Empowering local bodies
Jammu and Kashmir is presently witnessing local body polls as the first phase of elections is scheduled for Monday next. Though the entire process of elections have come under sharp criticism over the way these elections are being conducted as the elections have witnessed least participation and no funfair at all.
However, the union government and the present dispensation in the state is determined to establish Panchayats at the helm and for this the administration has also ordered amendments in the Panchayati Raj Act, 1989.
The amendments with far reaching consequences will assure placement of funds, functions and functionaries at the disposal of PRIs. A similar attempt had been made in the year 2011 through a government order but by making the devolution a part of the Act, the government today has not only given adequate teeth to the Panchayats but also made it binding for the government departments to follow it.
The most significant change is the addition of specific schedules in the Panchayat Act giving extensive powers to Halqa Panchayats and Block Development Councils in many areas covering almost 20 Departments. There are also specific schedules with financial powers for Halqa Panchayats and Block Development Councils.
To make the PRIs the vehicles of socio-economic development, the amendments will ensure well defined taxation powers to the Panchayats for generation of adequate resources by themselves. The amendments define the role of ward majlis/sabha and halqa majlis (Gram Sabha) in detail, placing the power to plan, implement, monitor and supervise various government schemes/ programmes in the hands of people themselves. The implementation of important schemes like MGNREGA, Pradhan Mantri Aawas Yojana, Mid-Day Meal and ICDS has been devolved to the Panchayats.
The monitoring and supervision of schools and health institutions has also been passed on to the PRIs to make them accountable to the society. The Panchayats shall also be conducting concurrent/ quarterly social audit of works/ programmes in their area. However, along with all the authority, responsibility to ensure socio- economic and human development of the area including literacy, sex ratio, water conservation, natural resource management, agriculture/ horticulture development, health etc has also been placed on the shoulders of the panchayat. They have also been made the agents of change through sensitization and awareness generation.
But, given the way the present elections are being held will it serve the purpose of entrusting all these major responsibilities to the local bodies.
The ULB polls has seen a boycott by major political parties and given the scenario there will probably be no contest for 60 per cent of the seats in Kashmir region.
Of the 598 wards in the Valley, not a single nomination paper has been filed in 172 wards and there is only one candidate in 190 wards, ensuring there is no voting. Of the 40 municipal bodies in the Valley, there will be no voting in at least 21 municipal bodies.
Keeping the situation in mind is the time ripe to empower the local bodies to such a level. Should the decision to empower the local bodies be taken at this moment and how wise will the decision prove. This is the question that the authorities need to keep in mind.