities in manner that they truly emerge as the community governed institution as envisage in the Constitution.