PM speaks on panchayats: What was UPA doing all these days?

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New Delhi, April 24: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday said that there was a need to strengthen the Panchayati Raj system in the country to ensure an inclusive development. He said the country must try to make the Panchayati Raj becomes a reality and not just remain a slogan. The PM was addressing a conference on the occasion of the National Panchayat Day.

But why is the prime minister talking about this at the fag end of his decade-long stay in office? This is a question which will keep most people guessing.

PM Singh said that the budget allocation for the rural governance system has been increased nearly 10 times in the 12th Plan from what it was in the 11th Plan. Is this announcement a poll gimmick, Mr Prime Minister?

The prime minister said that the aim of the panchayat is to decentralise administration so that the people can govern themselves and he said that the Centre would help the state governments in every way so that the development process becomes inclusive and sustainable.

Singh also stressed that researchers have found that inclusion of socially and economically backward people in the development has produced good results.

Good to hear Mr Prime Minister, but does your party practises what all you said? We can take two examples: Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal to see if your stand is adequately backed.

Andhra Pradesh hasn't seen panchayat elections for a long time now and it has a Congress government. The allotted functions for local self-government bodies under the Andhra Pradesh Panchayati Raj Act, 1994, Chapter III, are far less than that generally expected and this has made a mockery of the idea of devolution of power to the lowest level of the democratic set-up. Moreover, the government of a state, which has been mostly ruled by the Congress, has not succeeded in conducting panchayat polls despite constitutional provisions.

The appointment of special officers to function like an elected village sarpanch has failed to deliver as local people allege that these officers hardly have the bonding with and the commitment for the villagers. It makes the entire idea of local self-governance a sham and it doesn't matter how much the budget has been increased. If there is no will, there is simply no way.

The inclusive development that the PM speaks about hardly sees light in a state ruled by his own party for due to no elections, the UPA's flagship schemes like the MGNREGA, NRHM, pension schemes for the elderly and disabled remain a success just on the paper.

In West Bengal, an endless tussle between the state government and the state election commission over holding the rural polls has made the future of the panchayat bodies uncertain. The Congress-led UPA government may not be responsible for the deadlock but the recent remarks by the Union panchayat development minister that the Centre would not release funds for Bengal's rural schemes if the polls are not held on time doesn't abide by what the PM said in his latest statement on the welfare of the country's Panchayati Raj system.

Polls are undoubtedly important but that doesn't approve the central minister's virtual warning to a government led by a rival party that funds won't be provided. If holding polls is considered so important by the minister, then he must remember that his own party hasn't done it rightly in one of its own states.

The Panchayati Raj system in the strategic Jammu and Kashmir has also been seriously threatened by terrorists as they continue to target local representatives. Murder of quite a few them in the state have led to mass resignation by these officials, putting the local governance in the state in a jeopardy. The Congress is also an ally in the state government.

What has it done till now to ensure that Jammu and Kashmir's local self-governance is adequately protected?

If the PM just wants to make the people feel-good as his tenure nears its end, it is okay. But it doesn't make any sense if he is trying to project an old design, which has been half-heartedly backed by his own party, in the garb of a new dream in front of the disillusioned people.

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