People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 20

May 15, 2005



State Of Panchayati Raj In Haryana


Inderjit Singh


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.


The 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.




Having 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.


Among 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.


It 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.


In 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.


At 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.


Secondly, 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.


Thirdly, 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.




Fourthly, 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 government.


Interestingly, 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 recent years.


Most 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 panchayats.


Absence 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.


Similarly 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.




Paradoxically, 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.


Therefore, 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 vulnerable sections.


Percolation 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.


Nevertheless, 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 effective participation.


So 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 goals.


[The writer is secretary, Haryana state committee of CPI(M])