Karnataka legislature amends state Panchayati Raj Act

By Sandip Das
Published: Thursday 31 May 2007

on april 21, 2007, the Karnataka legislative council (upper house of the legislature) passed an amendment to the state Panchayati Raj Act, 1993, to take over the role of panchayats in selecting beneficiaries for development programmes at the village-level. "If the gram panchayat fails to prepare beneficiaries' list in respect of housing schemes or other programmes funded by the government, then a committee headed by the member of the legislative assembly (mla) from the constituency shall select the beneficiaries," the amendment reads.

Some believe that the move was taken because members of the state legislative assembly felt threatened by the growing popularity of panchayat leaders, especially because of the successful housing programme carried out by them.Karnataka had vested 5,652 village panchayats with the power to implement housing projects under the Rajiv Gandhi Rural Housing Corporation--a state government undertaking. "mlas do not want such a popular scheme to be handled by panchayats," says F Stephen, executive director, search, a Bangalore-based ngo. Agrees Manoj Rai, programme manager, pria, an ngo that works on local governance, When Karnataka was in the forefront in transferring powers to panchayats, mlas did not anticipate that they would become redundant with the gradual transfer of funds, functions and functionaries to panchayats."

Calling the move "damagingly regressive", former planning commission member L C Jain says, "It undermines powers, authority and mandate of the gram panchayats in a state that has been hailed as a 'trail blazer' in decentralisation and self-governance." Karnataka along with Kerala had transferred all the 29 subjects listed in the 11th schedule of the constitution to panchayati raj institutions over a period of time. Even the Union ministry of panchayati raj had hailed the Karnataka model of devolving powers to panchayats as 'worth emulating' then.

Nandana Reddy, a researcher, says, "In one step, legislature has become the final arbitrator over gram sabha. The provisions are dangerously opened minded." G K Bore Gowda, secretary, department of parliamentary affairs and legislation, Karnataka, had objected saying it was "against the constitutional provisions of strengthening panchayats", when it was tabled.

Under the 1993 act, gram panchayats are accountable for both accounts and formulation of development plans to the gram sabhas. In a landmark amendment to the act in 2003, provisions for ward sabhas to ensure greater participation of people was incorporated. "In one step, the state government has undone the work done to strengthen the panchayati raj institutions. The move violates the spirit of the constitution," says a senior official with the Union ministry of panchayati raj.

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