A curious case of my village Panchayat

The lives of Panchayat members are treated as mere statistics
A curious case of my village Panchayat
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Panchayat elections are held in Kashmir with the avowed aim of strengthening grassroots democracy. Panchayats are the fulcrum of village development and prosperity.

A Panchayat building had been constructed on the fringes of the playground in my village. It has a controversial past. The building was constructed against the will of local youth. They protested tooth and nail but to no avail. It created animosity between two villages.

When construction culminated, boys started to dismantle it brick by brick. To start with, the Main gate went missing within a week. Then, in a couple of months, the whole building was raised to the ground. 

The fencing of this notorious building was developed twice and it was dashed to the ground.  What remained is a heap of rubble. Why not to dismantle the poor structure and pave way for widening of playground. It has become a hub of anti-social elements. It is a safe haven for drug addicts.

Stones, bricks, tin-sheets, window panes were broken and scattered around the orchids. Young boys would burn the wood in winters to warm themselves while chattering and discussing politics and sports. Sub-standard material was used and we had no scope of quizzing the contractor.

The building has become a bone of contention. Fifteen years down the line, villagers are up in arms and want this bottleneck to be bulldozed.

Panchayat is a very powerful institution. Advisor to Governor K. Vijay Kumar recently called for strengthening the Panchayati Raj Institution (PRI) to boost rural development, facilitate participatory democracy and reinforce accountability at the grassroots level.

In his 2019-20 annual union budget, Finance minister Arun Jaitley announced  that every Panchayat will get an amount ranging from INR 20 lakh to one crore. Further, funds under ICDS, mid-day meal scheme, IWMP etc will also flow through Panchayats.  Needless to say, this will transform the developmental activities at the ground level.

We know very little regarding guidelines of the centrally sponsored schemes such as PMAY (G), MGNREGA, and GPDP. Ignorance is the key reason that these schemes are not implemented efficiently.

More than 26 years after the 73rd Amendment, Government of J&K has granted powers to Panchayats to directly implement various centrally sponsored development schemes. Village Panchayat is the sole authority to implement JGSY with the approval of Gram sabha. Jawahar Gram Samridi Yojana (JGSY) is designed to improve the quality of life of the poor.

Its main objective is the creation of demand driven community village infrastructure. Holistic development of villages is possible only when the Panchayat members fulfil their socio-economic responsibilities.

Panchayat should be effective. But it is still in itsinfancy stage here. The lives of Panchayat members are treated as merestatistics in the unending saga of dance of death and democracy. NationalPanchayati Raj day celebrated annually on April 24 since 2010 is the reminderof strengthening PRI's. Gram Panchayats are basic units of administration.

On Feb 06, I filed a detailed RTI (Postal Order Number08F899110) to Assistant Development Commissioner Baramulla to know itsintricacies. Ideally, I should get a detailed response through post a monthlater. But on April 10, I received a piece of paper at 8:25 pm. It was RTIresponse. The concerned pleaded ignorance about various subjects.

On March 23, I received a communiqué unprofessionally fromthe incumbent officer wherein he "advised" me to come to his office to clarifythe questionnaire. He didn't know he is supposed to "request". I wonder, wasthe questionnaire too difficult to comprehend?

Finally, 63 days later, I received a letter number:WB/RTI/13-14 full of vague details. The nature of land is state owned. Blockwas the executing agency but they don't know its Khasra number. Officially, thearea covered under Panchayat is 1-kanal. The building was constructed during2003-04 as per the knowledge of villagers but the concerned office in its RTIreply has shot a wild guess that it was constructed in 1996-97. The park infront of it was not developed. The work was not tendered. 5.14 lakh was theunit cost of this Panchayat ghar.

There is no official record available in the concerned blockoffice. They believe that the record was damaged during earthquake but in ourentire zone, not even a single official building was damaged. 53 meetings wereheld so far but record is not available. Not even one gram sabha was held onOct 02, the day they are supposedly to be held.

Fencing around the building was constructed twice but theconcerned office has no idea about it. For protection of Panchayat Ghar, nonecessary steps have been taken by the concerned Block. No securityGuard/Chowkidar was deployed here to protect the prized structure. The damagereport with regard to the Panchayat ghar was communicated to ACD officeBaramulla vide letter No: WB/338-41 dated May 24, 2013.

The building is in ruins and a heap of debris is a threatfor children of the locality. On March 14, 2014, the building was damaged dueto heavy snowfall since it had already developed cracks. It is a uselessstructure. The post of Sarpanch is vacant. In the recently held Panchayatpolls, one panch was declared winner unopposed.

As the electorate is exercising their franchise and choosingcandidates on promise versus performance basis, the story of my Panchayatreminds me of the tagline of Washington Post, "Democracy dies in darkness."

Note: This story is a part of author's fellowship project report.

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