Thursday, May 20, 2010


Panchayats are turning out to be feudal lords

Panchayati Raj system was an outcome of the realization that de-centralisation of rural developmental schemes, through an all-round participation of the stakeholders at the grass-root level would result in balanced development in rural hinterland. However, since last few decades, this decentralization of power has turned out to be complex and counterproductive. In numerous villages, the power-equation in panchayats has become too feudal in nature wherein the ruling class access unprecedented control of both power and resources, blatantly sidelining the fundamental intention of their inception.

Today, panchayat runs more or less like a local mafia. There have been innumerable incidences where panchayats or its members were involved in embezzlement of funds which were meant for development purposes. Recently, it was found that 28 out of the 30 panchayats in Goa were involved in illegal construction in the ecologically sensitive areas. In another incident, a large number of civil society organisations staged a protest against elected sarpanchs who have managed to stall the process of social audits. Similarly, in UP it was found that NREGA programme was exploited by corrupt district and panchayat - level officials to misappropriate funds and 85 per cent of the cases there were forgeries committed in the muster rolls. There have been numerous cases of fund siphoning at panchayat-level in almost all parts of India. It has been widely observed that in most of the villages/districts, the construct of the panchayat is feudal in nature wherein a couple of powerful families control local administration. Starting from embezzlement of funds to lobbying for tenders and awarding them to specific corporation/families are a regular feature. And to top it, make a mockery of the law of the land. A recent case in point is of a village panchayat in Ghaziabad, which punished a man guilty of raping a minor girl, by just hitting him with a shoe five times!! The power and influence of panchayats has grown to such levels which has taken India back by centuries. A case in point are the Khap panchayats who have been announcing sentences ranging from hounding couples (sometimes families and kin) out of the villages to being stoned to death, and mind you, these punishments are for those who marry outside their caste – which is legal as per Indian Penal Codes. Recently, a couple (Anita and Sonu), were tricked to return to their village only to be stabbed to death and a family of Rajasthan were left with no other alternative but to commit suicide. These sentences or punishments are largely accepted by the villages in the veil of maintaining the status quo of the society. It is estimated that every year, over 100 legitimate marriages are negated by the concerned Khap panchayats. Since, the panchayats comprise of retired senior citizens (considered the flag bearers of societal culture) and rich and powerful families, they have a great say at the local and provincial levels. Regular obeisance by local parties before these panchayats – whose concerns largely contradicts the Indian Constitution – have given these panchayats a new set of wings. Every days delay in taking adequate action is making them all the more audacious. Lack of action has created such an environment that today between these panchyats, it is a competition of how gory and unkind they can be, for those who do not abide by them – caring hoots for the law of the land. It’s almost an emergency that the government should create the right kind of precedence by meting a befitting punishment and demolish such practice once and for all!


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