Recall rights

Gram sabhas and bureaucrats slug it out in Maharashtra

By Nidhi Jamwal
Published: Tuesday 31 January 2006

after much dilly-dallying, the Maharashtra state cabinet recently decided to amend the Bombay Village Panchayat Act, 1958, which governs over 28,000 village panchayats in Maharashtra. This is the result of a long-standing demand by activists to confer gram sabhas a right to recall their elected representatives in case the latter fail to work for the interest of their village.

The proposed amendments pertain to section 8, section 14, section 39 and section 57 of the Bombay Village Panchayat Act, 1958. To pay lip service to the demands of social activists, a clause will be added to section 39 saying that in case gram sabha voters are dissatisfied with elected panchayat members, then 20 per cent of these voters can give a written complaint to the chief executive officer of the zilla parishad (zp). The chief executive will conduct an enquiry and submit a report to the divisional commissioner (dc) for further action. The dc, then has to take a decision within a month.

In case of redressal, either party can approach the state government within 15 days of the dc's decision. The same clause proposes a shift in power to the dc. Though local newspapers and news agencies have praised the amendment, a closer look reveals that it mocks the 'right to recall' principle and concentrates more power in the hands of bureaucrats like the dc. "Bureaucrats have no role to play as far as pris are concerned. Giving powers to the dc is absurd, anti-constitutional, anti-73rd amendment and anti-people," says George Matthew, pri expert and director of New Delhi-based Institute for Social Sciences. The department of rural development, instrumental in preparing draft amendments, however, says the amendments have been misunderstood. They only shift the power centre from the zp's standing committees to the dcs."

Experts acknowledge the right to recall though good in principle must be properly thought through before being adopted. Social audit, or a group of chosen villagers keeping tab on the functioning of elected panchayat representatives, is seen as a way towards effective right to recall.

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