Charges levelled by sarpanches as well as panches from Jammu against state MLAs and MLCs that they are standing as impediments against their empowerment were collectively refuted by public representatives in opposition and the ruling party by saying that they have no stakes in panchayati raj institutions.
The issue got buildup in the recently-held AICC vice-president Rahul Gandhi's address to sarpanches and panches in Jammu when sarpanches got charged against the government's nonchalance in supporting their demand of implementing 73rd amendment to the panchayati raj in state.
Later, talking to Hindustan Times some sarpanches held that MLAs and MLCs in the ruling coalition were not in favour of supporting their empowerment, fearing a dent to their political and financial control over their constituencies.
Refuting their claims, MLAs said they have no concern with their institutional powers in the state as panchayati raj has its separate provisions of governance and constituency development funds and they do favour their empowerment.
"Had we been in the government, we would have made the effect there and then," said Peoples Democratic Party Member of Legislative Council Nayeem Akhtar. He said under the constitutional provisions enshrined for panchayati raj, there is a set of power decentralisation for sarpanches and panches governed by zila parishads.
"Central government's funds for the panchayat development are directly routed to the panchayat development funds through the state government wherein there is no role of MLAs or MLCs," he said, adding that it is responsibility of the government to conduct the process of empowerment of panchayat, on which it is dilly-dallying.
Bharatiya Janata Party MLA from Marh, Sukhanandan Chudhary put the onus on sarpanches themselves for creating ruckus without performing on the ground. "Since their election, we haven't seen any social cause taken up by any sarpanch or panch in my constituency. A person falling ill at odd hours has to be shifted to hospital by villagers themselves, while sarpanches and panches remain indifferent.
Though they have a cause to fight for the empowerment, in spite of this they haven't reflected their presence at any level in the block or village levels as social activists," said Sukhnadan Chuadhary, adding that the funds amounting to `50 lakh received by him under the Border Area Development Programmae (BADP) have been equitably distributed to the sarpanches of his area to take up developmental activities.
Udhampur MLA Balwant Singh Mankotia from Panthers Party said, "My party supports empowerment needs of panchayati raj in the state and we have a strong agenda for that in our manifesto. I don't know what sarpanches and panches fear for," he said.
The ruling MLA from National Conference Rashpal Singh of Kalakot said it was quite an immature charge levelled against MLAs by sarpanches as the two are political arrangements in the state. While MLAs have their own CDF from MP and MLA quota, there is a separate provision for panchayat, which is headed by a hierarchical system of governance.
"I had personally met panchayati raj minister Mohammad Ali Sagar and had pleaded for distribution of works amounting to Rs 5 lakh to panchayats. Besides all works related to PDD, PHE and PWD should be assigned to them," said Rashpal.