Grassroots level participation
J and K has its own Panchayat Raj Act called the Jammu & Kashmir Panchayat Raj Act,1989, (Act No.XI dated 8/7/1989). The Act has XI Chapters with Chapter No. I as Preliminary, Chapter Nos. II to V dealing with rights/powers/functions/ property etc. of Halqa Panchayat, Chapter Nos.VI to IX with Block Development Council functions/powers etc, Chapter No. X with Holding of Elections and the last Chapter No. XI with Miscellaneous matters. Section 13 under Chapter III dealing with Powers and Functions is the pivotal Section with clause 1(iii), 1(iv) and 1(viii) as its crux which read as:- 1 (iii).to specially deal with the problems of soil conservation, water management, social forestry, rural industrialisation, agriculture, sheep and animal husbandry, sanitation, health, and other welfare programmes.
Clause 1(iv). regulation of buildings, shops and entertainment houses and checking of offensive or dangerous trades. Clause 1(viii). preparation and implementation of special development plans for alleviating poverty and employment generation through and besides programmes like Integrated Rural Development Programme, National Rural Employment Programme, Rural landless Employment Guarantee Programme and Housing for Scheduled Castes and Backward Classes. Chapter IV relates to Halqa Property. Whereas Sections 15 and 21 of this Chapter provide for the Halqa Panchayat Fund and the Audit of Panchayat Funds respectively Section 14 dealing with halqa property is not much clear about the format, maintenance of accounts records and their custody. Village is the basic unit of Panchayat Raj.
There is one Numberdar and one Chowkidar in a village comprising at least more than four wards represented by panches elected by the residents concerned. Sarpanches, and the Panches are paid @ Rs.3000/ and Rs 1,000/ whilleas Numberdas and the Chowkidasr are given a consideration of Rs.1,501/ and Rs.1,500/ respectively per month. Then there are Village Level Workers also working as regular salaried employees in the landscape of the Department of Rural Development.
According to Government Order No.13-H&P of 2001 dated 16-7-2001 of the Department of Hospitality & Protocol subsequent to Cabinet Decision No.110/10 dated 4-7-2001 of Government of J and K regarding J & K State Warrant of Precedence (WoP) there are 28 Serial Nos. in the Order of Precedence beginning with President of India at Serial No.1 and ending with District Level Officers or equivalent thereof at Serial No. 28 aggregating to hundreds of positions bracketed in between these serial numbers. By virtue of WoP all the position/rank holders used to be gazetted officers with no non- gazetted officer finding entitlement thereof. On 8-3-2021 Government of J & K amended WoP and placed Chairpersons of District Development Councils (DDCs) at S.No. 26 equivalent to Administrative Secretaries, Divisional Commissioners, IGPs, Joint Secretaries to the Government of India and officer of the rank of Major General or equivalent rank. The Vice-Chairpersons of the DDCs have been placed at S.No. 27 equivalent to the Vice-Chancellors of Universities within the State/ UT. The DDC members are stationed at the bottom of the Order of Precedence or WoP at S.No.28 in the list along Block Development Council Chairpersons, Presidents of Municipal Councils & Municipalities equivalent to District Magistrates, Officers of the rank of Brigadier and equivalent, Major Head of Departments, District and Session Judges. The BDC. Chairpersons, Presidents of Municipal Councils & Municipalities were included in the list in pursuance of earlier Government Order No.13-JK(H& P) of 2020 dated 22-7-2020. The Order of Precedence is the protocol list in which the functionaries, dignitaries and officials are listed according to their rank and office in Government. It is a sequential hierarchy of nominal importance and can be applied to individuals, groups or organizations. Precedence means priority of importance your safety takes precedence, the right to superior honour on a ceremonial or formal occasion, the order of ceremonial or formal preference and the fact of coming or occurring earlier in time. After concurrence of the Finance Department Vide U.O. No. A/9(2018)-BDC-258 dated 8-3-2021 regarding payment of monthly honorarium to the Chairpersons, Vic-Chairpersons and Members of District Development Councils, the Department of Rural Development, Government of J & K vide Order No. 70-RD& PR of 2021 dated 8-3-2021 accorded sanction to the payment of monthly honorarium to them @Rs.35,000/,Rs.25,000/and Rs.15,000/per month respectively including Rs.1,500/on account of Travelling Allowance and Rs.500/as Telephone Charges. There is a likelihood that positioning in the Warrant of Precedence may work to encourage them to claim entitlement for higher amount of salary no less than that of the lowest rung in the gazetted cadre. With the devolution of more and more powers & funds to the Panchayat Institutions for implementation of various schemes/works the aspect of proper accountability and fund management become all the more necessary for effective utilization for accrual of intended objectives.
The functions of halqa panchayat enunciated above were those generally looked after by the Departments of Forests, Industries, Agriculture, Sheep Husbandry, Animal Husbandry, Rural Development, Medical, Legal Metrology and Social Welfare etc. Many a time it figured in various reports that there was overlapping of some schemes /works of similar nature carried out by line or different departments. It was also pointed out that sometimes a work would miss the attention and execution as the jurisdiction of the department/office to which the work place actually fell was not clear with the result any immediate and genuine activity got ignored or badly delayed and any other comparatively less important overlapped or taken up instead. Unhealthy sharing of finances for implementation of any schemes/works by more than one department also impacts the achievements. Now with the debut of Panchayat Raj as a new unit of governance with the three-tier system of Halqa Panchayats, Block Development Councils and the District Development Councils honoured in Warrant of Precedence and with monthly salaries & allowances a right and a responsibility arises for them to exercise their powers and discharge functions properly to achieve the al-round developmental targets lest this moonshot should be a boondoggle for any dispensation. The civil, political and bureaucratic convergence to the subject of rural development makes a grid of village Numberdars, Chowkidars, Panches, Naib–Sarpanchs, Sarpanches, Village Level Workers, BDCs, DDCs, Block Development Officers/ Offices, Distt. Panchayat Officers, District Development Commissioners,Ministers, Dy Ministers, Ministers of State,MPs, MLAs, MLCs, Municipal Committees, Municipal Councils etc, as plethora of positions all authorities at their stations. To ensure transparency in executing works, better utilisation of public moneys, accountability and avoid chances of going the public spending barren and authorities & beneficiaries at loggerheads there should be no ambiguity in any field, functions and finances of the authorities. For this jurisdiction of each and every functionary is to be defined and demarcated exclusively else the possibility of dual authorities and duplication of works cannot be avoided nor chances of any work left ruled out as everybody’s business is nobody’s business. Government atop, followed by bureaucracy, three tier panchayat institutions and the public at grassroots level are to fall in a direction to make dream of real Panchayat Raj come true.The author is a former Sr. Audit Officer and Consultant of A.G’s Office Srinagar.