The patriarch on panchayat

  • 30/08/2002

Balwant Rai Mehta, 103, is on a time wrap. A veteran freedom fighter and member of first parliament, he was tasked in 1959 to suggest ways to reach the fruits of development to the last person in the village. He suggested three-tier panchayat system with all powers to the gram sabha to plan and execute development activities. That was the birth of the panchayati Raj. Thirty-three years after Mehta's suggestion and a decade after the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments in 1992 to implement the three-tier panchayati system, the country still debates ways to devolve power to the people to establish a self-government. In a conversation with Down To Earth he explains the link between local self-governance and India's prosperity:
"Gram swaraj (village self-rule) will be accomplished when every villager in this country will proudly say, "I belong to the village'. I get my pension on which I live. But what kind of freedom is this when villagers are still gulam? India is free but its villages remain enslaved.'

"Panchayats in the present day society are highly corrupt. At present, one panchayat looks after 4-5 villages and is set remotely away from the villages. The sarpanch does not belong to the village. How do you expect such a panchayat to feel the problems of a village?'

"Constitution says that 29 powers

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