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Empower panchayats: Minister

First-time MP CP Joshi had never “in his wildest dreams” thought he would make it to the Cabinet. Now that he has, he knows exactly what he wants — the Rural Development Ministry, reports Srinand Jha.

delhi Updated: May 25, 2009 00:45 IST

First-time MP CP Joshi had never “in his wildest dreams” thought he would make it to the Cabinet. Now that he has, he knows exactly what he wants — the Rural Development Ministry.

He also wants re-merger of the rural development and panchayati raj portfolios.

Split up in 2004, the rural development and panchayati raj departments had been under the charge of Dr Raghuvansh Prasad Singh and Mani Shankar Aiyar, respectively.

“There are overlapping and common functions, and interests can be best served by clubbing together the two ministries,” Joshi, 59, said in an exclusive conversation with Hindustan Times.

The MP from Bhilwara, Rajasthan, said his goal was to “work towards enabling the Congress to emerge as the single largest party in 2014 under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi”.

“This situation can be brought about by taking the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and other rural development plans to the next level,” he said.

The biggest challenge, in his view, is to effectively “empower the panchayats”.

“Political will has been there, but legislative, administrative and financial mechanisms need to be put in place. Devolution of powers to the panchayats needs to be actual and real instead of notional,” he said.

He pointed out that there exists an established mechanism that governs and defines the powers of the state and central governments. “But what about the panchayats? Is the gram sewak the village equivalent of a secretary of the state government?”

While providing panchayat office-bearers with a legislative shield, Joshi said it was also important to set up effective monitoring mechanisms.

Joshi held the twin portfolios of rural development and panchayat raj in the Rajasthan government from 1998 to 2003. Under his stewardship of the state party unit, the Congress made a remarkable comeback in the December 2008 assembly elections — topping it up with an even more spectacular win in the Lok Sabha polls. What is his success mantra?

His answer: “A clear message of this election is that people want good governance. The political class must deliver. In Rajasthan — as elsewhere in the country — the Congress remained focused on the development plank.”