A RECENT decision of the Goa government
to amend the Panchayat Raj Act,
1993, has been opposed by civil society
groups. The Goa Panchayat Raj
(Amendment) Bill 2009 empowers the
panchayat secretary, a governmentappointed
official, to bypass the elected
sarpanch and members of the gram
sabha while executing government
orders. This contravenes the very purpose
of the law meant to devolve power
to the people, said the groups who
demanded the bill be withdrawn.
The bill, recommended by a committee
headed by minister for
Panchayati Raj, Babu Azgaonkar, was
passed during the monsoon session of
the legislative assembly. Opposition
parties who are against the amendment
had staged a walkout.
"There are instances when the state
government helped companies acquire
village land for real estate projects
cloaked under public purpose clause.
The amendment bill will push such projects
through without any opposition
from the panchayat or the gram sabha,"
said Sabina Martins of non-profit Goa
Bachao Abhiyaan (GBA). Soter d'Souza,
director of the Centre for Panchayati
Raj, a non-profit, called the amendment
unconstitutional. The government does
not want to devolve power; the amendment
will allow government officers to
execute orders through the panchayat
secretary, which may not be in the interest
of villagers, said d'Souza. Oscar
Rebello, another member of GBA, said,
"We'll fight to ensure the power of the
gram sabha is not diluted."
The minister, however, claimed the
proposed amendment would ensure
development is not held to ransom. "In
many cases people with genuine grievances
are suffering because of enmity
with panchayat members. This is where
the amendment would be helpful,"
Azgaonkar said. Civil society groups
and villagers' unions have already
formed a pressure group, All Goa
Panchayat Forum, to force the government
to withdraw the bill. "The government
cannot play with the powers of
important local governance bodies like
panchayats," said Joseph Sequeira,
sarpanch of Calangute panchayat.