I have attached today's press release from the Ministry of Panchayati Raj. What do Gandhitopia members think of this? Will Panchayati Raj result in realization of Gandhi's dream of economic and political village empowerment?
The Ministry of Panchayati Raj has issued specific guidelines to make Gram Sabha as a vibrant forum for promoting planned economic and social development of the villages in a transparent way. The guidelines are a part of the proceedings to observe the year 2009-10 as year of Gram Sabha and relates to the social audit for the effective implementation of Mahatma Gandhi NREGA. According to the guidelines, the Gram Sabha as a Key to the self-governance and transparent and accountable functioning are a forum that ensures direct, participative democracy. It offers equal opportunity to all citizens including the poor, the women and the marginalized to discuss and criticize, approve or reject proposals of the Gram Panchayat (the executive) and also assess its performance. Hence, the States may, by law, endow the Panchayats with such powers and authority as may be required to enable them to function as institutions of self-government under them, Article 243G read with the Eleventh Schedule stipulates that . Such laws may also endow powers and responsibilities upon Panchayats for the preparation and implementation of plans for economic development and social justice including in relation to the 29 matters listed in the Eleventh Schedule.
Further, the 2nd ARC in its Sixth Report relating to the Local Governance, has recommended that there should be a clear cut delineation of functions for each level of the local governance. This is not a one time exercise and has to be done continuously while working out locally relevant socio-economic programmes, restructuring organizations and framing subject matter laws.
As per the Guidelines circulated to the States/UTs, Social audit is a close corollary of energetic Gram Sabha functioning. It would inculcate respect for downward accountability amongst elected representatives and government officials. If Gram Sabha keeps a close vigil on implementation, leakages & inefficiencies can be virtually eliminated. Mahatma Gandhi NREGA guidelines give comprehensive guidance on Social Audit, including public vigilance and verification of the 11 stages of implementation, vulnerabilities of each, steps to ensure transparency and Social Audit, the Social Audit forum of Gram Sabha, which would address three sets of issues: viz. publicity and preparation before the forum; organizational and procedural aspects of the forum; and the Mandatory Agenda of the NREGS Social Audit Forum. This is a good template for other schemes too and State Governments should formulate simple rules/guidelines. Gram Sabha can monitor & discuss attendance of government functionaries, functioning of schools, dispensaries, anganwadi centres, ration shops and other local institutions. Gram Sabha can discuss reports of the Standing Committees of the Gram Panchayat. Gram Sabha can be an effective forum for familiarizing the electors with the provisions of RTI for eliciting information that they are unable to obtain in the normal course.
The responsibilities of the Gram Sabha in Mahatma Gandhi NREGA include: Recommend to the Gram Panchayat the “development plan” and “shelf of possible works”, Monitor the execution of works, Conduct regular social audit of projects taken up within the Gram Panchayat. The general measures outlined above for empowering and activating the Gram Sabha would be applicable in the case of Mahatma Gandhi NREGA also. It may specially be ensured that:
A clear process of planning and monitoring is laid out for Mahatma Gandhi NREGA, which specifies the role of the Gram Sabha. Panchayat representatives and Officials are trained to facilitate Gram Sabha participation in the planning process and social audit. Mahatma Gandhi NREGA Guidelines for social audit are clearly articulated and institutionalized and Monitoring reports and comments of the Gram Sabha are treated with utmost seriousness.
Also, It is the bounden duty of the Gram Panchayats and government officials to ensure that the Gram Sabhas function properly through close monitoring and mentoring of their meetings and the Gram Sabhas are perceived as an effective fourth tier of local governance.