the gram panchayats of Tamil Nadu (tn) have sought the Union government's intervention in overcoming a severe resource crunch. Faced with dues to the tune of Rs 300 crore, owed to the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board (tneb), the presidents of these panchayats have filed a petition with the Union minister for panchayati raj, Mani Shankar Aiyar, explaining their financial crisis. They want the centre to help them in getting direct access to development funds.
At present the 12,619 gram panchayats in the state are getting their regular funds through the district panchayats , and this severely hampers their functioning as local self-governments. The electricity bill of gram panchayats has increased on account of the charges for pumping irrigation water and providing streetlights. "On an average, the electricity charges for these purposes alone work out to Rs 6 lakh per year for a gram panchayat . This, when its average annual income is only about Rs 2.5 lakh," explains R Ilango, president, Kuthambakkam Panchayat, Tiruvallur district. What makes the situation worse is that the tneb charges them tariff at the commercial rate of Rs 3.50 per unit.
"We are providing water and electricity to the common people. Shouldn't the state government give us some relief?" asks Bhavani Ilango, president, Merpaanaikkadu Panchayat, Pudukottain district. This panchayat's average annual income is Rs 5 lakh and its power usage charges per year are around Rs 8.5 lakh. "Moreover, the electricity board deals with district panchayats and, in the process, does not maintain proper records of the units consumed by gram panchayats," she alleges.
G Palanithurai, the head of the Rajiv Gandhi chair for panchayati raj studies, Gandhigram Rural Institute, Dindigul, says: "The state government has taken over sand mining from panchayats without compensating them. How can they function?" However, R Ilango concedes that panchayats themselves can resolve a part of the financial crisis by streamlining certain practices: "Some onus is also on gram panchayats to reduce electricity consumption and collect dues."