The Uttarakhand government is yet to enact its own laws for local bodies, nearly 14 years after the state was carved out of Uttar Pradesh to ensure more political power to the people.
The opposition BJP’s announcement to unleash a statewide agitation for building pressure on the Harish Rawat government to introduce the panchayati raj act has once again thrown the spotlight on how the saffron party and the Congress have been busy playing the blame game on the crucial matter over the years.
While political parties have been playing the blame-game over the years, experts blame the delay on a lack of political will to empower the local governments.
Carved out of Uttar Pradesh on November 9, 2000, Uttarakhand went on to adopt its parent state’s legislations for governing its 78 urban local bodies and 8,077 panchayati raj institutions or rural local bodies (see box).
However, experts point out that the topography and demography that characterise the hilly state are different from Uttar Pradesh.
Smaller human settlements, limited accessibility, high tourist influx and environmental sensitivities especially in the hill areas -- 44 of the state’s 78 urban bodies are situated in the hills -- pose further challenges to civic bodies’ governance.
Similarly, 70% of the state’s population resides in the rural areas but the panchayati raj institutes, in the absence of adequate powers, funds and structure, continue to face difficulties in their functioning.
“Dedicated municipal acts catering to the specific needs of the hilly state will go a long way in assisting effective decentralisation of power to local bodies,” said Dehradun mayor Vinod Chamoli.
Haridwar mayor Manoj Garg pointed out how the current municipal corporation act does not impart sufficient powers to the elected board to take independent decisions.
He said that the Haridwar municipal corporation had prepared a proposal to increase revenue generation through advertisement rights on hoardings in 2013.
“Since the board did not have the power to implement it on our own, we had to send it to the state government (for clearance) where it remained stuck for almost two years. Earlier this year, the government returned the hoarding policy with some changes. Though we will try to implement it soon, much time was wasted in the process,” Garg said.
Haridwar MLA Madan Kaushik -- who was the urban development minister in the previous BJP government from 2007 to 2012 -- said the saffron government had “almost tabled” the proposal for an independent municipal act for the state in 2010.
“Though we failed to get the draft approved by the cabinet then, the subsequent Congress government could have used the (ready) draft to introduce it immediately after it came to power (in 2012). Sadly, that is yet to happen more than three years after the Congress assumed charge,” Kaushik told HT.
The Congress’ Jot Singh Bisht, a former state president of zila panchayat members’ association, on the other hand, blamed the delay on the “unenthusiastic efforts” of the BJP during its tenure.
Urban development minister Pritam Singh Panwar parried the question on delay in preparation of the state’s own act, saying the “draft of the act is ready and it is currently being studied by a committee of legal experts.”
Panchayati raj minister Pritam Singh said that he was trying to “push” a similar draft on panchayati raj bodies through the law department after which the government will table it in the state legislative assembly.
Experts feel that successive state governments have been somewhat “unwilling” to devolve powers to the local bodies.
Dehradun-based panchayati raj activist Padmashri Avdhash Kaushal said that empowerment of local bodies would mean disempowerment of the state government to a certain extent, which is why politicos and bureaucrats have not been much interested in effecting the crucial process.