The crying need for Panchayats is the financial strength to meet their functional mandate. Incomplete devolution is perhaps the greatest challenge to the effective functioning of Panchayats, says The State of Panchayats—A Mid-Term Review and Appraisal report.
The report is to be tabled in Parliament shortly.
Perhaps the most important lesson learnt from past experience is that the best approach is the "Big Bang" approach. Instead of gradually building up capacity and laboriously undertaking academic exercises in training Panchayat members, it would be best to entrust serious and substantial powers to Panchayats immediately and rely on hands-on experience of administrative work to train the Panchayat members in their duties, the report says.
The Ministry is in the process of evolving a Gram Swaraj scheme to reinforce such a "Big Bang" approach to devolution by making available funds for building capacity and undertaking formal training exercises, the report added.
In most states the report pointed out that general purpose unconditional transfers to Panchayats are not very significant and where they exist are not given on the basis of a properly designed formula taking into account expenditure requirements of the Panchayats.
The report said Kerala had shown the way with nearly 40 per cent devolution of its plan outlay to the Panchayats for planning and implementation. In Karnataka financial devolution is of the order of Rs 7,500 crore per annum.
For financial accountability Public Account Committees specifically for panchayats complemented with an Fiscal Responsibility Act is necessary, it said.
A major challenge to be tackled "head on" says the report is the issue of "parallel bodies". They must be brought through legal provisions into an organic, symbiotic relationship with PRIs and report to the Gram Sabhas.
Electronic Voting Machines for polling and common electoral rolls for all elections will significantly promote the conduct of free and fair elections to the Panchayats, the report adds.
Some innovative steps being taken are Panchayat Yuva Shakti Abhiyan and Panchayat Yuva Khel Abhiyan to synergise 2,50,000 youth clubs/mahila mandals/sports clubs under Nehru Yuvak Kendra Sangathan with the 40 to 70 per cent youth members of Panchayats in rural areas. The National Women's Commission has initiated Panchayat Mahila Shakti Abhiyan to make women elected representatives more confident and articulate.
In 440 blocks Jan Kerosene Pariyojana has been started involving panchayats in monitoring disribution of kerosene in villages to check large scale adulteration and diversion. Oil marketing companies streamlined supply to sub wholeseller level with colour coded barrels and specially designed lantern logo.
So far 55 MOUs have been signed between corporate houses and Panchayats for creating projects under Rural Business Hubs on the lines of China's Township and Village Enterprises and Thailand's OTOP (One Tambon One Product), the report added.