With the tussle over the panchayat polls still unresolved, a constitutional crisis now looms over Bengal, since the terms of all the rural bodies of the three-tier system have either ended, or will be ending in the next few days. According to law, a panchayat office term lasts five years, not longer.
The lives of millions of villagers will be affected, since all development work, from the sinking of tube-wells to sanctioning of a tarpaulin for a hut damaged in the rain,will be stalled.
A panchayat pradhan looks after almost everything, including issuing of birth, death and OBC certificates, besides free medical treatment for below poverty level people. Apart from issuing the certificates, the pradhan also okays the salary bills of gram panchayat employees.
“We’ve never seen such an impasse. All development work in rural Bengal will be stalled if elections aren’t held,” said Mijanur, panchayat pradhan of the Trinamool Congress-ruled Polerhat (No. 1) gram panchayat of the Baruipur sub-division in the South 24-Parganas.
About 80 gram panchayats in Baruipur sub-division will be non-functioning from June 29. The scenario is the same in all the 17 districts where the polls were scheduled to kick off in July. District administration officials of Birbhum said almost 99% of the gram panchayats, panchayat samitis and zilla parishads had lost their validity, since all of them were sworn in in June 2008. The remaining 1% will complete their turn in the next four days.
By the rules, soon after the expiry of the current five-year term, the panchayat secretary is in charge of these gram panchayats, panchayat samitis and zilla parishads under the supervision of the block development officer, sub-divisional officer and district magistrate. But this has begun to create hurdles in the daily lives of the rural people. For instance, unless new people’s representatives are sworn in, no one can get even the minimum residential certificate or even a tarpaulin sheet.
In the South 24-Parganas, where there are more than 300 panchayats, the terms of half the bodies have already ended and the rest will become defunct on Saturday, district magistrate NS Nigam told HT.
In Murshidabad district, the terms of all the 254 gram panchayats ended on Wednesday. Most of the rural body heads are, however, uncertain of the future. District panchayat and rural development officer of the district Dinanarayan Ghosh said, “While the terms of all the panchayats ended today, the terms of all 26 panchayat samitis will end by July 2. The zilla parishad’s term will end on July 6.”
An SDO in Murshidabad said, “If the state government asks us to discharge the duties of administrator of the rural bodies, the regular work in my office will be badly hampered.”
On the other hand, the condition is almost the same in Malda. Malda magistrate G Kirankumar said, “There are 146 gram panchayats in my district. The terms of all the rural bodies ended on Wednesday. The terms of 15 panchayat samitis, too, will soon end.”