People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
May 15, 2005
LOOKING BEYOND ELECTIONS
State Of Panchayati Raj In Haryana
IN the wake of recent elections to panchayat and local bodies in Haryana, it is pertinent to take stock of the state of panchayati raj system in the state. More than 80 per cent polling was recorded during the two rounds of polling for the panchayats held on April 3 and 9 and that for the local bodies on April 16.
One striking feature of these elections has been the unprecedented poll violence which left at least seven persons dead and hundreds injured. More than a dozen instances of attacks on polling parties were reported from various parts of the state. This is an obvious indicator of an intensified struggle to usurp grassroots level power by disparate social groupings. Money and liquor flowed much more freely in these elections than in any before.
Another important feature to be noted was the use of caste to polarise people. So far, largely a rural phenomenon up till now, caste polarisation has been more perceptibly observed this time in urban centres as well. Another negative trend to be observed was the further tightening of control of panchayati raj institutions in the hands of powerful rural rich in villages and those like property dealers over the municipal committees in towns and cities. Nevertheless, the have-nots and less privileged too have been seen staking their claim with renewed vigor at various levels, though with limited degree of success.
CPI(M) state committee had decided to put up candidates in limited number of
seats at various levels for these elections. The Party conducted a wide campaign
in the seats it contested and in few pockets outside also by distributing 30,000
handbills appealing to the electorate to elect those candidates who could
provide better leadership for orienting these bodies towards people.
The Party observed that the elections could have been accomplished in a
fairer manner and with much less violence had the government been more careful
and not declared the schedule in undesirable haste.
No other party except the CPI(M) made claim to contest on election symbol. Consequently, the state election commission too remained least interested in allotting the symbol. Yet CPI(M) Fatehabad district committee insisted for and got the Party symbol in at least five wards. Because the Party fought many seats without symbol, the exact number of seats it won could not be determined at the time of writing this article. However, we received information that the Party could win few zilla parishad, panchayat samiti posts in certain districts.
PANCHAYATS & POSITION OF DALITS
stated above with regard to the recent election, it is also an occasion to look
back and make a reappraisal of actual experience of panchayati raj, particularly
in the light of certain crucial provisions provided through the 73rd and 74th
constitutional amendments enacted more than a decade ago.
the half a dozen provisions of 73rd amendment the one that aroused much hope was
the one which provided for reservations to women. One third panchayat seats were
reserved for women and a sizeable number from among the scheduled castes and
backward classes have been elected in all the three tiers for over 10 years now.
is true that the success or otherwise of any project has to be objectively
evaluated in the light of limitations and constraints at the given point of
time. However, political will of the rulers is one such factor which has a
central bearing on the actual implementation of any policy in practical sense.
the case of Haryana, a formal stocktaking is yet to be undertaken in this regard
at the level of the government. Some efforts in terms of training etc., though,
have been there at an informal level during the recent years, particularly in
the area of orienting elected women panchayat representatives for making their
personal participation possible in the first place. However, even such
half-hearted efforts have been found lacking in case of those coming from dalit
background in general and dalit women in particular as a distinct category.
the outset it is to be recalled that vested interests had never taken kindly to
the provision of reservation in the new Act. A clause, 175(1)(q), was therefore
incorporated in Haryana Panchayati Raj Act 1994 at the time of its ratification
by the state assembly. Under this clause, a dubious condition was imposed that a
person having more than two children can not stand for election. Any elected
representative is further liable to be unseated if a third issue is born to him
or her. This retrograde provision has adversely affected not only the persons
coming from poorer background in general but the dalits and women in particular.
Ironically, these were the very sections for whose supposed benefit the
reservation was provided. Withdrawal of similar legislation by Himachal Pradesh
government recently is a welcome step despite it being upheld by the Supreme
Court some time ago.
in the given social milieu it is the rural rich who continue to hold the levers
of socio-economic power. They get their womenfolk elected on seats reserved for
women while they themselves continue to function as de-facto
representatives with impunity. Sarcastically called as Sarpanch
Pati or Panch Pati, these proxy
men are being unhesitantly entertained at all administrative levels as elected
representatives. The government has never issued instructions to discourage this
open fraud and clear cut offense of impersonation.
most of the dalit sapanches are sought to be remote controlled by influential
people upon whom they have to remain dependent due to various compulsions. In
the event of defiance or self assertion by a dalit sarpanch , the panchayat is
virtually made defunct by unique methods. Panches belonging to upper caste would
tactically stay away from the officially convened meetings which then can not
take place for want of required quorum. Instances of public humiliation and even
physical intimidation of dalit sapanches, including of women, have often been
reported in the media. A dalit sarpanch of a Rohtak village remains missing
since October 2003. He is understood to have been eliminated by the village
upper caste vested interests while the administration remained totally unmoved.
