The Himachal government has not conducted a survey for the past 20 years to assess conditions in “backward” panchayats in the state, though funds amounting to crores of rupees have been used for development under the backward area sub-plan.
In 1995-96 when the government framed a policy for backward areas, over 300 of the 2,922 panchayats in the state were identified as “backward” panchayats. Later, after reorganization in 2000, 2005 and 2010, the number of panchayats increased to 3,243 while that of backward panchayats also rose to around 550.
A government official said the system of earmarking 10% of the outlays was applicable in agriculture, horticulture, minor irrigation, education, health, water supply, animal husbandry, food and supplies (construction of minor godowns) up to fiscal 1994-95 and was later raised to 15%.
Despite spending more on development of backward panchayats, the government did not conduct a fresh survey to ascertain whether some panchayats were still backward and need the special funding under the backward areas sub-plan.
A government official, requesting anonymity, said: “There are several indicators to declare the panchayats backward and successive governments have been spending plenty of money on the development of these panchayats. One indicator is geographical centres of the area under consideration should be at least 15 km from the main motorable roads. The government has been making claims of covering almost each habitation to the roads. If so then the number of backward panchayats should have decreased.”
Among other indicators one is that over 60% of the population should be deprived of drinking water and percentage of electrified villages should be less that 25%. “We claim 100% electrification and almost every habitation provided drinking water, then the number of backward panchayats must be less,” RS Thakur, a social activist, said.
Sources said during previous BJP regime internal surveys were conducted to assess the backwardness of panchayats. “It was found that almost half of the total backward declared panchayats should be excluded from its ambit,” a ‘panchayati raj’ official said, adding, “But due to political factors neither the internal surveys were disclosed nor was the number backward panchayats decreased.”