Power cut

Maharashtra's decentralisation plan gets derailed even before it can take off

Published: Friday 15 June 2001

The Maharashtra government has decided to shelf its much-hyped devolution of power to the gram panchayats , a promise that the ruling Democratic Front government has been making since it assumed office. The chief minister, Vilasrao Deshmukh, announced the proposal last September at a public meeting and subsequently the governor also mentioned it in his budget speech this year.

The state government had decided to sanction Rs 750 crore -- 25 per cent of the budget of nine departments like agriculture, irrigation and the education guarantee scheme -- directly to the villages. The devolution was supposed to come in the form of a scheme called Yashwant Gram Samrudhi Yojana . The scheme gives all power to the gram panchayats to implement projects decided by the gram sabha . To make the process participatory, villages would have to contribute 15 per cent of the cost of a work to be undertaken.

Considered to be a pet project of the chief minister, the scheme is being withdrawn due to opposition from senior ministers of employment guarantee scheme ( egs ), irrigation and agriculture. Interestingly, these are the few departments that are always in news for corruption and abuse of their budgets. "The egs minister opposed the scheme because it would be taken over by panchayats ," says a senior official of the department of rural development.

Since the beginning, the devolution package has been criticised by senior ministers. Some of them even went public against the scheme. The opposition comes from the fact that a part of these departments is controlled by district panchayats. Under the new scheme, one-fourth of their budget would be in the hands of the panchayats, thus limiting their control over departments they head.

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