Haryana's brew

Over panchayati raj

Published: Tuesday 30 November 2004

-- (Credit: EMKAY)Controversy brews over the Haryana Panchayati Raj (second amendments) Bill. A fortnight after the Haryana legislative assembly swiftly approved the bill, it has assumed political overtones: the (opposition) Congress is vehemently against it.

The amendments empower the state government to pre-pone elections to panchayat bodies by four months, instead of the two months hitherto stipulated, becoming the first state in the country to do so (other states have been post-poning elections, citing various reasons). On October 9 the issue took a twist when Union minister for Panchayati Raj affairs Mani Shankar Aiyar -- also of the Congress -- supported the move, saying it was prima facie constitutional.
2 reasons to oppose one: elections to the state assembly are due in February 2005; opposition parties therefore say the ruling party is moving to capture local bodies for political advantages. two: at another level, panchayati raj experts believe the move imposes state control on panchayats, so curtailing their autonomy.

If the amendments come into force elections to the local bodies can be held in November this year. Given the influence of panchayat members on local voters, observers believe, the ruling party would be more than happy to control panchayats. This is why the Congress is opposing the move. And Aiyar's support has precipitated a political crisis. But Haryana election commissioner Chandra Singh rules out political motive: "As per the rules in the bill, even if the elections are held in advance, new members can take over only after the tenure of the present panchayat members is over." He reasons the amendments are practical. If panchayat elections were held in February 2005, it would coincide with assembly elections, posing administrative problems.

But for proponents of local self-governance, the move is a major blow. In fact the Haryana bill was the focus of sharp discussions at the fourth national roundtable on panchayati raj, held October 8-9, 2004 in Chandigarh. These roundtables are organised to bring in changes in panchayati raj institutions, making them effective and secure from consistent political intervention (see box: The fourth roundtable). Panchayati raj bodies are already victims: 15 state governments have empowered themselves to dissolve these bodies. In this context, the Haryana amendments are hardly 'practical'.

Haryana governor A R Kidwai has sought legal opinion on the bill. Will he give it his consent?

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