There is a need for amendment in the Panchayati Raj Act

As of now, Gram Pradhans only have rights, but no responsibility. The Centre should act as a facilitator to resolve issues of farmers pertaining to irrigation, canal, tube wells, support prices and seed-fertilizers. The Gram Pradhans can be vested with statutory responsibility and some honorarium to supervise its functioning. There should be absolute decentralization of local administration till the level of Panchayat

Dr SB MisraDr SB Misra   19 Aug 2019 12:23 PM GMT

There is a need for amendment in the Panchayati Raj Act

Today, citizens from every walk of life feel proud over the country's recent political edge over Pakistan, Kashmir's integration into India, triple talaq ban, Mission Chandrayan, progressive hopes of Ram Mandir and India's gaining predominance. On the other side,rural India suffers still from resolvable issues pertaining to the registrar office, power official, basic health officer, local banker, teachers of primary schools and gram pradhans—all seeking attention.

The role of the banks has increased in the lives of the farmers with the subsequent increase in the bank work load and farmers' woes. The banks that were taken to towns from cities in the seventies have remained there. So, imagine the plight of a farmer from a remote region who is told upon reaching a bank that the server is down and he wouldn't be helped.

Only he can tell how many times he went and returned disappointed seeking cash withdrawal, loan or installment payment, information regarding subsidy or compensation, children's scholarship or account-opening and widow or senior citizen pension.

When one wishes to open fixed account,he needs to submit a hardcopy of the certificate or account's statement, but he often finds the printer out of order. How would a farmer without coming to the town would learn about non-functioning printer or server or that its operator should know any better.

The electricity department's situation is even worse. So far villages didn't have meters; meters having been installed no bill is sent. Deadline of payment is told over mobile phone accompanied by threat of supply cut and instructions to pay cash despite a huge bill upon bouncing of a cheque payment. The cheque so bounced would never even be seen.

While it may be probable that the department seeks cash payments, the question of cutting supply without presenting a bill calls for legal consideration. People can then hardly be blamed for resorting to illegal poaching of electrical supply. The villagers are being told to install solar panel creating power and sending surplus to the grid to receive credit. Let alone subsidy, one can't even run the solar inverter properly due to ever fluctuating voltage in the power supply from the grid.

If a farmer wants to sell or buy land to prove his ownership of land then he has to undergo the process of khasrakhatoni at the registrar's office with a statutory fee of Rs2. The registrar, however, can only be persuaded to do his job by giving Rs100 sans a receipt that too after many visitations. Even if a farmer procures the documents pertaining to compensation, subsidy, BPL certification, land grant for the landless farmer, dakhil-kharij and land from online resources they hold no good without the seal of registrar. One may download the document for one's information, but not for legal purposes.

A Registrar is a salaried government official whereas pradhan being the overall in-charge cannot be messed up with despite taking a lion's share as commission from farmers. Pradhan is not interested in whether the school is open or not, the teachers' attendances therein, how are schemes of first aid and nutritive diet faring. His locus of interest remains in land holdings, making of toilets and provisions for home grants and fixing up deals with the police.

It seems that pradhan and even farmers are not aware of former's rights and responsibilities. The Pradhan should be aware of the total land belonging to gram samaj in his panchayat and its distribution into schools, pastures, granaries, play grounds and other heads of usage. Such records should be made readily available at panchayat level. But it is actually the local land-mafia and musclemen who exploit ponds and barren lands for personal use.

Someone falling seriously ill or a medical emergency creates the most difficult situation for the farmer. No night time medical officer is available at basic hospital, sometimes not even during the day. A woman struggling with labour pains is assisted by the local nurse to the city hospital, but the same nurse could have been given advanced training to provide expert care in villages. The only option remains is that of quacks, but they can be of little help with women. One can easily dial 100 for police assistance, but calling ambulance is not as easy.

School buildings exist for the education of rural students, but most of them are stuck in legal quagmire with Shiksha Mitr or teacher-aides appointed in lieu of teachers. It is like asking ward boys and compounders to perform the duties of doctors. When a selection committee be constituted for the recruitment of teachers, is a matter of conjecture. Teachers cannot be hired in absence of a commission. With current academic year half gone students of recognized schools go hungry while those of council and aided schools are fed through mid-day meal scheme. Books, uniforms and scholarships can fully benefit the students only if disbursed timely, but they aren't.

The list of the area where local administration's server seems to be down is a long one with little effort made towards corrective measures. Only one solution seems evitable, that is, absolute decentralization of local administration till the level of Panchayat. There should then be one headquarter like panchayat house providing computerized information to the farmers pertaining to land records, banking, schools, health services, electricity department and other such areas.

The Centre also is to act as facilitator to resolving the issues of irrigation, canal, tubewells, support prices and seed-fertilizers etc. The Gram Pradhan can be vested with statutory responsibility and some honorarium to supervise its functioning. As of now pradhan only has right, but no responsibility. There is a need for amendment in the Panchayati Raj Act.

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