An unholy act

  • 30/08/2002

Some 200 villages in Rajasthan were following Vinoba Bhave's advice, till 1995 when a politically motivated government amended the Rajasthan Gram Dan Act 1971. Inspired by the Bhoodan movement of Vinoba Bhave, the act establishes village republics and gives executive and legal powers to the village gram sabha.

"This is a unique act, but the government lacks the will to implement it. If it is implemented in its true spirit, it can bring about a revolution,' believes Rameshwar Prasad, a gram dan leader from Seed village near Udaipur. The act, always opposed by bureaucrats and panchayat leaders, was left toothless in 1993 when its Section 43 was amended. This section empowers the gram sabha and makes it independent of all government authorities. The amendment puts gram dan villages under the control of panchayats. It also takes away the earlier provision of giving development money straight to the gram sabha bypassing all other government departments. Now it is routed through the panchayat to the gram dan villages.

Many believe that the act's dilution was politically motivated. "After becoming gram dan, we did not participate in elections. Thus political parties were losing votes. To win back the votes, we are being forced to toe the government line,' charges Lal Singh, a resident of Hariya Kheda Gram Dan village. Immediately after the amendment, Rajasthan Gram Dan Board filed a case in the Jaipur High Court (still pending in the court). "Since then I have been writing to the state government to bring back section 43, but nothing has happened so far,' says Siddharaj Dhadda, the former chairperson of the board who resigned immediately after the amendment.

Going by the official version, the act has died a natural death. O P Bihari, development commissioner, department of rural development and panchayati raj, says, "After the amendment, the Gram Dan Act has lost its sanctity and now it is not possible to get that back. The thrust of the government is now to make panchayati raj institutions strong.' So much for India's most radical legislation to empower people.

Related Content