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Panchayati Raj brings paradigm shift in democratic polity: Aiyar

Panchayati Raj brings paradigm  shift in democratic polity: Aiyar
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The Mani Shankar Aiyar Committee Report on Panchayati Raj, released on April 24, is the third, after the Balwant Rai Mehta Committee Report in 1957...

The Mani Shankar Aiyar Committee Report on Panchayati Raj, released on April 24, is the third, after the Balwant Rai Mehta Committee Report in 1957 and Ashok Mehta Committee Report in 1978. It is significant as it marks the 20th anniversary of the Constitutional status of Panchayati Raj Committee coming into force on April 24, 1993. As Joint Secretary in Rajiv Gandhi PMO, Mani Shankar Aiyar was associated with the drafting of the Constitution 63rd and 64th Amendments, which were defeated by leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Atal Behari Vajpayee in 1989. In 1991, when P V Narasimha Rao became the Prime Minister, Aiyar was associated with Constitution 73rd and 74th Amendments, which succeeded in according Constitutional status to Panchayati Raj and urban local bodies in parliament on December 22-23, 1992, which finally came into force on April 24, 1993. Aiyar went on to become the first-ever Union Panchayati Raj Minister at the Centre. "It is a watershed legislation, which translated Gandhiji's dream of Gram Swaraj into a reality. It is a landmark, as it brought about a paradigm shift in the democratic polity. It reinforced local governance at grassroots level and brought in planning at grassroots level, providing a bottom-up model, instead of the top-bottom, with the Planning Commission drawing up Plans. Women were brought out of their hearths and homes and A drawn into the decision-making processes," Mani Shankar Aiyar, in an exclusive interview to The Hans India, told Venkat Parsa.
How do you assess the Panchayati Raj institutions shape up in India?
To my mind, three dominant personalities have helped shape up panchayati raj in modern India. Primarily it was Mahatma Gandhi, who foisted the vision of Gram Swaraj, or village republic, during the freedom struggle, although the panchayati raj institutions date back to the millennial past. Second, it was Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who sought to introduce the panchayati raj system. In the Constituent Assembly, it was brought in Article 40 in the Directive Principles of State Policy of the Constitution: "The State shall take steps to organise village panchayats and endow them with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as units of self-government." In 1957, Balwantrai Mehta Committee Report outlined the modern panchayats. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru lit the lamp at Nagore in Rajasthan on October 2, 1959, signalling the commencement of panchayati raj in India. Third, is Rajiv Gandhi, as he realised that the panchayati raj institutions should be accorded Constitutional status. While Mahatma Gandhi brought women into the mainstream of the freedom struggle, Rajiv Gandhi brought them into the decision-making bodies.
How do you see Rajiv Gandhi's contribution to strengthening the panchayati raj?
Although Rajiv Gandhi brought the Constitution 63rd and 74th Amendments, which were defeated by Atal Behari Vajpayee, who was leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha in 1989, the same was brought as the Constitution 73rd and 74th Amendments by P V Narasimha Rao, passed on December 22-23, 1992 and came into force on April 24, 1993. It is a watershed legislation, which translated Gandhiji's dream of Gram Swaraj into a reality. It is a landmark, as it brought about a paradigm shift in the democratic polity. It reinforced local governance at grassroots level and brought in planning at grassroots level, providing a bottom-up model, instead of the top-bottom, with the Planning Commission drawing up Plans. Women were brought out of their hearths and homes and drawn into the decision-making processes.
During your tenure as Panchayati Raj Minister, you had always emphasised on devolution of funds, functions and functionaries. Why?
Transfer of funds, functions and functionaries is the key to achieving grassroots development. There is a proposal to transfer funds directly into the bank account of each village panchayat in order to financially secure the panchayats. But there are some federal issues to be resolved, before it could be implemented. Transfer of functions was emphasised by identifying subjects, which can exclusively be dealt by the panchayats. Transfer of functionaries is based on the principle that for effective panchayati raj functionaries of the government must work under the elected leadership of the panchayats. I also believe that the panchayats should be linked to the implementation of the Centrally-sponsored Schemes.
You have also favoured grassroots level development model. Why?
The Constitution 73rd and 74th Amendments made it mandatory for involving the local bodies in drawing up Plans at the grassroots level, based on the felt needs and consolidating these Plans into the District Plans. The bigger task is to institutionalise this process. As self-governing units, my view is that money should be directly transferred to the panchayats and after drawing up plans, the same should be implemented by it. That is the ideal of decentralised governance. That is the goal of Gram Swaraj.
In your report, why is there enormous stress on Gram Sabha?
The panchayati raj bodies are symbols of representative democracy, the Grham Sabha is symbol of participatory democracy. Gram Sabhas should be empowered to ensure accountability of the gram panchayats. The Gram Sabhas should be inclusive and participatory and should have discussions on structured agenda. Full disclosure of Budget must be made and planning of development world discussed, so that the people as a whole participate in the development of the entire village.
How important is the entry of women into the panchayati raj?
Mahatma Gandhi realised that the freedom struggle is incomplete without the participation of women, who comprise 50 per cent of population. Rajiv Gandhi similarly realised that the social, economic and political development of the country would be incomplete, without the participation of women. With one stroke, women power was unleashed in the world's largest democracy. Nearly 12 lakh elected women are there in India, which is larger than anywhere else in the world. In fact, if 12 lakh women are elected, at least 50 lakh women would have been in the fray. It helps women to break the stranglehold of the patriarchal structures in the households and in the polity and reassert their status both in the household and in society, at large. Women's capacity to bring change is enormous. Basically women bring a newer approach to development, paying attention to education and particularly girls education, healthcare, sanitation, safe drinking water and social issues like fighting dowry, child marriages and other social evils. What is more, women are exposed to public life and taking up bigger political challenges at the state and national level.
In your report, you have referred to the role of panchayati raj for disadvantaged sections of society?
Just as panchayats have strengthened women's participation, it also helps other socially disadvantageous sections like SCs and STs, OBCs and Minorities, who are often pushed to the margins of economic and political development can get their due. What is more, the panchayati raj system has the potential to counter the Left-Wing Extremism, as greater development and empowerment is the only answer to it. Development deficit is at the root of Naxalism. Sadly, exclusion is the bane everywhere. In the panchayati raj, Minorities can rightfully take their place, making for inclusive growth right at the grassroots level.
How do you see panchayati raj in Jammu & Kashmir?
A lot needs to be done to strengthen the pannchayati raj in Jammu & Kashmir. The panchayati raj system has the potential of meeting the self-rule sentiment of the people through decentralised governance. Panchayati raj offers what the Kashmiri people want: freedom to plan fund and implement development at the grassroots level. Owing to Article 370 of the Constitution, the 73rd and 74th Amendments are not applicable in Jammu & Kashmir, which presently has the single-tier Hakka Panchayat. Notwithstanding warnings of the terrorists, 70 per cent exercised their franchise. Ninety per cent voted in villages along the Line of Control (LoC) like Kuppwara, which is really heartening.
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