Panchayat Raj Half a cheer for democracy

  • 30/01/2007

Panchayat Raj  Half a cheer for democracy There is a great push to make panchayats the fulcrum of rural development in India. But 16 years after the third tier of government was created, it has not got its due.
RAMESH Singh Yadav is much sought after. Especially among creditors and moneylenders, to whom he owes a total of about Rs 10 lakh. Head of the Shivpur village panchayat in Madhya Pradesh's Tikamgarh district, Yadav ran the debt for an unusual reason: he tried to provide his village the benefits of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (nregs). Because, Shivpur is battling three consecutive years of drought. Farmers, mostly small and marginal, were desperate for work in the summer of 2006, and the employment guarantee provision was a boon, with its focus on water conservation and 100 days of assured daily-wage work.

A plan worth Rs 20 lakh was prepared to build a check dam, a one-km-long road, and the planting of 300 fruit-bearing trees. The technical estimates made by the junior engineer of block development office, Tikamgarh, were approved by the gram sabha (village assembly).Next, money was sanctioned by a specially appointed block programme officer, who released the initial installment of Rs 10 lakh in May 2006; this was only 50 per cent of the planned amount. Work happened between May and August. Government guidelines require officials to release the remaining amount within a fortnight after verification of the works. When this did not happen, Yadav convinced local traders to supply material like bricks and plant saplings to complete work. He also borrowed from moneylenders to meet capital requirements, promising to pay them back on disbursement of the funds by the block office.

But, a clerical mistake by the block programme officer in not sending the fund utilisation certificate to the district officer delayed disbursement. This certificate depends on a physical verification and clearance by the junior engineer. nregs makes the same engineer responsible for 10 panchayats. By December 2006, when Down To Earth visited the village the junior engineer had still not managed a visit.

Moneylenders come chasing Yadav, who has visited the block office 15 times. "It is 16 km away. Each trip there costs Rs 150, equal to the monthly honourarium I get from the state government,' says he.

Shivpur has not taken on any new work under nregs, despite demands from its residents. It has another 10 rural development programmes that require the panchayat's attention, from old-age pensions to children's mid-day meals.

But Yadav is worried about recovering the dues, and has little time to attend to other work. He hasn't called a village assembly for months, fearing public humiliation and removal from office via a no-confidence motion in the panchayat