Move to diminish panchayats

Dividing Powers

This Bill, introduced in July 2007 and passed by both houses of the  legislature, was a damagingly regressive move to undermine the powers, authority and mandate of the Gram Panchayats in the State—formerly hailed as a “trail blazer” in decentralisation and self-governance. More importantly, it was a flagrant violation of the basic tenants of the 73rd Constitutional Amendment and several legislations and orders that have been passed by the State that mandate the actual transfer of powers and functions to the panchayats; as it imposes conditionality on the powers of the Panchayats to identify beneficiaries and reassigns this role to an ‘officer of the government’ or a ‘MLA committee appointed by the government’. 

 The 2007 Bill provoked a massive response by members of Gram Panchayats throughout the state under the auspices of the Grama Panchayat Hakkottaya Andolana, a movement federating Grama Panchayats from about 26 districts, institutions and individuals working towards strengthening democratic decentralisation united across political parties. The Andolana petitioned the then governor T N Chaturvedi, and requested him not to approve of an action that violates the Constitution and specifically its 73rd Amendmen. Happily, Chaturvedi did not put his seal on the 2007 Bill and returned it to the legislature with elaborate and eloquent comments. We thought that it was the end of the story.

 But it was not. In 2008, Minister for Panchayat Raj Shobha Karandlaje announced the government’s intention to abolish Taluk Panchayats and revert to the earlier two tier system. At the same time it was made known that the Karnataka government was seriously considering the re-introduction of the Karnataka Panchayat Raj (Amendment) Bill, 2007 clearly aimed at weakening the role of Gram Panchayats and Gram Sabhas in the State.

In 2008, the members of the Andolana, put the government on notice and warned that “any action to subvert the process of democratic decentralisation for short term benefits or vested interests would be opposed in the strongest terms and defeated.”

Understandably, every attempt to increase the degree of devolution of power and resources to the Gram Panchayats will be resisted by those who have a vested interest in retaining power, in that the MLAs are in the forefront. Meanwhile, the Grama Panchayat Raj Hakkottaya Andolana, united across party and geographical considerations, is alerting the people to resist the passage of this amendment.    In several districts peaceful demonstrations have been held, representatives of the Government such as the chief minister and the governor have been met. A massive demonstration will be held in Bangalore to demand an end to an ignoble Bill.

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