CONTROL OF BUREAUCRACY
the bureaucracy continues to dominate most of the affairs of panchayats so much
so that the proceeding register of most of the gram panchayats and their
accounts books are kept by the panchayat secretary, an employee of the
the Haryana government created village-level parallel bodies called Gram Vikas
Samitis in 2002 which were given independent powers. They bypassed the elected
structure. The mandatory gram sabha meetings provided in the Act are never
convened. Even formal meetings of gram panchayats are seldom held. More often,
signatures of the members are obtained on individual basis. There is an
increasing tendency of diversion of funds provided for social welfare schemes
meant for the weaker sections to other populist works. More and more cases of
corruption and financial misappropriation have surfaced time and again during
of the elected panchayat members in Haryana are still working within the
traditional mode as far as the functions and areas of activities are concerned.
These are mainly confined to digging of ponds, construction of roads, auctioning
of village common lands for cultivation etc. while key aspects of village life
in the social domain like health, education, sports, food security, managing
potable water, sanitation (including drainage), housing, environment (including
forestry), social justice and cultural affairs remain still untouched by the
of toilet facilities for women continues to be the most haunting problem. There
is also the issue of giving residential plots for the landless. Until
these problems are addressed within and even outside the panchayat system from
the angle of dalits, women and the youth, neither the panchayats become
participatory nor these ignored sections could be empowered in any significant
way. Surprisingly, enrollment of unmarried girls as voters in their
respective villages is still considered ominous in Haryana.
the case of rape and dowry deaths are not only under-played but sympathy is
often found towards the culprits and it is found often that the panchayat
leaders rally in favour of culprits along with the police. This way, victims are
further victimised by the panchayats who are supposed to protect the victims.
the traditional caste panchayats known as Gotra
Khap panchayats still continue to prevail in many social matters and quite
often these outdated institutions are even found acting either in tandem with
the elected panchayats or in some cases ignoring them totally in order to
enforce traditional codes. Illegal Khap panchayats
are issuing fatwas (decrees) awarding
penalties either in the forms of fines, social boycott or excommunicating
innocent persons from the village. Existence of these barbaric institutions with
the tacit support of mainstream political class and the State apparatus
continues to be a significant impediment in the independent functioning of
panchayati raj institutions.
apart from the need for social reform campaigns targeting casteism and gender
discrimination to create more sensitive environment for the marginalised
sections, some kind of accountability mechanism for the panchayats should also
be evolved, particularly in cases of atrocities and crimes perpetrated on
of the democratic element of the Panchayati Raj 73rd amendment, especially in
relation to dalits and women, is yet to be achieved at implementation level for
various reasons as dealt above. Last but not the least, it is a fact that
democratic decentralisation of power in any significant manner shall be a
distant dream without providing a share for the downtrodden in economic
resources. Radical measures, like distribution of land to the landless, must be
undertaken along with creation of employment avenues, drive for female literacy.
The reservations for women and dalits in the panchayati raj institutions,
therefore, have to be seen as the beginning towards empowerment rather than an
end in itself.
it should not be inferred that nothing is changing or that there has not been
any positive impact of the reservations for dalits, women and other backward
sections. On the contrary, elected representatives belonging to these sections,
supported by inputs from outside, have steadily begun to aspire and assert for
an independent role for themselves individually and collectively. The potential
for such a role of theirs should be positively channelised through awareness
campaigns and skill upgradation of the elected persons to develop their
it is high time that a critical evaluation is undertaken for identifying grey
areas and an intervention is made towards achieving real decentralisation even
while reorienting these institutions in favour of social justice and egalitarian
writer is secretary, Haryana state committee of CPI(M])